ANOTHER "GREAT BOTTLE DIGGING STORY" FROM THE PAGES OF
ANTIQUE BOTTLE AND GLASS COLLECTOR MAGAZINE
THE MAGAZINE OF THE ANTIQUE BOTTLE COLLECTING HOBBY
antique bottles Privy Digging - The Pickle and Magazine Pit nasa ------ ebay by Gary Guest privy digging
Hey, this house looks digable, copy down the phone number, and lets give it a call, I said to the guys. Well, that was back in 1995, if I recall; little did we know it would take over two years to finally dig.
The house at 86 Hoyt Street, that we recently dug. The good news is that we also got permission to dig another house on the same block.
The property in question was a four-story brick building in one of the oldest commercially settled sections of Brooklyn, down near the waterfront. We had originally gotten access to the backyard to take a look from a neighbor whose backdoor opened right into the yard we wanted to dig. While Jack Fortmeyer went back, I stayed talking with another local on the block hoping to find out more about the property and who owned it. After about 10 minutes or so, Jack returned, and said he had probed the pit out, and hit a privy wall. Great, I thought, all we had to do is get in touch with whoever owned the property by calling the real estates phone number on the outside of the building. Sounds pretty straight forward, we thought. As it turned out it became more complicated and frustrating as time went on.0
First off, the owner wanted nothing to do with us, and to make matters worse the real estate was in the middle of changing owners, so they were hesitant about giving out any perspective buyers' phone numbers to a bunch of dirtbag bottle diggers. So, the bottom line, we got nowhere for another year---driving past the vacant building every time we went into Brooklyn looking for signs of life.
Finally, one Saturday, clean-up started; here was our big chance. Even before I could park the diggin mobile out went Jack to try to find someone in charge. Better known as silver tongue, it wasnt long before he was directed inside toward the new owner of the building. Judging by the amount of debris filling the dumpster the building was in for some serious renovations both inside and out back where we wanted to dig.
The foreman on the job also happened to be the new owner, and was very receptive to our request for permission to dig. He had even found an old giant cash register in the basement, and asked if we wanted to buy it seeing we were into old bottles. Sorry, we dont know anything about them, but I will keep it in mind, I told one of the workers. The owner pretty much gave us the OK to dig right off, however, he wanted to wait till his work was completely over with before letting us in. Sounds good, Jack said. I gave him my business card and he gave us his
beeper number, and off we went convinced wed be digging within a month or so.That was summer 1997, things looked promising. Before long the dog days of summer were over, and we were into fall and the early part of winter, and still no call from our permission. Despite numerous messages, and driving past the property things werent looking good for us digging the pit any time soon. We finally got a break in February of this year when a business moved in on the ground floor and had access to the backyard. A quick stop, and talking with some of the guys inside revealed that they were friends of the owner. A mid-week call by the tenants to confirm our story, and we were in, for that weekend!
Its that tall guy again. Thats Fireman Jack with two of the bottle 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 digging behind a store or small business they dont open till nine or ten in the morning, but not this time. Another plus was that there was not too much debris toward the back of the property where the pit was. A few more test probe holes confirmed Jack was right (boy, I hate that!); the pit was almost dead center, a few feet short of the back property line.
The four of us, myself, Richie Johnson, Mitch Kramer, and Jack, hadnt dug a privy in six months, so to say we were anxious to get started would definitely be an understatement. Id say within an hour the entire privy was exposed. It was typical stoneliner, about six foot around. Although the first few feet were uneventful we were getting the dirt out at a steady pace. With an occasional shard of Ironstone China and clump of coal ash, or lime, things looked optimistic for a bottle any minute.
Due to the abnormally high amount of rain and mild winter here in the Northeast the first several feet of pit were also pretty heavy to muscle out by shovel, so at about the five foot level, we switched over to using the bucket. With each bucketful of dirt more and more shards of glass were showing up. Granted, everything was smooth-based, but we felt most of the stuff was still worthy of a closer look---a broken ordinary unembossed flask, the base of a squat soda, and the first bottle to grab our attention, a H. Knebel Excelsior Cream Soda from Manhattan.
Actually, Mitch spotted it in a clump of burnt coal ash, and gingerly worked it free from a small shelf that he was loading the bucket from. Being we all like these little sodas to some degree, he sure got our attention when he looked up, and said he had one. Definitely 1860s Id say, Richie said, as he pulled the bucket up top to be dumped. Hey, were working less, and finding more bottles a lot closer to the top of the pit than last time, Rich added. Several more bottles, an ointment pot, and a pipe or two told us that Mitch was having a little too much fun down below! Times up, Jack yelled down, with that, Mitch gave someone else a turn.
Hold it up for the camera, Rich. It looks like it will have some nice color to it once its cleaned up.
By mid-morning the jokes were flying, and the anticipation we all felt for a day full of bottles was making work a lot easier. Before Rich went down he loaded up the parking meters for the cars out front (before New Yorks finest could ticket us), so we took a five minute break. Upon returning, down he went, and up came the ladder. Come on Rich, send us up something good, Jack yelled down. A few pontiled bottles were now making there way up top; things were looking good. Id say the mixture of bottles at this point was still predominantly smooth-based, but things were getting interesting. After about ten minutes Rich spotted what appeared to be just another unembossed flask. From up top we could partially see its shape, and what looked like a double round collar. Its a Willington Glass half pint, Rich yelled up. Send that baby up, Mitch replied, as he quickly lowered the empty bucket towards Rich. Although it was filled with dirt you could still see it was pretty shade of amber, and undamaged. Although it is a rather common flask (GII-63), you sure dont dig many of them. At that point we already had a couple of first pick bottles, and a lot of pit left to dig; we wondered what would be next.
It was now twelve-thirty and things were moving along nicely. I mean, a cream soda, eagle flask, a slew of common medicines, a crude-looking champagne, two umbrella inks, you sure couldnt complain so far. Digging continued, this time I went below to try my hand at whatever the pit had in store for us.
Once below I motioned for the bucket. Most of what we were finding was located inward about a foot or so off the wall of the pit, so thats where I began. Securing the bucket against the wall, and a few feet below our leveled off shelf, I watched for clumps of dirt breaking up falling into the bucket. Aside from a load of plain white buttons and a few pipe stems nothing much caught my eye for a good ten minutes. Down about eight feet, it was now or never for some killer bottles.
Fortunately the dirt was soft enough to slowly work the hand rake around, and hopefully feel for what every digger dreams about: the configuration of a bottle. In addition, porcelain, red brick, broken stoneware, everything has its own distinctive sound when you bump up against it. With that in mind I became more anxious as my stint in the pit dragged on.
Three of the nicer colored bottles from the pit that cleaned up well enough to show their color.
While whisking away some newly fallen dirt I noticed what appeared to be a panel from a sided soda. Quickly moving more dirt aside an additional embossed panel came into view. A few more sweeps of the glove revealed it was an eight-sided mineral water embossed, Hamilton & Church Excelsior Mineral Water in a pretty teal green. Sided soda, I yelled up, I think its whole, I added. Up it went with a few other bottles that were lying nearby. Once the bucket came back down I continued where I left off hoping for another sided soda or two. Some common medicines followed but little else was coming out of the area I was working. Feeling a little tired by now it was time for some new blood to keep things going.
When digging we try and keep a rotation going, keeping track of who was last in the pit; that way, we all get an equal chance at finding something good. Being that Jack was hurting with a bad knee, and chose not to take his turn, Mitch went in his place.
Little time was wasted in switching over, and before long Mitch picked up the pace and continued digging. Down about ten feet now there was still a lot of pit left to dig. The only question was, was it going to be productive, and keep us smiling. After about ten minutes we got our answer --- an open-pontil green Cathedral Pickle about eight and a half inches tall. Up top we could see it lying on its side. Wow, I can see its dark alright, Jack said as we all peered into the pit. Well, is it whole or not, I asked. Unfortunately, a small corner was gone, but it still looked great.
Mitch with a bunch of old bottle magazines that we found laying in the yard. I wonder just what the odds are for finding bottle magazines and digging 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 the pile. By now enough dirt had been taken out to half the pit; so no more had to be taken out. While Mitch worked the three of us up top became spectators, and watched his every move. Another sided soda with a damaged lip, a few more pipes, and a great looking greenish-yellow round mineral water made their way to the surface in a matter of minutes. Being half the pit had been worked to the bottom, and cleared of dirt, all that remained was a three foot shelf on the opposite un-worked side. As Mitch moved what remained to the empty side we watched in anticipation.
A parting shot of the pit just before the long fill job started. That black spot at the bottom of the ladder is a broken black glass bottle.
Before long another nice Cathedral Pickle was unearthed. This one almost an exact duplicate of the one dug earlier except it was iron-pontil and undamaged. Needless to say, the bucket went right down, and Mitch laid the bottle on its 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 minutes of pit left to dig it was time to start gathering all our tools up, and walk some of our bottles out to Richies van. Now was the part every digger hates --- the fill job.
In retrospect, the pit was a little above average for the Atlantic Avenue vicinity of Brooklyn. Usually these pits dont have a lot of bottles in them, but do seem to produce a nice cross section of bottle types. Next on the agenda was the cistern. With any luck it will be productive, and contain a few bottles for each of us to take home.
In addition, in the backyard was
a whole stack of Old Bottle magazines from the mid 1980s
that must have been taken outside during building renovations.
Boy, you talk about a weird coincidence!!!!
A picture of the bottles from the pit. A little soap and water goes a 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 following weekend. Pretty slim picking Im afraid. (2) more umbrella inks (one pontil, aqua), (2) aqua peppersauces (one smooth base, one iron-pontil), squat soda, J. Nevin 1862 Brooklyn, one pipe, a teapot, a few unembossed pontil medicines, a few pontil puffs, two smooth-base aqua hair bottles, and a few more Old Bottle magazines, and even a long out-of-date bottle book!
Did you enjoy this digging story? Every month Antique Bottle and Glass Collector magazine gives you neat digging stories like this one.
Why not subscribe today!
It's easy just click here. SUBSCRIPTION INFORMATION
Return me to: HOME PAGE - Go to: OTHER DIGGING STORIES