Found these three this week in a 1920s dump along a highway. A square poison, a slag glass auto ashtray, and a slag glass 1940s hotrod stick shift knob!
One of the best things about digging or diving for bottles, is that there are times when you come back with an empty basket, but still have a great day.
It was a great day to dive today, and I found a spot that looked perfect in a river next to an old large farm. As I was about to slip into the dark water, I was startled by a voice above me on the crest of the riverbank, saying “hello”.
It was the man in this photo, a long bearded character, who seemed to have come back from a bygone day. I almost hoped he would tell me where all the bottles were buried. But instead, he just warned me about the fallen trees that were sunk in the river behind me, and about the poison ivy all along the banks. He said the farm I had seen had been in his family for generations. I asked his name, and asked if the farm had ever had it’s own milk bottles, and he said they did. I asked if the bottles were “painted with red letters” , or if they were embossed, and he said both.
The dive went as so many do, a tangle of branches, and water current moving too quickly, piles of beer bottles and snow tires, with an occasional older shard of pottery to keep me going. In this case, that meant going down stream further than I could swim back against the current, so I wound up walking back along side the river bank, through thick nasty briars.
While I was underwater I found some interesting pottery shards, which I kept, but only one whole bottle, a half pint embossed milk. It was embossed J.L. Hayward, Brookside Farm, Bridgewater, Ma.
When I finally made it back to the truck, the old man was not around. I changed out of my gear and munched a sandwich, and started to drive off, but something told me to turn around and go back up to the house, and see if I could find the man.
I knocked on the door of the little house next to the farm house, but no answer. So I figured I’d just leave the bottle on the front step for a surprise. As I backed out of the driveway, I saw him appear out of the front door, and he picked up the bottle and waved me to come back. We had a friendly conversation, and he began to tell me the history of the farm, and the town, and as he talked he noticed for the first time that there was embossing on the bottle.
He read it and said ” J. Hayward, hey that’s my Uncle John!”. He was quite happy to have the bottle, and said I could take his picture for my bottle digging blog, knowing full well that he could become an internet sensation. He told me that he was one of the last of 11 generations of Haywards, the first of which was granted a forty by forty mile tract of land back in the 1600s! I was going to tell him he reminded me of the scary neighbor character in the movie Home Alone, but I guessed he wouldn’t have seen it. But if you’ve seen the movie, especially the last scene when he is warm and friendly, you’d see the comparison. I felt privileged to shake his hand, he was truly salt of the earth.
My daughter Annie is 21 years old, which makes it easy for me to remember how long ago I dug this flask. I dug it 3 days after she was born. It was the first time I left the house since we brought Annie home from the hospital. I told my wife Cristina, spontaneously, that I was “going to go dig Annie a bottle”. There was a site I had found right up the street a couple of weeks earlier, but the top of the ground had frozen over, and I couldn’t penetrate it with my digger. It was 1/4 mile up the road, right along side the shoulder of the pavement, where I could see two old buckets, half buried. I had passed it a hundred times, and assumed there would be nothing there, since it was visible from the road.
I pulled up one of the buckets and started to dig, and it loosened up underneath, opening up some rust patches, and some aqua glass…a good sign. I made a small hole with my digger, then reached down to clear away with my glove, and felt what felt like a whole bottle. I looked down into the hole, after brushing away the dirt, and was shocked to see the word STODDARD staring right back at me! I pulled it out, and it was mint. I ran back to my van, and sped down the road, back up my driveway. I had been gone for only about ten minutes, so when I peeled into the driveway honking my horn, my wife met me at the door thinking something was very wrong.
I stood on the front porch holding the bottle, ‘Stoddard” side facing her. She said “You didn’t dig that, who gave it to you?”
So that was Annie’s bottle. We followed her with another daughter and a son, Chloe and Quincy. I did my best to replicate my feat when they were born, which I did. But I have to admit, a lettered Stoddard flask was impossible to top!
Last week I went hiking in the woods looking for prospective dump sites, and came across a surface dump back in the woods. There wasn’t a lot of hope for finding anything very old, as the bottles were mostly screw tops, dating to the 1930s. But, you never know. After about twenty minutes, out rolls an aqua insulator. The inside was full of dirt, which I had to pick out with a stick, before I realized what I was had actually dared to hope, which was that it was an early threadless one! Haven’t dug one in years, really made my day.
My daughter Annie called me from school at U Maine Oromo, and said she needed to do a 5 minute documentary for her new media class, and could she do it on me bottle digging. Of course I said yes because I want to help in any way, but all I could picture was spending an afternoon at some old dump digging through shards. So I was stoked when I managed to scratch up a smooth base W.E. Bonney barrel ink! Here’s the video! Great job Annie
1880s hair bottle found during a canoe trip in NH