History's throwaways and discards emerged as coveted attractions Sunday when bottles, vials and flasks that spent decades buried in dumps and privies returned in translucent glory.
Billed as the "largest one-day bottle show in the world," the Baltimore Bottle Club's 33rd annual sale and exhibit, held in Essex, drew container connoisseurs who didn't flip a cork over paying $750 for a rare cobalt-blue poison bottle produced at Carr-Lowrey, a factory on the Middle Branch of the
"In bottle collecting, color is king," said collector Steve Charing, a
"Men in the 19th century could be very fussy about their hair preparations," he said. "The ones with enough money would have their own decanters for tonics made to their own formulas, maybe with a certain scent."
His own favorite bottles were those with a hobnail surface over a creamy white glass base. "These are beautiful. They were never thrown in a dump," he said.
The Baltimore Bottle Club's show is an event so sacred to its believers that 200 assembled at 8 a.m. outdoors in a chilly wind to be the first through the doors of the physical education center at the
It was a day to celebrate Baltimore's once-thriving glass blowers and manufacturers, such as Carr-Lowrey, where Avon containers and Head and Shoulders shampoo bottles were born, and Maryland Glass, the Noxzema jar maker.
Dealers explained that bottle makers marked their wares with embossed lettering schemes on the bottom, enabling collectors to know the provenance of what they are buying. And if color and condition count, so does a knowledge of the bottle's origin.
"I like collecting local stuff," said Eric Ewen, a truck driver from
He said milk bottle collecting has its own niche among the many categories of bottle fans. Because customers paid a deposit for the reusable bottles, each container was clearly marked by the dairy that supplied it.
Bill Mueller, a Crownsville milk bottle collector, said Maryland once had 800 dairies and as many different milk bottle designs. He showed a
The show drew numerous exhibitors from other states. Jerry Jones, a retired telephone company employee from Pleasant Gardens, N.C., arrived with his stash of empty precious poison bottles.
"Bedbugs were more of a problem in the past than we think," he said as he displayed a lethal insecticide bottle embossed with "Pratt's killer for bedbugs."
If milk bottles routinely carried the name of the dairy, poison bottles were traditionally embossed with bumpy ridges so there would be, in theory, no confusing the blue milk of magnesia bottle with the mercury bichloride intended to clean surgical instruments.
A cobalt blue poison bottle made by Carr-Lowrey glass in an "irregular hexagon" pattern was priced at $750. It was also marked for Bowman's drug stores, which Jones said was a California chain. "That bottle made in Baltimore wound up being sold on the West Coast."
The way to tell a bottle made by the old Maryland Glass Co. was its letter M surrounded by a circle, said Glen Mansberger III, a Baltimore Bottle Club member who lives in Harford County.
His wares included those from all over Baltimore's
Not all the containers were glass. Chris Vaught, a construction worker from Ingleside in
"They might hold root beer that had a small alcoholic content," he said. "Or spruce beer, maple mead or honey mead. The best places to find them are in the urban areas because, on a farm or rural site, you'll never know just where a privy was located."