BOTTLES FROM THE DEEP
BY ELLEN C. GERTH
Bottle collector’s imaginations are fired by thoughts of finding the mother lode, that dump or that privy that produces a volume of great bottles. For the majority of us such a picture is more fiction than fact, but for a few the dream has become a reality and a business as well. John Morris and Greg Stemm, founders of Odyssey Marine Explorations, have been in business for twenty years. After exploring hundreds of shipwrecks, in 2003, one hundred miles off the coast of Georgia, they discovered the wreck of the SS Republic, a side wheel steam ship,. Bound for New Orleans, it had sunk in 1865 in a hurricane – its remains buried by 1,700 feet of water. The retrieval of its artifacts would prove a daunting task requiring a crew of technicians, engineers and archaeologists. The cargo they hoped to find was the reported $400,000 in gold and silver coins.
The cataloging of artifacts and recording of archaeological data, a task to which the Odyssey group was committed, required a significant monetary investment. The recovery of the gold and silver would help off-set those and other costs. Paling in comparison to the fortune found in coins, the 6,000 or so bottles recovered, most of which were whole, provide collectors with a indisputable dating marker. This time capsule captures an interesting period for bottle enthusiasts.
The Civil War had ended. The manufacture of bottles had improved with the introduction of the snap case, an instrument which did away with the pontil marks so coveted by collectors. The bottles found bore characteristics of their antecedents (hand-formed rolled lips and pontil marks), as well as characteristics of bottles which would be produced over the next half century. Although some were pontiled, most were early smooth based specimens with that hand-made look. The stunning photography found in this book allows us to see the range of bottles produced in this tiny time window.
The greatest challenge for the expedition was how to recover the artifacts from such a great depth. The technology employed is as fascinating as the finds themselves. The process was painstakingly slow as each bottle was recovered singly by robotic equipment. Digging by remote control, what fun! The photography of the process provides the reader with a real sense of being there.
The book is organized logically, by category, and covers, patent medicines, bitters, spirits, foods, hair , personal care and ink bottles with a chapter devoted to each. Ms. Gerth has done her research and provides a historical context of the pieces discussed. Along with the exceptional bottle photos, she presents the reader with advertisements, pictures, trade cards and background information.
For collectors, the pictures are enough to make one salivate. Of greatest interest, are the colorful bitters bottles and the gothic cathedral pickles and pepper sauces. Some of the food items still have their contents preserved and looking edible, something diggers never find.
As precious as the bottles themselves might be, their value is immeasurably enhanced by the preservation of the context in which they were lost and found. The vast majority of bottles one might obtain come without this context. With Bottles From the Deep, we have a much richer experience knowing the intimate details of their history. It is indeed rare to be provided this provenance and as such the bottles themselves are more valuable. To learn more about the Odyssey Marine Exploration shipwrecks go to http://www.shipwreck.net/shipwrecks.html. For an opportunity to own a piece of this history or purchase a copy of Bottle From the Deep, log on to their web site at http://shipwreckstore.com
If you need a brief respite from the drudgery of the daily grind, you might escape to the bottom of the ocean and another time with a copy of Bottles From the Deep. It might be just what the doctor ordered.
Review by Digger Odell
© Digger Odell Publications 2006
BOTTLES FROM THE DEEP
BY ELLEN C. GERTH
SHIPWRECK HERITAGE PRESS
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