ANOTHER "GREAT BOTTLE DIGGING STORY" FROM THE PAGES OF
ANTIQUE BOTTLE AND GLASS COLLECTOR MAGAZINE
THE MAGAZINE OF THE ANTIQUE BOTTLE COLLECTING HOBBY
Andy andScott in the hole moments after Andy uncovered his first wholehistorical flask.
The tales of the digging boysbegan in the summer of 1996, when Scott and I started diggingtogether in Manhattan, Brooklyn and Westchester County. Duringour first privy dig in Manhattan, behind an 1840s brick rowhouseon a sweaty August morning, I recovered a mint amethyst Mrs. S.A.Allens World Hair Restorer. Holding the bottle up to thesunlight, I told Scott that while this was an exciting andbeautiful discovery my ultimate dream was to find a wholeKnickerbocker Sodawater (a ten-sided, iron-pontiled, cobalt sodafrom New York) and a historical or figural flask. During myprevious fourteen years of digging country outhouses, I haddiscovered many pieces of my dream bottles but never one intact.There was no doubt in our minds that summer day that, soonenough, I would uncover these dream bottles but dozens ofprivies and hundreds of pontiled bottles later, I still only hadfragments.
In the fall of 1997 Scott and Danhad located on Staten Island a bulldozed, double-width lotadjacent to an early 19th century building. The sole remainingstructure, a ramshackle building that had seen better days over acentury ago, originally had been part of a row of 1830sclapboard-covered, timber-framed, gambrel-roofed houses. Theowner, who now ran a business out of the street-level floor andrents the two upper stories, granted us permission to search forthe cisterns and privies on his property.
The first time on the site, Danand Scott dug an eight-foot deep cistern in the right portion ofthe empty lot about 20 feet from the back lot line. Thebrick-lined cistern contained 18 bottles from the late 1880s tothe turn of the century including a couple of Staten Islandblob-top mineral waters with fancy embossing. The site had beenbulldozed recently which made probing virtually impossible. SoDan and Scott dug test holes along the back lot line where theyuncovered small pockets of ash and artifacts that dated back tothe first quarter of the 19th century. Scott even scooped out anaqua pontiled blueing at the end of the day not asignificant find but they hoped it was an indication of what layhidden beneath the surface. They knew that there had to be anearly privy, either stone or wood-lined, but that first tripfailed to uncover any outhouses.
This lone bottle, however,prompted Scott, Dan and me to return to the site for a secondvisit. In the back left corner of the empty lot, a large mound ofyellow clay had been dumped over the property line from thecreation of a backyard pool next door. We decided to tackle thismound. A probe could not penetrate the clay, therefore, to get tosofter soil we chopped at the clay with a mattock and pick. Acouple of hours later, we hit ash along with shards oflusterware; and minutes later, we saw decaying planks all
The privyhole. The outhouse was full of material from top to bottom.Unsifted material was dumped by bucket into a pile towards therear of the picture, sifted material in the left front pile alarge pieces of artifacts as handed up in the right front corner.
We figured that we might as well dig the privy out to see ifthere were older bottles remaining at the bottom that were notremoved when the 1890s outhouse was built. Then we noticed a bitof plastic and tire rubber the outhouse had been hit bybottle diggers sometime in the 1970s. Strangely, the folks whodug the newer privy did not explore the one-foot portion that wasleft from the 1840s privy: It was evident that they had stoppedat the rotten planks that defined the first privy and had not duginto the sides. Our practice is to probe and dig into the sidesof every outhouse we uncover to locate neighboring privies and tosee if bottles were left behind the walls during construction.
Frustrated upon realizing that wehad located a previously dug pit, Dan and Scott went behind thestanding structure while I filled in our holes. We had avoidedthe yard behind the building because it was filled with piles ofwood, old billboard signs, cement block, brick wall rubble andthe usual mounds of disgusting, urban backyard trash. After anhour of moving debris, we started in the back left corner andhacked through the roots of a 40-foot tree. Two feet down wefound undisturbed ash. To our dismay, the workers who built theouthouse had followed the construction pattern of the lot nextdoor. We discovered an 1890s wood-lined outhouse (4 x8 x 5) built within an 1830s-40s wood-liner (5x 5 x 6). At least this privy was not hit previouslyby bottle diggers. As two of the digging boys worked the hole,the other one started moving more backyard debris and diggingtest holes. The right corner did not seem to produce anything butyellow clay, so we focused on excavating the overlapping privies.Our site theory was that the older privy had been used and dippedrepeatedly until it fell apart and then a newer one wasconstructed in the same spot. At the bottom of the 1890s outhousethe last foot of the early wood-liner survived. This was loadedwith broken pottery including slip-decorated redware, transferware and pearlware shards but, like lots of early outhouses wedig, there were only a few pieces of shattered blackglass casegins and ales, and cylindrical flint-glass vials. As the sun
Scottholding a brown and red-glazed ovoid jug with handle, behindpiles of bottles and pieces of glass bottles and potteryartifacts.
Scott and I spent the next week on the phone talking about hisand Dans digging efforts in Brooklyn (their best find ofthe week was a pontiled, gasoline-colored umbrella ink in themidst of thirty or so bottles from three unproductive stone-linedprivies). We also discussed the possibilities for the StatenIsland site and wondered where the privies containing the bottlesfrom the 1850s to the 1880s were located; we were not going toassume that the two overlapping wood-liners were all that thebacklot had in store for us. Finally we decided that the soleremaining spot to search was between the tree (to the right ofthe double privy) and the test hole (on the right side of thebackyard) along the back lot line.
That Friday as I traveled into New York City to stay at mygirlfriends, I could not help but wonder if this expeditionwould be as fruitless as the many others over the holiday period.I certainly hoped not. I am not superstitious and am a sleeperwho hardly dreams (or at least never remembers his dreams);however, all week I dreamed about bottles and lots ofthem. It was early January 1998 when we again ventured to StatenIsland. It was an unusual day because, as I looked outLisas window at the thermometer high above Columbus Circle,the temperature was an unseasonable 50 degrees at 9 oclockin
LEFTTO RIGHT: Robinson's Brown Stout; Dearborn& Co. (IP); eagle embossed; W. Pond & Co., PhiladelphiaXX Porter & Ale (IP); Union Glass Works (IP); KnickerbockerSodawater (IP); and Philadelphia XX Porter & Ale (IP).
Upon arriving at the site in Staten Island the digging boyssplit-up: Dan and I dug more test holes in the bulldozed lot andDave and Scott dug a test hole precisely where Scott and I hadspeculated the next privy would be located. Failing to uncoveranything after an hour, Dan and I went over the fence to inspectthe other guys efforts. We were disappointed to see thatScott and Dave were almost three feet down and had found onlysterile yellow clay. The spot appeared to be a wash-out and ourtheories and dreams of a pontiled-bottle cache looked like merefools gold. I decided to probe closer to the house. Iprobed out another pit that was filled with coal ash and datedcloser to the turn-of-the-century, similar to the 1890s privyexcavated a week before. There were also a couple of shallow ashpits that were void of artifacts. Frustrated, I yelled to thedigging boys (minus a few expletives) Where is the oldstuff?
With nothing left to do at 11 oclock in the morning, Idecided to try a little more in the back center test hole Scottand Dave had dug before filling it in for good. After shavinganother foot off the back of the hole, I stuck my shovel into thecorner where I saw some black dirt mixed with the yellow clay.After shouting to Scott to come and take a look, he calmlyreplied Looks like old rotted roots from thetree. Despite Scotts remarks, I stubbornlythought that it looked promising. Two shovel-fulls later therewas fresh ash on the tip of the shovel! As we widened the hole alittle more, it became evident that we had another Staten Islandwood-lined privy, and we were at the front right corner. Althoughwe hoped that this outhouse dated from the missing periods(1850s-1880s) and was filled with pontils, we were not holdingour breath due to our prior lack of success at this site.
After clearing some of the overburden and widening the hole tomake a step into the privy (it started almost three feet belowthe surface), we decided to put Dave into the hole to find thefirst bottle. As Dave descended, he asked his patented question: Doyou think its old? Literally thirty secondslater he pulled out an unembossed, aqua, coffin flask from the1870s. Granted, this is nothing to write home about (and nothingto write an article about) but finally being out of the 1890scertainly was a start. Cleaning out a little more dirt, Scottshowed us the parameters of the wood-liner that was defined bythe brown-black traces of rotted planks which were the rootsthat I had initially uncovered. Starting to dig into the ash,Scott unearthed an open-pontiled amber umbrella ink theonly hitch was that one of the panels had a spider crack.Nonetheless, our excitement grew; this was indeed apontiled-bottle privy.
I was next into the pit, and from then until dark everything wasa blur. The first bottles that I pulled out were a fewsmooth-based aqua sodas from Brooklyn and Manhattan embossed with1860s dates, and a crude, aqua Hyatts Infallible LifeBalsam. A heartbreaker was a teal Old Dr. Townsends StomachBitters
At this point we were barely two feet into the privy dirt andabout five feet below the surface. We were not even using diggingtools instead the bottles were tumbling out by merelyrunning our fingers through the light, airy soil. The pottery andbottles were so densely packed that the guy in the pit wasliterally handing up two and three bottles at a time. Sodas,medicines, whiskeys, inks, champagnes, colognes, condimentbottles and every other variant imaginable, manufactured withsmooth bases and iron and glass pontils, were pouring out of theearth. Also tumbling out were scores of other artifacts such aslarge cents, marbles, figurines, clay pipes, doll parts, buttons,and pottery.
Initially we placed the bottles on a ledge near the hole, but asthe numbers increased we moved the bottles to the flat roof ofthe one-story building next door. In addition to the pile forbroken bottles and pottery, we set aside a little area to gatherthe shards from the various slip-decorated redware dishes fromthe 1840s-50s, which were slowly being pieced together likepuzzles. Eventually we restored four plates completely; one had aflower pattern, another said ABC, the thirdhad James written on it, and the last said ThilarionAbbott. (A little research may show if the occupantsof the old house had these names).
Back in the pit, in the midst of more sodas and other assortedbottles, Scott pulled out a quarter-gallon cobalt Caswell &Mack bottle. This was next to the fragments of
but it sure is an unusualdiscovery in New York). After letting him take out a few moresodas and a mint six-inch tall pontiled peppersauce embossed withribbing and stars, we kicked Dave out to let someone else uncovera good bottle.
KnickerbockerSodawater, iron pontiled.
I crawled into the pit and started sending up a number ofpontiled embossed cylindrical medicines (such as LiquidOpedeldoc, Mrs. Winslows Soothing Syrup and B.A.Fahnestocks Vermifuge). I even located the missing neckfrom the World Hair Restorer, which fit like a glove and laterglued back perfectly. Of course, the sodas were still spillingout of the ground when I found them. Them? I had pushed aside thepieces from a number of broken, colored sodas when there, sittingin my hands, was not one but two Knickerbocker Sodawater cobaltbeauties. At that point we were totally giddy who couldhave imagined that it was only going to get better?
After these finds, I was booted from the wood-liner to give Scottan opportunity. He dove in and immediately shouted Hey,Andy, were you feeling like you got too much? You left a green,pontiled figural flask hanging out of the wall! It wasunbelievable! In my delirious state, I had left dangling from theside of the privy an olive-green figural flask, crisply embossedwith a cornucopia and urn with fruit on opposing sides (GIII-7).After thanking me profusely, Scott also pulled out a couple ofdomed inks, a crude pontiled Dr. Wistars Balsam of WildCherry, and, sadly, a broken, sheared-lip, pontiled rich-greenutility ink. Dave was back in the pit, where after pulling up acouple of unembossed but colored sodas, he popped out an aqua,smooth-based Pikes Peak historical flask from high on theback wall of the privy (GXI-9)! After a little digging boyscelebration, once again Dave was forcibly ousted from the hole.Dan was in next, and he proceeded to pull out a puce, pontiledLyons Powder, a variety of colored and iron-pontiled sodas,a few embossed, aqua, pontiled medicinal cylinders, and a crude,yellow-green Udolpho Wolfes Scheidam Aromatic Schnapps a lot of neat bottles but nothing spectacular.
Scott replaced Dan in the privy where he promptly found a fewmore sodas. A short time later he called up Andy comein here and join me. As we sat in the hole, he pointedto a wall where the bottom corner of a bottle was sticking out.It was dark-colored and seemed to be high quality glass. I turnedto Scott and excitedly asked Do you think that isanother one, another historical flask? Scott was notcertain but stated that if it was a flask, I was more thanoverdue. The next five minutes were excruciating as this bottlewas crammed between compact layers of pottery and brick, buteventually there it was sitting in my hands my first wholeLiberty flask! This green, sheared-lip, mint beauty had an eagleon one side with Liberty above, and WillingtonGlass Co., West Willington, Conn. embossed on thereverse (GII-64). I started to laugh uncontrollably: I haduncovered both of my dream bottles in a New York City privy inone day, just as I had set out to do less than a year and a halfearlier.
After this incredible find, Scott finished up the bottom of theprivy and uncovered an intact red-brown glazed ovoid jug from the1850s. We then cleaned out the corners and found some realheartbreakers, including a broken puce Drakes PlantationBitters and a six-inch tall aqua pontiled Winans Indian Liniment.Lastly we did manage to extract an iron-pontiled cobalt Dearborn& Co. soda, an early 1850s ten-inch Wheeler & Oneil claybeer, a pontiled, aqua, miniature demijohn (with the wickerembossed), along with more aqua sodas and common pontiledbottles. Thats right, a 5 x 5 x 6wood-lined privy from the 1850s to 1870s laden with bottles frombottom to top and side to side.
What a sight! We had lined-up the almost 200 bottles, includingover 70 sodas, on the roof of the neighboring building. Thevarieties and colors were spread out for a dozen feet. We wereall amazed at how close we had come to filling in the test holeand not uncovering this mother lode of glass. Certainly we hadall learned a lesson about persistence and perseverance. Ourgiddiness was also mingled with the realization that we did nothave enough newspaper and bags to wrap-up and cart-off all ofthese bottles. Though we soon solved that problem, the diggingsboys have had another dilemma since then not enough shelfspace! Shucks, we can live with that......
Since our extraordinary day, Scott, Dan and Dave havedug three more privies on the property. Five outhouses and twoash pits were in the backyard, and three outhouses were in theempty lot, including a stone-liner. These privies were not asproductive; one was the newer wood-liner that I had probed outand the others were older but barren except for a broken, tubularpontiled, teal-colored, rectangular medicine embossed Law &Boyd in an arc, with N. York under the name. Try and look thatone up because we could not find it listed the diggingboys sold the pieces for $200. A week later in a neighboringyard, they uncovered an amber, iron-pontiled eagle flask embossedRavenna Glass Company on a banner with an anchor (GII-37). Happydigging and may the bottle gods smile upon you.
1 Dan Magee has written a couple of recent articles about thedigging boys uncovering bottles in upstate New York, Brooklyn andManhattan (see A Hike in the Woods in theJune 1997 issue of A.B. & G. C.).
|(3) historical or figural flasks: Eagle/Liberty; Pikes Peak; Cornucopia (OP). |
(1) abminature demijohn (wicker embossing) (OP)
(1) amber Dupont Artesian Water, Louisville, Kentucky (IP)
(1) peppersauce with stars and ribs (OP)
(1) puce Lyons Power (OP)
(1) bar bottle with cobalt lip (ground pontil)
(3) cobalt Knickerbocker Sodawater (IP)
(2) abcobalt Dearborn & Co. Sodawater (IP)
(10) various shades of green Philadelphia XX (and XXX) Porter & Ale squats
with a variety of embossing on the reverse (4 IP)
(1) abblue-green Philadelphia Union Glass Works soda (IP)
(2) green Cole Superior Soda & Mineral Water, Staten Island (IP)
(1) green soda with embossed eagle
(1) turquoise R & C, New York soda (IP)
(1) Dixon & Carson (IP)
(2) green & blue-green Mineral Water
(50) various embossed & unembossed, aqua & colored sodas & squats (3 IP)
(1) amber Mrs. Allens World Hair Balm
(2) Barrys Tricopherous for the Hair and Skin (OP)
(2) Mrs. Winslows Soothing Syrup (OP)
(2) Dr. Fitch, 714 Broadway
(1) Lyons Kathairon For The Hair (OP)
(3) Liquid Opodeldoc & Seaburys Oleaginous Opodeldoc (OP)
(2) Fahnestocks Vermifuge (OP)
(1) Ayers Cherry Pectoral
(2) Professor Woods Restorative Cordial & Blood Renovator
(1) Hyatts Infallible Life Balsam
(1) cobalt Caswell & Mack
(2) Udolpho Wolfes Aromatic Scheidam Schnapps
(1) Dr. Wistars Balsam of Wild Cherry (OP)
(1) coffin flask
(2) dome ink
(2) amber & aqua umbrella ink (OP)
(1) master ink with spout
(1) Lockport green master ink (OP)
(1) red-brown glazed ovoid jug with handle
(1) gray salt glaze mineral water with handle
(1) salt glaze beer stamped Wheeler & Oneil
Plus over 70 various bottles including wines, champagnes, whiskies, olive oils (OP), condiment bottles (Lea & Perrins, etc.), spice containers, clear perfumes (ground pontils), ladies balm and Florida waters, blueings (OP), small medicines with initials (OP), vials (OP), small flared-lip puffs (OP), unembossed paneled & camphered medicines and containers (OP).
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