Digging For Bottled Treasures By Micheal Krawczak for Today's Vintage Magazine
Golden Gate Historical Bottle Society president, Gary Antone, can pinpoint the day he became an antique bottle collector...
News-Antique.com - Mar 27,2008 - Gary Antone can pinpoint the day he became an antique bottle collector. It was 1965; the 12-year-old and his father had gone to the shores of San Francisco Bay in Hayward for some shooting practice. Discarded old bottles abounded. One in particular caught the youngster's eye and he took it with him when they left. Later, a friend of his father who was knowledgeable about old bottles told Antone that his discovery - a 1905 Sodaworks bottle from St. Louis - was valuable.
"He taught me about following the seam up the neck to determine age," Antone recalled. "I learned about styles and colors. This one was handmade."
Antone would return to that shoreline many times. His father tracked the tide tables and they'd venture out together on early morning expeditions to dig beneath the mud.
Over the next five years, Antone combed that beach clean, extracting an estimated 500 collectible bottles, including relics from Bowman Drug Store and Owl Drug Store.
These days, Antone sees a resurgence in bottle collecting, attributing it to eBay, antique bottle auction and collectors' web sites, the vast written material available on the educational aspects of the hobby, and people attending antique bottle shows.
Some collectors specialize by category, such as historical flasks, bitters, whiskeys, soda, mineral water, beer, medicines and cures, or fruit jars. The popularity in micro breweries, especially in California, has stimulated a collecting interest. Others focus on a certain regional area. Antone limits himself to Northern California bottles.
Those new to bottle collecting face a different landscape, literally, than the one confronted
by the pioneers of this hobby 50 years ago. Back then, the end of the San Francisco Bay was a dumping ground for all matter of refuse.
"It was like picking pebbles off a beach," Antone recalled. "Other stuff would deteriorate, but bottles would last."
Antone cited a Bryant's Stomach Bitters Gold Rush-era bottle that sold for $68,750 as an example of the kind of treasure that Mother Earth can yield.
Today, stricter enforcement of litter laws, environmental awareness, and recycling, as well as a half-century of scavenging, have combined to all but eliminate such easy pickings. Antone knows of one club member who seeks out old Nevada ghost towns to further his hunt for bottles.
"Where you had old saloons, you find a lot of bottles," he said.
Collectors, by necessity, have become more advanced at researching areas they would like to dig. Fire insurance maps have helped further this aspect of the hobby. Sites of old outhouses offer a surprising bounty of antique bottles and other items of interest, as privies were commonly used to discard household trash. Some collectors specialize in outhouse excavations.
Shows, however, remain the best resource for information and have always been a very good outlet to buy and sell collectible bottles.
Two years after bringing home that first bottle, Antone joined the Golden Gate Historical Bottle Society, a club formed for education and to encourage bottle collecting. He has remained a