Barber bottles and fire grenades, demijohns and carboys
August 5, 2016 11:39 AM   Subscribe

1. How old is my bottle? 2. Where did my bottle come from? 3. Where can I go for more information?

The incredibly thorough Historic Bottle Website by the Society for Historical Archeology was started by a Bureau of Land Management employee Bill Lindsey and maintained through his retirement. Not sure where to begin? Look at a variety of bottle closures, check out some antique labeled bottles or just enjoy the rainbow of bottle colors that are available.
posted by jessamyn (19 comments total) 28 users marked this as a favorite
 
This is really cool, and I'm totally surprised (and tickled) that it's a BLM adjunct.
posted by mudpuppie at 12:22 PM on August 5, 2016


bottlebottlebottlebottlebottlebottlebottle
posted by Greg_Ace at 12:23 PM on August 5, 2016


I love the type library and the information on everything, but I have mixed feelings about bottle collecting, and somewhat negative feelings about bottle digging. Collections don't bother me in principle, but collectors, and bottle collectors especially, can be a huge problem for archaeologists.

Bottles sold at auction can go for high prices, and it drives a lot of illegal bottle digging - and it's basically impossible to prove something was dug illegally unless you catch the person in the act. But even bottles that were dug legally end up destroying the archaeological sites where they were found. Since they're just looking for bottles, diggers don't apply archaeological methods and everything gets jumbled up in the dirt. It's a problem because the location of all the artifacts in the dirt is as important as the objects themselves. And once a site has been dug up, it's effectively destroyed.

It's the classic problem of not wanting to be all exclusionary and elitist and have the archaeologists determine that they alone have a right to dig things up, while trying to balance that against the need to preserve sites. And who has a right to these objects anyway? There's a constant push and pull, and I know some archaeologists who don't think it's necessary to preserve every single site out there... and still others who say we're rapidly losing significant sites because eBay keeps driving demand for bottles up and up. To me it's not too different from the issues around buying ancient art on auction (where is it coming from? Was it dig up legally? And so on) but I don't think bottles get as much attention because they seem so minor in comparison.

Well, like I said, mixed feelings.
posted by teponaztli at 12:33 PM on August 5, 2016 [7 favorites]


And I know this is an SHA page, and it's also really useful as a type library. But the interview talks a lot about the joys of bottle digging, and that's why I have mixed feelings. I love the idea of people being able to look at their stuff and date it and see it in this way (and I love the thought of it getting people interested in archaeology), but I can't shake the mixed feelings I have about bottle hunting.
posted by teponaztli at 12:38 PM on August 5, 2016


This is very cool!

My husband spent some time digging at the site of an old bottle factory somewhere in the Adirondacks, and alongside countless broken or imperfect green and brown bottles were hundreds of beautiful bottle-green and brown marbles, shooter-sized. I've always wondered if they were toys or intended for some more industrial purpose, and whether marbles are commonly found at other bottle factory sites.

Very useful resource, thanks for posting!
posted by kinnakeet at 12:46 PM on August 5, 2016 [3 favorites]


Wow! Cool stuff, and thanks for sharing. Reminds me of a long-ago road trip that veered into a detour in search of the National Bottle Museum. I remember that as a quirky, fun storefront museum -- what seemed like a labor-of-love on the part of the staff.

In that vein, the info-dump, Web 1.0 aesthetic for this site feels somehow so wonderfully appropriate to me.
posted by Theophrastus Johnson at 12:52 PM on August 5, 2016 [1 favorite]


Love that website! I have spent so much research time there. It is such a great resource.
posted by Belle O'Cosity at 1:07 PM on August 5, 2016


I have a large collection of bottles my late mother acquired scuba diving wrecks around the PNW. They are all packed away and I have no idea what to do with them, or the time to figure it all out. These are some good resources.
posted by Mei's lost sandal at 1:07 PM on August 5, 2016


So, that torpedo-shaped bottle I picked up at a flea market in high school is maybe from 1910 or earlier?

Cool. I knew it was old, but didn't know it was THAT old...
posted by caution live frogs at 1:27 PM on August 5, 2016


Kinakeet, plain glass marbles were (and still are, though rarely) used as ball bearings in some contexts. Very effective with wood (like barrels and drums and spools), and impervious to rust, chemically inert.

Does anybody else remember a craft fad of the 70's. Get a big bottle, cut the bottom off, and make something artsy fartsy in it. Cover the cut with a decorative ribbon or twine. Lots of beautiful bottles were ruined by that fad.
posted by yesster at 1:32 PM on August 5, 2016 [1 favorite]


Does anybody else remember a craft fad of the 70's.

Glass cutters were the rage! We had a whole set of kitchen glasses which were old wine bottles with the tops lopped off. Turns out this site has been posted to MeFi once before but it was a zillion years ago when the bottle site was only a year or two old and I expect it's expanded since then.
posted by jessamyn at 2:01 PM on August 5, 2016 [2 favorites]


Wow - I LOVE antique bottles and have a tiny collection of my own. Well, there goes MY weekend...
posted by twsf at 2:01 PM on August 5, 2016


@yesster: my age means I only have vague first-hand memories of that fad, but recently Mrs. Johnson and I found a bottle-cutting kit like you mention in a second-hand store. The design of the box made it plain it was circa 1970s, but the kit worked just fine. No beautiful bottles ruined, but... some silly floating votive holders made from assorted Miller Lite bottles? Ha my crafting game needs some work.
posted by Theophrastus Johnson at 2:09 PM on August 5, 2016 [2 favorites]


I don't even know where I found the site originally but I had an article called "The Bewildering Array of Owens-Illinois Glass Co. Logos and Codes" on my "to read" list for some random reason (where did it come from? I have no idea) and when I went to figure it out, that site popped up.
posted by jessamyn at 2:12 PM on August 5, 2016 [1 favorite]


I have a large collection of bottles my late mother acquired scuba diving wrecks around the PNW.

I found one of these diving in the Savannah River in Augusta GA about 20 years ago. Unfortunately the site only devotes a paragraph to stoneware, so it doesn't tell me anything I haven't already learned. But I bet scuba diving near towns is a good way to find all sorts of bottles.
posted by TedW at 5:47 PM on August 5, 2016


My husband spent some time digging at the site of an old bottle factory somewhere in the Adirondacks, and alongside countless broken or imperfect green and brown bottles were hundreds of beautiful bottle-green and brown marbles, shooter-sized. I've always wondered if they were toys or intended for some more industrial purpose, and whether marbles are commonly found at other bottle factory sites.

They're typically not shooter size, but marble sealed bottles are also a possibility.
posted by zamboni at 7:06 PM on August 5, 2016 [3 favorites]


Ah man, my 10-year-old antique-mall-going self loves this.
posted by limeonaire at 7:16 PM on August 5, 2016 [2 favorites]


telonatzli, I had no idea bottle digging was even a thing. To me, old bottles are something that you just occasionally find on the beach (usually broken) or out in the woods or in an attic or basement. I find that I share your angst about people digging up historic sites just so they can harvest the old bottles and sell them on eBay. It just seems unfair. It's like when you go beachcombing for seaglass with a kid and there isn't any because people have already staked out the turf and gleaned all the good bits so that they can make earrings out of them and sell them on Etsy.

This is why taking anything from a National Parks area is prohibited (if rarely enforced for small-time casual souvenir hunters). Even if it's just an interestingly-shaped rock. You'd think there would be an infinite number of interestingly-shaped rocks on the beach, but if everybody just starts taking as many as they want the supply will dry up, and fast. Leave that shit there for someone else to find. If anyone is going to take it, let it be a kid since they'll probably get more joy out of it and they don't understand resource scarcity anyway. I see unlicensed commercial harvesting of these kinds of things as basically stealing from children. Yes I am a grump.
posted by Anticipation Of A New Lover's Arrival, The at 4:25 PM on August 7, 2016


I find that I share your angst about people digging up historic sites just so they can harvest the old bottles and sell them on eBay.

To be honest, I'm sorry I dropped in with negativity on something that is overall pretty great and charming, because I think my reaction is not necessarily proportional to the danger here. I mean, it is hosted by the Society for Historical Archaeology, so clearly I'm not speaking on behalf of historical archaeology as a field. And I really do love this sort of thing.

But then I read about this guy's adventures digging for bottles, and it put me in minor panic mode because people don't always think of most of those places as historic sites in the first place. I happen to know a lot of archaeologists who look for the stuff that appears totally worthless, like broken stuff near an empty factory. They use that to piece together stories of people - like the factory workers and their families - that aren't otherwise ever fully explored because there's no written record. So it's not like it's an ivory tower thought experiment with no bearing on the real world. And it's precisely because this stuff is trash that it gets overlooked.

Like I said before, obviously it would be a big problem if archaeologists tried to make the world off limits to everyone but themselves. It's just that some of these sites are the most vulnerable of all because they're the ones that look like they couldn't possibly be of any value to anyone. I saw encouragement for bottle digging without any mention of where you choose to do it beyond what is and isn't legal, and I guess I furrowed by brow a little.

I don't know, I meant it to be something to think about, but I didn't mean to get so carried away and sound so negative about what is a really fun and awesome resource.
posted by teponaztli at 11:20 PM on August 7, 2016 [1 favorite]


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