Friday, January 13, 2006

Colorful History


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 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.
"Keep looking"

One day...
"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?

Probably. Posted by Picasa


Wayne said...

Wow - I've found a few bottles in our creek but nothing like those. You've renewed my searching interest.

awojypxn - forest spirit, very hard to photograph

Floridacracker said...

Look for a privy...

roger said...

great finds. an interesting window into history.

The MacBean Gene said...

What a great way to touch on Florida's history. All those yankees moving into the state dont't have a clue about the rich history of the state.

dhcpoao=Hawaiian bottle god

pablo said...

When two days passed without a post, I feared that you got some very bad news from the doctor. Well, I hope not. Great bottles! I found a bottle once at Roundrock, but it had a screw top lid. Sounds like a great mother to guide you into a lifelong hobby.

hgstt = a muffled sneeze

Rexroth's Daughter said...

Those are fantastic bottles. What a collection you have there. A wonderful lifelong interest that yields beautiful treasures, what could be better?

Floridacracker said...

One man's junk is another man's treasure.

True, true. They need to read Pure Florida and then take an exam before moving.

No, my kids were doing school work on the computer. Who do they think they are? By the time I could post, it was too late to be creative.
The screw top came in to being just before the end of the 19th century, if you found a bottle with bubbles and a crude screw top, it could be pre-20th. I have some. The Ball Mason Jar company made some early screw tops.

Thanks. I'll have to post some that are companies and products still around today. I always think that is neat.
No news good or bad for a week or so.

Floridacracker said...

oops, that "no news" part of my comment to RD was supposed to go with Pablo's comment.

vicki said...

Wonderful collection, FC. These are real beauties- esp. the black glass bottle. It sounds like an impressive collection. And of course, one man's trash is another man's treasure. Oh, wait- I jst flipped back through the other comments, including your own. Scratch that last. Anyway, suffice it to say- I have lots of trash collections. Marbles, shells, old globes.

I'm keeping you in mind as I slather on the SPF and sending good thoughts your way.

Floridacracker said...

Thanks Vicki,
Old globes probably take up as much space as bottles. Finding a way to display them safely above the browse line has been the problem.

OldHorsetailSnake said...

This is quite interesting, Cracker. My late brother in law made bottle collecting a hobby. He would go out to "deserted homesteads," pace out to where the outhouse might have been, and start digging. His reasoning was that the outhouse was also the garbage pit -- and often he was correct. He also had hundreds when he died.

Floridacracker said...

Old Hoss,
I have never dug a privy pit, but they are known hotspots in the old bottle world.

Zanne said...

I love collections, and you've got a good one. You're an archaeologist of sorts. You're right about the privy. My grandmother in Tennessee had a "tip" behind the outhouse. That's where you'd "tip" all the trash over the edge of the ridgeline and it would all spill down the hillside towards the hollow (pronounced "holler, of course). I can't imagine in a hundred years that anyone will treasure non-degradable Huggies.

Hick said...

The colors are wonderful. How do you display those goodies?

There is an old cattle driver's storage cabin at the bottom of my property near the creek, where they used to store their supplies, I guess. Anyway, occasionally I find interesting artifacts down there...chewing tobacco cans and the like. Kinda fun.

I'll be praying for a good report from the "perky" doctor.

Floridacracker said...

Huggie collecting. No, I don't think used Huggies will be a big item...although coprolite collecting exists. More likely, mint condition, still in the package huggies will be the apple of some collectors eye :)

First, thank you for the prayer. Next Christmas, maybe you will get a metal detector to use around that old cabin. Could be a can full of old coins buried near it. Very common old timey banking system.

Rurality said...

Whoa your bottle finds are so much cooler than ours... but I'll bet you don't have a dog who brings you ceramic fruit!

rick said...

My favorite says "Dr. Kilmers swamp root kidney cure"I cataloged mine years ago.I have about 800 bottles all pre 1903.How fun was that as a kid digging for a treasure.Spent most of my time digging where Prosperity Bank sits. The sidewalk almost callapsed when we hit a hot spot and tunneled under it.Its neat wondering about the people 80 or more years earlier who took the medicine and drank the whiskey and wine that was in our empty bottles.

Floridacracker said...

Hey, post your bottles! Let's see. I did have one of my dogs find an old bottle for me. He was digging and screeech...the sound of nail on glass. Sure enough, an old medicine bottle from the 1890's.

You are just like your dad, a record keeper. Mine have never been catalogued. I should do that.