By Alicia Doyle

The Writer
Specializing in Good News
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Photo by Chuck Herman/Ventura County Star

Thousand Oaks resident's bottle collection reflects years of dedication

May 28, 2014

Admiring his collection of 630 canning jars, John Swearingen is unsure where his passion for glass originated.

“It’s my natural-born ... whatever,” said Swearingen, 74, of Thousand Oaks. “I just like the feel of it and the sparkle of the colors. I’ve always been a collector. That’s the best way to sum it all up.”

His hobby began about 45 years ago when he lived in Newbury Park.

“I started out as a collector of all sorts of memorabilia and had a particular attraction to almost any object made of glass, with all its different colors, forms and style,” said Swearingen, a retired Pacific Telephone engineer.

At the time, he had black plywood shelves filled with all kinds of glass, including whiskey and soda pop bottles and original milk bottles from Chase Bros. Dairy and Brant Rancho Guernsey Milk farms.

Today, his collection of vintage canning, food-preserving and fruit jars fills a room in his Thousand Oaks home. He has built a backlit display case of shelves to hold his treasures — with reinforced hooks for protection in case of an earthquake.

“Basically I’m running out of space,” said Swearingen, whose collection contains canning jars from around the world, with the majority from U.S. manufacturers. A large portion of his jars dates to the 1800s.

“Many of the early jars that were produced were made by very small glass manufacturing companies with limited production that went out of business rather quickly,” Swearingen said. “Consequently, jars of this era tend to be rarer.”

The jars are also considered special because of their imperfections.

“All these jars were handblown,” Swearingen said of clear glass ones infused with swirls of colors.

“They were made in a bowl and dipped in a big vat of molten glass,” he said. “You can see all the different colors ... because the vat they were mixing into is pure with one color. This is where you get the swirls.”

Other imperfections include a dark stripe of color down the middle, one color only halfway up and bubbles or pieces of sediment from the original mold.

“They’re considered valuable because of the rarity of the color and the variation,” Swearingen said. “It’s very rare ... to have a jar like this get out in the public for sale.”

His collection includes several amethyst jars that got their color from manganese, a chemical component used in their making.

“Most of the purple ones are pre-1920 because they took the manganese out of the making of the glass for defense in world wars,” Swearingen said. “Today there’s no longer the amethyst.”

A long-standing member of the Los Angeles Historical Bottle Club who once served as president, Swearingen also belongs to the Federation of Historical Bottle Collectors.

“I enjoy attending other bottle shows throughout the United States ... interacting with other collectors, buying, selling or trading,” said Swearingen, who plans to attend a national show in August in Kentucky.

Meanwhile, he will continue to expand his collection.

“Just keep chasing the hard-to-get ones,” he said.

Copyright 2014 Scripps Media, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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