Friday, January 13, 2006
When I was a kid spending all my time in the same river where my Dad caught Polio, my Mom told me to keep an eye out for old bottles.
"Because they are old"
"Why are they in the river?"
"Because that was a dumping site long ago. Look for dark glass, bubbles, or cork tops...no screwtops."
So, while fishing and shrimping, I looked for bottles. I found bottles. I brought bottles home.
"Nope, no, nope, no, not old, no," She tossed my muddy modern bottles in the trash.
"Hey! That's an old one! Look at the bubbles in the glass and the stretch marks on the neck. This is a wine bottle from over a hundred years ago"
I was hooked from that day forward. My dog Buster and I spent more and more time in the marsh and we caught less fish. I had treasure fever big time. I purchased a few books on old bottles and I became the expert at what made a bottle an antique and how to tell if it was post-1910, 1880's, 1860's, or earlier.
Most of my bottles came out of the marsh. Each northeaster and storm tide rearranged the tidal mud exposing more bottles. Wading hip deep through marsh mud the consistency of chocolate pudding, my Keds clad feet were excellent buried bottle detectors.
Once in high school, the construction of a new restaurant exposed a 19th century dump. Bottle diggers came from all over to stake a claim and dig. (Were there no property liability lawyers in the 70's?) My friend and I skipped school to take advantage of this "gold mine". I was digging near the lip of the sidewalk along highway US 1, when a police officer stopped me. "You need to turn son, you aren't digging under the highway"...treasure fever.
The bottles in the picture are a few samples from my stash. All my bottles are found by me, not purchased or traded. I can pick one up and flash right back to the day and moment I found it...even if decades have passed.
From left to right in the photo:
The tiny blue bottle is embossed with "KILL A KORN". It's a medicine bottle and dates from the 1870-80's era.
The slender aqua (glass's natural color) bottle next to it is from the same era and is embossed with, "MRS. WINSLOW'S SOOTHING SYRUP", another medical bottle.
The center bottle is possibly older than these United States, or it may be as young as the early 1800's. Called black glass, even though it's really very dark olive green, it is free blown. Completely hand made with no mold involved. The neck shows the the stretch marks where the craftsman pulled the still hot, soft glass up before forming the lip. It would have held wine or rum and was probably reused many times. Glass was precious and rare on the southern frontier.
The blue bottle next to it is another medicinal. The brilliant blue color comes from the chemical cobalt added to the molten glass. It is from the late 1800's as is the last bottle, a pottery ink bottle. This stored the ink used to refill ink wells.
I don't actually know how many bottles I have. I would guess, a couple hundred...give or take a few. They are all from the 18th and 19th century. When I pick one up, I wonder who drank out of it? Who took this medicine? Did it work? I think about the time period and the famous people who passed through the area in the 18th and 19th century. William Bartram, Andrew Jackson, John Muir, Geronimo, Osceola, John James Audubon, Henry Flagler. Did they drink from any of the numerous wine or rum bottles I've found?
Or am I collecting the trash of my own poor St. Augustine ancestors? Would they shake their head and laugh to see their trash in my curio cabinet?
Posted by R.Powers at 12:01 AM