October 30, 2008

Digger Odell Publications ©2009

Last week we dug a ten foot deep privy in our quest for antique bottles. The three of us spend the majority of our time shoveling dirt, pulling buckets or dumping buckets out. It might seem odd to many but all of us actually enjoy this part of the bottle digging. Of course we like finding bottles too.

It seems to be an unwritten law that the best bottles are always broken. I guess it must be like fishing, where the angler tells the story of the one that got away, the biggest fish that ever was to hear them tell it. Like fishermen, get a group of bottle diggers together and you’ll hear the same kind of exaggeration about their catches.

Unlike the fishermen, we bottle diggers drag home the shards. I possibly have more broken bottles than whole ones. Here in my office, from my seat I see at least five broken bottles. One of them is an unknown pontil age Pittsburg Morton’s ink bottle (link) we dug from a hole several months back. It of course, was the best bottle in the hole and according to the rule – it was broken. There was enough of it left for me to bring it home where I could daily relive the agony of realizing it wasn’t intact. Beside the ink is a Shaker Sarsaparilla,(link) incredibly rare and badly broken, which I dug close to twenty years ago. Still it occupies a prominent place in my office. Next to the sarsaparilla lies half of a Strickland’s Mellifluous Cough Balsam. The other half was never found but still I hauled it home.

In the garage is a cabinet full of broken pottery, bottle necks, bottle bases, panels and hundreds of shards of one sort or another. In the attic are buckets of shards from digs long past. For reasons unknown even to myself, I have pieces of bottles squirreled away that I dug back in the 1960s. Some aren’t even rare or remarkable but most are tangible evidence of the unwritten rule of bottle digging – The best bottles are always broken.

Last week’s ten foot privy yielded only three whole bottles and very few broken ones. There were large amounts of china, stoneware, yellowware and redware but little glass by comparison. The remarkable thing was that the three intact bottles were the best bottles in the hole – whole or broken. I suppose this must be the exception that proves the rule.


broken shaker sarsaparilla