ANOTHER "GREAT BOTTLE DIGGING STORY" FROM THE PAGES OF
ANTIQUE BOTTLE AND GLASS COLLECTOR MAGAZINE
THE MAGAZINE OF THE ANTIQUE BOTTLE COLLECTING HOBBY
The houseat 86 Hoyt Street, that we recently dug. The good news is that wealso got permission to dig another house on the same block.
The property in question was afour-story brick building in one of the oldest commerciallysettled sections of Brooklyn, down near the waterfront. We hadoriginally gotten access to the backyard to take a look from aneighbor whose backdoor opened right into the yard we wanted todig. While Jack Fortmeyer went back, I stayed talking withanother local on the block hoping to find out more about theproperty and who owned it. After about 10 minutes or so, Jackreturned, and said he had probed the pit out, and hit a privywall. Great, I thought, all we had to do is get in touch withwhoever owned the property by calling the real estatesphone number on the outside of the building. Sounds prettystraight forward, we thought. As it turned out it became morecomplicated and frustrating as time went on.0
First off, the owner wantednothing to do with us, and to make matters worse the real estatewas in the middle of changing owners, so they were hesitant aboutgiving out any perspective buyers' phone numbers to a bunch of dirtbagbottle diggers. So, the bottom line, we got nowhere for anotheryear---driving past the vacant building every time we went intoBrooklyn looking for signs of life.
Finally, one Saturday, clean-upstarted; here was our big chance. Even before I could park the digginmobile out went Jack to try to find someone in charge.Better known as silver tongue, itwasnt long before he was directed inside toward the newowner of the building. Judging by the amount of debris fillingthe dumpster the building was in for some serious renovationsboth inside and out back where we wanted to dig.
The foreman on the job alsohappened to be the new owner, and was very receptive to ourrequest for permission to dig. He had even found an old giantcash register in the basement, and asked if we wanted to buy itseeing we were into old bottles. Sorry, we dontknow anything about them, but I will keep it in mind,I told one of the workers.
beeper number, and off we wentconvinced wed be digging within a month or so.That wassummer 1997, things looked promising. Before long the dog days ofsummer were over, and we were into fall and the early part ofwinter, and still no call from our permission. Despite numerousmessages, and driving past the property things werentlooking good for us digging the pit any time soon. We finally gota break in February of this year when a business moved in on theground floor and had access to the backyard. A quick stop, andtalking with some of the guys inside revealed that they werefriends of the owner. A mid-week call by the tenants to confirmour story, and we were in, for that weekend!
Itsthat tall guy again. Thats Fireman Jack with two of thebottle finds of the day shortly after they were dug.
We got in at eight in the morning,so not a lot of time was wasted. Often when youre diggingbehind a store or small business they dont open till nineor ten in the morning, but not this time. Another plus was thatthere was not too much debris toward the back of the propertywhere the pit was. A few more test probe holes confirmed Jack wasright (boy, I hate that!); the pit was almost dead center, a fewfeet short of the back property line.
Due to the abnormally high amountof rain and mild winter here in the Northeast the first severalfeet of pit were also pretty heavy to muscle out by shovel, so atabout the five foot level, we switched over to using the bucket.With each bucketful of dirt more and more shards of glass wereshowing up. Granted, everything was smooth-based, but we feltmost of the stuff was still worthy of a closer look---a brokenordinary unembossed flask, the base of a squat soda, and thefirst bottle to grab our attention, a H. Knebel Excelsior CreamSoda from Manhattan.
Actually, Mitch spotted it in aclump of burnt coal ash, and gingerly worked it free from a smallshelf that he was loading the bucket from. Being we all likethese little sodas to some degree, he sure got our attention whenhe looked up, and said he had one. Definitely1860s Id say, Richie said, as he pulledthe bucket up top to be dumped. Hey, were workingless, and finding more bottles a lot closer to the top of the pitthan last time, Rich added. Several more bottles, anointment pot, and a pipe or two told us that Mitch was having alittle too much fun down below! Times up,Jack yelled down, with that, Mitch gave someone else a turn.
Hold it upfor the camera, Rich. It looks like it will have some nice colorto it once its cleaned up.
By mid-morning the jokes wereflying, and the anticipation we all felt for a day full ofbottles was making work a lot easier. Before Rich went down heloaded up the parking meters for the cars out front (before NewYorks finest could ticket us), so we took a five minutebreak. Upon returning, down he went, and up came the ladder. Comeon Rich, send us up something good, Jack yelled down.A few pontiled bottles were now making there way up top; thingswere looking good. Id say the mixture of bottles at thispoint was still predominantly smooth-based, but things weregetting interesting. After about ten minutes Rich spotted whatappeared to be just another unembossed flask. From up top wecould partially see its shape, and what looked like a doubleround collar. Its a Willington Glass halfpint, Rich yelled up. Send that babyup, Mitch replied, as he quickly lowered the emptybucket towards Rich. Although it was filled with dirt you couldstill see it was pretty shade of amber, and undamaged. Althoughit is a rather common flask (GII-63), you sure dont digmany of them. At that point we already had a couple of first pickbottles, and a lot of pit left to dig; we wondered what would benext.
It was now twelve-thirty andthings were moving along nicely. I mean, a cream soda, eagleflask, a slew of common medicines, a crude-looking champagne, two
Once below I motioned for thebucket. Most of what we were finding was located inward about afoot or so off the wall of the pit, so thats where I began.Securing the bucket against the wall, and a few feet below ourleveled off shelf, I watched for clumps of dirt breaking upfalling into the bucket. Aside from a load of plain white buttonsand a few pipe stems nothing much caught my eye for a good tenminutes. Down about eight feet, it was now or never for somekiller bottles.
Fortunately the dirt was softenough to slowly work the hand rake around, and hopefully feelfor what every digger dreams about: the configuration of abottle. In addition, porcelain, red brick, broken stoneware,everything has its own distinctive sound when you bump up againstit. With that in mind I became more anxious as my stint in thepit dragged on.
Three ofthe nicer colored bottles from the pit that cleaned up wellenough to show their color.
While whisking away some newlyfallen dirt I noticed what appeared to be a panel from a sidedsoda. Quickly moving more dirt aside an additional embossed panelcame into view. A few more sweeps of the glove revealed it was aneight-sided mineral water embossed, Hamilton & ChurchExcelsior Mineral Water in a pretty teal green. Sidedsoda, I yelled up, I think itswhole, I added. Up it went with a few other bottlesthat were lying nearby. Once the bucket came back down Icontinued where I left off hoping for another sided soda or two.Some common medicines followed but little else was coming out ofthe area I was working. Feeling a little tired by now it was timefor some new blood to keep things going.
When digging we try and keep arotation going, keeping track of who was last in the pit; thatway, we all get an equal chance at finding something good. Beingthat Jack was hurting with a bad knee, and chose not to take histurn, Mitch went in his place.
Mitch witha bunch of old bottle magazines that we found laying in the yard.I wonder just what the odds are for finding bottle magazines anddigging for old bottles on the same property and on the same day!
A good shelf bottle,nevertheless, it should display well," Rich added.
Signs of the bottom were in sight,so it was now or never for some additional stuff to add to thepile. By now enough dirt had been taken out tohalf the pit; so no more had to be taken out.While Mitch worked the three of us up top became spectators, andwatched his every move. Another sided soda with a damaged lip, afew more pipes, and a great looking greenish-yellow round mineralwater made their way to the surface in a matter of minutes. Beinghalf the pit had been worked to the bottom, and cleared of dirt,all that remained was a three foot shelf on the oppositeun-worked side. As Mitch moved what remained to the empty side wewatched in anticipation.
A partingshot of the pit just before the long fill job started. That blackspot at the bottom of the ladder is a broken black glass bottle.
Before long another nice CathedralPickle was unearthed. This one almost an exact duplicate of theone dug earlier except it was iron-pontil and undamaged. Needlessto say, the bucket went right down, and Mitch laid the bottle onits side in the bucket for the long pull upwards. A quick look,and in one of the bottle boxes it went for safe keeping.
With no more than twenty minutesof pit left to dig it was time to start gathering all our toolsup, and walk some of our bottles out to Richies van. Nowwas the part every digger hates --- the fill job.
In retrospect, the pit was alittle above average for the Atlantic Avenue vicinity ofBrooklyn. Usually these pits dont have a lot of bottles inthem, but do seem to produce a nice cross section of bottletypes. Next on the agenda was the cistern. With any luck it willbe productive, and contain a few bottles for each of us to takehome.
In addition, in the backyard wasa whole stack of Old Bottle magazines from the mid 1980sthat must have been taken outside during building renovations.Boy, you talk about a weird coincidence!!!!
Apicture of the bottles from the pit. A little soap and water goesa long way in cleaning.
(2) 8 1/2 green cathedral pickles (one iron-pontil, one OP w/damage
* plus a couple of ointment pots, common medicine, champagne-style bottles,
several clay pipes, OP utilities, and a lot of fun!
We dug the cistern the followingweekend. Pretty slim picking Im afraid. (2) more umbrellainks (one pontil, aqua), (2) aqua peppersauces (one smooth base,one iron-pontil), squat soda, J. Nevin 1862 Brooklyn, one pipe, ateapot, a few unembossed pontil medicines, a few pontil puffs,two smooth-base aqua hair bottles, and a few more Old Bottlemagazines, and even a long out-of-date bottle book!
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