My son and I went to the Smithsonian last week, and there was a woman set up at one exhibit who was showing how chocolate was made in the 1800’s in America. She had block of cane sugar, and a couple of other ingredients laid out. But on the wooden cutting board in front of her I was amazed to see actual raw cocoa beans sitting in a flat bowl. The reason I was amazed was because I knew that back home in my basement on my bottles shelf, I had an 1850’s redware dish that I found scuba diving, and laid out in the dish were some very similar looking beans. I had found those beans in an 1850’s bottle on the same dive! The bottle was sealed, and looked like it contained Boston baked beans, but I pried open the cork, and poured the oozy mess out onto a flat board in the sun, and dried them off, and the photo you see there are what was left after it all dried out. I had always wondered what they were, and now I tend to think that they were cocoa beans for making chocolate!
I finally got a good photo of this Dr. Stocker’s Sarsaparilla that I dug out of a Maine Riverbank. I wanted the bottle, and the story of finding it to be in my new book, but I’ve always had trouble photographing clear, embossed bottles. This time though, I took my time, and kept posing the bottle in different spots with different lighting. Finally, on a cloudy, gloomy day, the lighting coming into our living room was just right.
In my new book “A Field Guide to American Trash” there is a large chapter on the different colors of sea glass, and what types of old bottles they came from. This was a really fun dig! Came from a salt marsh in Massachusetts, embossed ” Old Dr. Goodhue’s Root and Herb Bitters from Salem Mass. Next to it you can see a broken panel to a Baker’s Orange Grove Bitters.
I was excited to find this stone ink bottle behind a 1700s house dump! It has four holes on the corners as quill rests, plus the center hole for the ink. I love to picture what documents might have been signed with this one!
I got this blacking bottle diving the bottom of a river a ways back. It dates back to the 1850’s, with a sharp open pontil. It was full of silty mud, with the cork still jammed in it. After working out the cork, and draining the silt out, I found that the metal dauber that was used to spread the blacking polish was still in it!
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 site with her, and coming up empty, just 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! I can’t tell you how impressed I am with the job Annie did with this!