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Water Hunting for Antique Bottles

Water Hunting
Any river, lake, pond or mooring area that has seen human activity prior to 1900 should contain a wealth of submerged bottles. The older and more popular the area the more antique bottles should be found. Donít just go to the local creek and expect to come home with an entire bottle collection. A little advanced research at the local library will pay off greatly. Look through historical maps and books on the area. Look for old hotel sites, grist mills, for rivers or lakes adjacent to old townships even old carnival sites. After locating a few possible locations. The next step is to visit each area and see if you can find access the site. Many times new building, or fences may prohibit access. Other times you will find that the area is now dredged and bulk headed. Eventually you should find a site that can be accessed. Now you just have to find and recover all those submerged antique bottles.

Many people that work or recreate around these areas find and recover antique bottles almost by accident. One example would be commercial clammers. Whether digging by hand or dragging with a boat they can unearth bottles buried deep under the mud while harvesting clams. Another example are treasure hunters that use metal detectors. These treasure hunters often look for old areas like hotel sites and old swim beaches. When they wade into theses shallow waters in search of lost coins and jewelry they often stumble over old bottles. They then use their long handled scoops to recover the bottles and decide if they are worth keeping. With this in mind antique bottle hunters can also walk around or wade into almost any shallow area and look or feel around, with their feet for bottles. Water hunters can also work the tides. Often antique glass may be exposed during the extreme low tide of a full moon.

Bottle collectors can also look for construction sites along old waterways. Whenever bulk heading is being replaced or dredging done, old bottles are often exposed. Most often no special equipment is needed but waders, wet or dry suits, as well as wet suit boots are often highly recommended for thermal protection and to prevent cuts from broken glass. My friend Ed Slater told me an interesting story about one of his secret bottle sites. On one side of this lake he found hundreds of one breweries blob top beer bottles and on the other side dozens of pontilled medicine bottles. This type of accumulation is not at all uncommon. Basically the guy that lived on the east side of the lake liked beer and his neighbor was a little sickly. For years both tossed their bottles into the lake behind their homes. Its the water hunters job to find and explore these sites and recover the submerged antique glass often hidden beneath only a couple feet of water.

Water hunters can also probe for bottles. When the bottom composition is muddy we sometimes use a long metal rod to stick through the mud. When the probe hits glass it makes a distinct noise. The bottle can then be recovered with a clam rake or with your feet. Just be carful, using to much force with the probe or rake which can damage or even break bottles. Some collectors cover the rake tongs with duct tape to reduce possible damage.

The down side to water hunting for bottles is that much of the glass, especially bottles found in the salt water environment, will have a dull sand blasted finish. This is a result of the glass being exposed to tides and currents which carry particles of sand and slowly blast the glass causing tiny scratches. Sometimes if the bottle is buried in mud and therefore protected from the elements it will have little or no damage. Some collectors choose to have all of their bottles professionally polished to remove the sand blasted damage. Others including myself embrace some bottle for what they are. My feeling is to leave some of my collection of bottles as they are found. I even tend to leave some marine encrustation, barnacles or coral in place. This way the bottle is immediately visually identifiable as being recovered form the ocean. Unlike perfect bottles bought at an antique stores, these bottles have character that visually tell the story of where they were recovered and how long they have been submerged.

Most water hunters quickly realize that they are just scratching the surface. By wading into the shallow water or even snorkeling in search of antique glass. Many antique and possibly valuable bottles certainly lie in deeper water than most can reach by walking. Without a doubt, the best ways to find these deeper submerged antique glass bottles is become a certified scuba diver.

Scuba Diving for Bottles

Scuba is an acronym for (self contained underwater breathing apparatus). Scuba offers a wide variety of options to bottle hunters. In fact many scuba divers become bottle collectors by chance. They basically just start to save the old bottles they collect as they explorer the underwater world. It is very important to have the correct training, equipment and experience for the conditions you plan to dive. For example some beach dives into freshwater lakes may be as simple as swimming in a pool but the same depth dive in a river or near an inlet may be considered advanced due to tides, currents or poor visibility. Learning how to scuba dive is relatively easy and fun. Just contact your local dive shop for details.

Tricks of the Trade: Many times you will find antique bottles sitting exposed on the bottom, in other areas antique glass will be mixed amongst modern bottles and at other times you may have to dig to find and recover buried bottles. A simple hand rake is the tool I use most often while hunting for bottles. I keep it in my hand as I scour the bottom. I can use it to scratch the surface, listening for the telltale sound of metal on glass. Or I can use it to help dig out and uncover bottles that are partially exposed. Remember many times you may be able to fill your bag with bottles but unless you are a little selective on the bottom you may end up with nothing but junk. I use the rake to help flip over each bottle so I can see the type of top and if the bottle is embossed or not. I recommend familiarizing yourself with basic bottle types. As a general rule, I usually look for blob top, cork top, and embossed bottles while underwater. I collect all of these and then more selectively sort through them once on the surface. Many times visibility and marine growth may make it a little difficult to see mold marks and seams while underwater so occasionally you have to bring a bottle to the surface to determine if its worth keeping. Looking at the top is a quick easy way to weed through the junk. For example if the bottle has a blob top you know its late 1800ís. If its a crown top most likely its no older than early 1900ís. As a general rule we usually look for bottles with applied tops which mean they date to before 1903.

Depending on the location and conditions divers will usually want to carry a mesh bag to transport their glass treasure. This bag can be folded and clipped off to any D ring on the divers harness or Buoyancy compensator (BC). Once a bottle is found all the diver has to do is unclip the bag and insert the bottle. If you only have one or two bottles keep the bag partially folded. That is, insert the bottom corner of mesh back over the to and into the handle. This keeps the bag compact and prevents the bottles from dragging or being damaged or broken. The problem is when you find more than a just couple bottles. Now the bag has to be open all the way and bottles can drag on the bottom. One solution is to clip the bag to a waist belt or low on the side of a BC. Then flip the heavy bottle filled end of the bag over the back of your legs. It may seem a little awkward at first but with a little buoyancy control your bottles will be kept from dragging along the bottom and breaking. Some divers actually take two bags into the water when they search for bottles. They keep all of the common bottles in one bag and save the smaller bag for more delicate finds. On some sites I have to use the exchange technique. Basically, I collect bottles until my bag is filled then if I find another good bottle I discard one of lesser value to make room in the bag. This is the type of problem you want to have as a antique bottle collector!

Tools: Their are several ways for divers to dig or excavate the bottom. In most cases you will only dig when you know a spot is productive. For example if working the cargo hold of a shipwreck or an area that you already recovered a good quantity of exposed antique glass. A simple hand fan works quite well. This is actually my favorite method of digging because it's cheap, easy to make, can be carried on every dive and without too much effort produces fine results. Divers can use any number of designs ranging from a ping pong paddle that was first used by treasure hunter, Teddy Tucker, in the 1950's to my own design. My digger is made from a curved piece of 1/8 plate steel, stainless if it's available. Then a piece of 1 inch pipe has a hack saw slot cut through one side. The steel can be curved by bending it around a 4 inch diameter pipe, is pressed into the slot. A spot weld assures security between the two components but is not necessary. The finished item can be clipped onto a BC weight belt or carried in a mesh bag. It's held in the palm and can be used to dig or gently fan silt or sand. By always digging in the same direction the current will usually carry any sediment away, leaving decent visibility in the hole. The curvature of the digger's blade allows more material to be moved with less effort and reduces drag on the back swing.

To move more material you could use a propulsion device and hold it backwards so the thrust blows away the sand.
Using an underwater propulsion vehicle as a excavation tool is not exactly a scientific or manufacturer approved method, but since these devices have become affordable, they have not only helped divers to get to where they want to go but also fan away the sand in order to search for artifacts. By turning a propulsion device away from you while holding its front end against your chest and the propeller pointed down, a diver or team of divers can dig a large hole very rapidly. I prefer to use a model with an adjustable pitch propeller. This way I can run on a low speed. Otherwise, as learned from experience, instead of digging a hole, the diver is simply propelled backwards across the bottom. Two divers working as a team is the best way to use this method. As a word of caution, this equipment was never designed for this function. Mud, sand and dirt could get caught in the trigger mechanism, causing the unit to stay on. Depending on the units design I recommend Installing a pin that can be used to pull the trigger out in case of binding. If the unit does jam in the on position, you can aim it downward so that it runs itself into the bottom, allowing time to pull the trigger to the off position. Another good idea is to secure the propulsion unit to the wreck, so it can't swim away if the trigger does get stuck. If the unit is secured correctly, it will also reduce the effort of holding it in place and, therefore, reduce your air consumption.

Even more elaborate would be an air lift, water dredge or water jet. These are all powered by topside compressors or pumps. They require quite a bit of work to set up but can move mountains of sand very quickly. Other than the hand fan these devises are for the advanced diver. Most often we only resort to using a lift when excavating the cargo of shipwrecks in search of artifacts.

Depending on the location, antique bottles could be lying out in the open or buried deep under sand, mud or clay. I have listed below a few examples of the best locations I have found to search while scuba diving for antique bottles.

Shipwrecks: One of my favorite places to explore are the remains of old shipwrecks. Most vessels carried bottles either as cargo or part of their supplies. These artifacts may not be exposed and visible to scuba diving sightseers and require some digging to get to. Many times it is the bottles that are recovered from a unidentified shipwreck that actually allow us to date the site and eventually identify the shipwreck. On that note antique bottles can also be a little miss leading when it comes to shipwreck research. Realize that many wrecks were heavily fished from the day they went down until the present. This is because shipwrecks provide structure for marine organisms on an often barren sea floor. They basically quickly become artificial reefs. Many of the bottles divers recover can be younger than the wreck because they are from fisherman and not the ships cargo. When divers can access a cargo area its not uncommon at all to fill your bag with some very unique antique glass. For historical information and images of any shipwreck listed in this book please refer to the authors web sites www.aquaexplorers.com and www.shipwreckexpo.com

Harbors and Mooring Areas: Any area that had human activity during the time period of the bottles you are searching for should be good to search. Mooring areas and old harbors are the perfect example. Think about it, even back in the 1800ís people sat on their boats drank soda and beer and then tossed the bottle overboard. A perfect example of this is the Garvies Point Mooring area on Long Island, NYís south shore. When I first got certified back in 1979 a friend Jerry Barski took me to this spot. We found hundreds of late 1800 vintage blob top bottles. Over the years scores of divers have also explored the area. Although you might not fill your bag on each trip anymore by probing the soft mud or by visiting the area after a storm bottles can still be found. The reason is divers have only scratched the surface. Many antique bottles still lie buried and out of sight, waiting to be uncovered by Mother Nature or be found by divers willing to work a little bit. One trick for soft mud bottom mooring areas is to swim down each moored boats mooring chain after a storm. Strong winds often cause each large mushroom anchor to drag a few feet. Divers can sometimes find a collection of bottles basically plowed up by the effects of mother nature. As a side note: One of the most interesting bottles I ever found at Garvies was a late 1800ís vintage Hutchison with a clam inside it. The clam had thrived inside the bottle and was now much larger than the bottles opening. Unfortunately the bottle was a little sand blasted. Although I generally like to leave my bottles as found this is the perfect example where professional polishing enhances the artifact display greatly.

Ferry Pier: Years ago, with a little research, we found the location of an old ferry pier. All that was left were a few exposed wood pilings protruding through the surface. What we found underwater was just amazing the entire area was littered with blob top beer bottles, flasks and even a few bitters bottles. These types of areas are still out there. Sometimes it just takes a little research and sometimes just a little luck.

Dump sites: Any old area that people dumped trash should be good for finding bottles. As a scuba diver this means you may have to do a little research or go out and explore new areas. Over the years we have found accumulations of bottles behind old chemist shops, in lakes and ponds where locals would deposit trash on the ice during the winter which would then sink to the bottom each spring when the ice melted.

While scuba diving for bottles please make sure you obtain the required equipment and experience for the depth, currents and location you plan to dive. Many areas have conditions that require local knowledge. Be safe, have fun and remember itís not just about how many bottles you can find its about the fun and adventure you have doing so.

 

 
 
 

 

 

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Hunting Antique Bottles in the Marine Environment.
By Capt. Dan Berg

 

Softcover, 5.5x8.5", 98 pages
printed in full color. $19.95 +P&H

Hunting Antique Bottles in the Marine Environment is the complete field guide for finding and identifying antique bottles. Capt. Berg has been searching for antique bottles in local lakes, rivers and on shipwrecks for over thirty years. Learn not only how to find submerged antique bottles but also how to clean them and how to determine how old they are. This text is packed with historical information that shows how bottles were produced and how each manufacturing process left distinct marks which can be used to accurately estimate any bottles age. Capt. Dan has heavily illustrated this text with over 200 color images depicting the types of bottles that can be recovered by searching local waters. He also uses over 10 unique 3D diagrams designed to give a better understanding as to the time line of glass blowing and bottle manufacturing. These 3D mold images are combined with drawings of the bottles they produced and highlight the distinct mold seam marks each created. This informative text tells all the tricks of the trade that until now have only been learned through years of experience. Bottle collectors, scuba divers and anyone interested in exploring the marine environment for these historic treasurers will reference this text often as they search for and collect antique bottles.

 

 Antique Bottle Identification Guide  Sample Pages

 
     
 
     
 


Sample Pages

 

 

This title is also available as a downloadable ebook
click here for details on all of Capt. Dan's downloadable products.

 

Hunting Antique Bottles in the Marine Environment.
By Capt. Dan Berg

Softcover, 5.5x8.5", 98 pages
printed in full color. $19.95 +P&H


 

This book is also available as a downloadable ebook


only $9.95
5.7 MB instant download, printable  PDF file

 

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Hunting Antique Bottles
in the Marine Environment


Bottle Collecting
Bottle Characteristics
How bottles were made
Bottle Value
Bottle Types
  Screw Top
  Painted
  Crown Top
  Blob Top
  Hutchnison
  Lightening
  Bromo seltza

  Black Glass
  Bitters
  Whiskey
  Medicine
  Poison
  Beer
  Saratoga
  Soda

  Codd
  Coca Cola
  Round and Torpedo
  Flasks
  Inkwells
  Ceramic
  Milk
Water Hunting
  Scuba Diving
  Tools
  Shipwrecks
  Harbors
  Ferry Piers
  Dump Sites

Scuba Diving
Cleaning Bottles
  Tumbling

Estimating Age
  Tops
  Mold Marks
  Mold Mark Chart
  Bottom
  Embossing
Patent Numbers
Makers Marks
Just how old
Age Estimating Chart
Glossary of Terms

Scuba Equipment 
 Training Agencies
 
Equip Manufacturers
 

     

 

 


 

 

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