News-Antique.com - Apr 03,2008 - Walking into Richard Strell's San Marcos, Calif. home is like walking into a kaleidoscope. He collects seltzer bottles, and shows off the most colorful of his collection on the windowsills of his home. He says he loves the way the light reflects off them. But what really attracts him to the bottles is his appreciation of their history - of family, advertising and industry.
More than a century ago, families passed bottles like Strell's around the dinner table. One popular mixture you would find in them were "egg creams," a concoction of seltzer water, milk and Fox's U-Bet chocolate syrup. Delivery men carried the bottles of seltzer on their shoulders in wooden boxes of six. And in the '50s, slapstick television actors like Laurel & Hardy and Clarabell on "The Howdy Doody Show" chased each other across the set squirting them.
Strell began collecting the bottles about 25 years ago. He raised his hand at an auction then, marking the beginning of an obsession for him that he says has since gotten somewhat out of hand.
The auction was in New York and when Strell arrived it was already in progress. "Who will take this green seltzer bottle for $9," the auctioneer said. Strell signaled to seal the deal. It turned out this gesture not only bought him the bottle held, but another 299 just like it in the basement. He has since added thousands more bottles to his collection.
Strell has some clear glass seltzer bottles, but his favorites are colorful and uniquely shaped. His collection includes some bottles embossed with soda brand names, like Coca-Cola and Orange Crush, or the name and location of the bottling company. Some bottles were made as early as the 1890s. And others are best described by their shape or color - like Vaseline bottles that have a sort of greenish yellow glossy, sheer hue and double bubbles, that have two distinct billowing bubbles (name branded Seltzogene bottles). Vaseline bottles were made with a touch of uranium that Strell says causes them to glow if you put them under a black light. He also has ovoid-shaped bottles, and miniature ones called "send-offs," that were used to serve guests in hotels.
Strell said he is not looking to add bottles to his collection anymore, but would definitely be in the market for one bottle he has yet to come across in his 25 years of collecting - a bottle that he nicknames the "holy grail" of seltzer bottles - a blue cobalt ovoid.
Some of Strell's seltzer bottle collection can be bought at an eBay storefront called Ritchie's Seltzer Bottles and More. He also rents a booth at both the Antique Warehouse in Solana Beach, and the Old Barn in San Juan Capistrano. Strell will also be a dealer at the Del Mar Antique Show, April 18-20, displaying and selling Maxfield Parrish art and pin-up photography, in addition to seltzer bottles and vintage paper goods.
Those interested in contacting Strell can call him at