The 2012 Toronto Bottle Show, Sunday April 22nd, Oriole Community Centre

Rob Campbell

The 19th annual 2012 Toronto Bottle & Antique Show and Sale was  Sunday April 22nd at the Oriole Community Centre at 2975 Don Mills Rd in Toronto Ontario. There were over 40 dealers with approx one hundred items each- that’s four thousand highly collectible pieces of early Canadian glass and pottery for sale under one roof… This place is a bottle collector’s paradise.

Here’s Rene Menard who drove all the way from Montreal to shop at the show this year. He collects French Canadian bottles and loves to pick over the shows and sales in Ontario looking for stuff that came from Quebec.

This year the Four Seasons Bottle Collectors Club annual Show and Sale was held in the Oriole Community Centre, which is a skating rink at 2975 Don Mills Road in Toronto.  This nice central location was no doubt quite handy for people who were driving into the city from distant markets. But unfortunately the venue was cold and rather dimly lit by overhead sodium lamps. Honestly, I was disappointed by the accommodations and seek to improve the venue in coming years. I’m a member of this club now.

And so it came to pass that that
that the biggest bottle show in Canada was held in a hockey arena. And it was cold in there. Everyone had their coats on.. And over in the corner, Randall Mathieus played his acoustic guitar, which was oddly perfect. He played Stompin’ Tom and Robbie Robertson of The Band. I’m still humming along with his rendition of Up On Cripple Creek.

Admission was $5.00. I paid the guy with the stamp outside and Sean Murphy refunded my
money inside, without me asking for it. He reminded me that club members
don’t have to pay the $5 fee at the annual show. Its a perk.

At 9:30am over two hundred people poured in the open doors, and each attendee was no doubt contemplating a shopping list of items the were hoping to spot, bargain for and acquire. Lots of folks come here to do comparison shopping, and thereby learn more about their own collections. So they began feverishly scouring the tables looking for anything on their list, or anything curious, and when they spot a gem they jump in and interrupt all nonsensical blog interviews. This was my experience during the first few minutes of the show – the hungry dealers give new buyers time and attention over blog interviewers, I find myself on the outside, watching the pickers haggle and trade. To the left is John Goodyear with Ron King who owns a Toronto roof company and who finds beautiful bottles in downtown properties by doing excavations directly related to his job.

The savvy shoppers will often wait until after lunch to buy anything they really like – if they can stand to wait on the deal. They know that prices fall as the day gets older, but they risk someone else scooping their finds. Dealer don’t like packing up unsold merchandise at the end of the show and prefer sales with small profits to the drudgery of transport.  And so a timely bid is often as compelling as a generous offer, you just have to wait for the right time.

After four or five years of documenting the show I know when to back off and wait my turn. My mission is simply to report the scene and to interview the charismatic dealers that I don’t already know. And to say hello again to the folks I’ve interrogated before.  I always ask new guys if they are diggers, and in my head I try to loosely identify the source of their merchandise, as that’s what separates the professionals from the hobbyists in this business.

For most of the show, the center of gravity seemed to be in the back south corner where three Canadian pottery kingpins were all set up to sell their wares.  First was John Goodyear, who is an Eastern Ontario diver and digger and dealer of some repute. The beautiful jugs and crocks pictured above are from his table, and were priced to move.

Malcolm and Newf are the most colourful and charismatic dumpdiggers in Canada. They work well together in bottle shows and bottle holes and seem to find the most and best stuff. And they are honest with other diggers who occasionally get the honour of accompanying them on their extraordinary adventures. One look at their treasure table will humble the proudest collectors, and more so knowing that each piece was discovered somehow, and with these guys that was very likely at the bottom of a deep hole. Click the pictures to expand – the photo below is a snap shot of what Malcolm keeps under glass in his display case.

Malcolm and Newf  used to be the two most active and hardest working dumpdiggers in Ontario, but have since become more savvy shoppers…  I suspect they dig through eBay listings and estate sales more than old dumps these days. Still you cannot deny their volume or quality of proffered wares, and new discoveries.

Right beside this pair was another giant among collectors, the man who is equal parts loved, hated and admired by three quarters of the community, Abel DaSilva. 

Abel DaSilva starts the show standing at rest behind his tables, which are well stocked with decorative glass, rare early Toronto soda pop bottles, Canadian whiskys, stoneware jugs and crocks.  He knows the value of art glass and likes to buy decorative advertising and breweriana.

He meets the people as they come and sells lots of bottles. He takes in their money and most importantly he listens to each customer’s requests.  Abel has a keen ear for remembering details and making himself familiar with what people are looking for … and that’s how Abel DaSilva sells items off of other peoples’ tables in the afternoon. For the first two hours Abel is stationary, amassing credit with his wife June as he liquidates his best bargains.

Then around noon Abel becomes more nomadic and begins to use the information stored in his head. He takes careful notes of what’s left on each of the dealer’s tables around him and what might be had for cheap prices or worked into a three way deal.

The clever man’s sharp eyes and calculating brain help him sift through the visual data and match it to corresponding customer lists stored in his head; he knows the biggest bottle buyers all over Canada.  You can see him in the background of so many of my pictures in the afternoon, working his magic putting together three ways deals and acting as a catalyst to cash transactions. He practices the art of the deal and profits from the combination of knowing what people want and where to get it.

Derek Tatler waits behind his syrup cans.

Derek brought a complete set of BC Sugar, ROGERS’ GOLDEN SYRUP cans, along with a smattering of glass insulators, and a half dozen pieces of pink carnival glass. He also had about fifteen fruit sealers and some of these were dug relics from his own adventures. Derek is one the true Dumpdiggers at the show. Years ago he used to dig farm dumps, and frequent the Rosedale valley holes and pockets along the Toronto Lakeshore. He confessed to having jumped a few fences in his day and some of the recovered booty is core to his primary keepsakes.

This Sunday he brought out some nice doubles that he has in his inventory. He offered to sell me highly coveted fruit sealers and creamers that he keeps in his own display, or rather these units are not in his display for there is no room for doubles, and so they must be sold or traded here at the show.

Derek held up a pint sized fruit jar with correct lid embossed, THE DARLING / IMPERIAL for which he wanted $150, and which he says came from a dig along the Toronto waterfront.. And in his other hand he held a quarter pint creamer embossed W. WILLIAMSON / AURORA for which he was asking $200.

Here’s Marcus Johnson with large Bennington bowl which is a pottery company that was first established in Bennington Vermont in 1785.
The pottery became The Norton Stoneware Co after it began making
stoneware in 1815. Pieces painted by John Hilfinger are considered among
the best, although later when the firm was renamed the The United States Pottery Company in 1852 a UK immigrant named Daniel Greatbach modeled some of some inspirational pieces. To my knowledge Marcus had an unsigned piece. It was something he called ‘splatterware’. Marcus hunts yard sales and finds his best stuff rummaging through sale barns and at live auctions. He’s been picking and collecting pottery since 2002, and is a regular at the Toronto show.

Steve Mouck is an owner and the operator of Lincoln Estate Vineyards which has limited vintages and really more of a boutique grape juice producer in the Niagara peninsula. He specializes in Niagara Falls bottles and tourist related glass whimsies, and like so many other collectors he seeks 19th century salt glazed stoneware from Niagara. He covets the jugs and crocks that were produced by potteries or commissioned by merchants to preserve the harvest. After years of collecting and running a website called Garden City Glass, Steve has amassed a hoard of St Catherines areas glass bottles and pottery.

Mike and Barbara Emre are cleaning house and making room for their retirement by liquidating three or more of Mike’s diverse and extensive collections. As Barbara talked to the customers Mike was able to relate how he had started as a boy collecting pop bottles – the old ones couldn’t be returned for a deposit. That evolved to beer bottles and then to ginger beer bottles and then to early Canadian stoneware pottery.

But Mike also had a large collection of paper label whisky bottles. These are survivors – paper label bottles that were recovered just a few meters away from where they were consumed, usually in an old barn, basement or garage. The labels survived and stand testament to a different age when men and women drank at work, and consumed large amounts of alcohol in bottles hidden around their homes and job sites.

Mike Emre holds out a Hudson’s Bay Scotch Whiskey quart flask in good condition and for sale at $28. This item looks ancient but in truth is only about forty years old. It does speak to the legacy of Canada’s oldest retailer. This is a company that was trading whisky for fur back in the 1600s. However what many people don’t know is that Hudsons Bay Company is still selling whisky in the United States today, and even the labels on the bottles today bear some resemblance to the one Mike is holding here. And that’s probably why Mike was only asking $28 for the piece, which is a great price for a good storyfull bottle that will surely stand out in any display.

Robert Brak and his wife Linda hold a bright yellow tin Wishing Well soda pop advertising sign which they sold later that day to a home decorator for twenty five bucks. A good score.

Linda Brak collects painted label soda bottles and Robert Brak likes his stoneware ginger beers. The two both lived on farms near Meaford when they were growing up, and used to enjoy digging and collecting old bottles as teenagers. They dug a lot of farm dumps and really got hooked, and then hitched in 1974 at which time they relocated to Goderich Ontario. Their passion for digging was put on hold in that region however as they were hard pressed to find any old dumps. Goderich had probably been picked over by some of the diggers in this room.

One of the ginger beer bottles for sale on Robert’s table was the same make and model as was discovered in our Meaford dump expedition when myself and Tim Braithwaite dug there with Ace of Spades in November 2009. We uncovered an A Robertson Mt Forest Ont and ours was flawless – this one has an obvious crack. Which is why I thought his $80 price tag was a little unreasonable, but I reckon he’s a clever tactician starting on the high ground.

At the next table a dealer named Richard Clark was selling a $1600 aqua pint GEM Rutherford fruit sealer with matching lid and top. Click the picture.

Two tables away there were lots of gilt picture frames and old souvenirs. The dealer was referencing the price of gold as if to suggest the value of her gold decorated merchandise would rise and fall with this index. I happen to know a Vancouver gold buyer who warns public that he will not buy gold rim teacups, or gilt frames or anything gold leaf – you can learn quite a bit about gold manufacturing variants in his FAQ .

Ron Hunsperger perches behind a lovely collection of colored SHUTTLEWORTH POISON bottles all priced to sell between $100 and $200 each, depending on colour and rarity. Ron is a poison bottle collector and horticulturalist.

Mr Hunsperger also collects rare varieties of Hosta in his other life in his greenhouse.  He currently has 259 varieties in his gardens, and is therefore one of the largest growers in Canada.

Ron started collecting all sorts of things to keep his mind active and hands busy in his spare time, after work and on weekends. He gave himself projects and hobbies to distract his overclocked brain so he could stop thinking about his work, which was detail orientated. As time goes by, Ron has narrowed his passions down to poison bottles and is parting with unrelated specimens that he knows other people need to complete their collections.

Ron does two shows a year, this one and the Cambridge show which is put on by one of his friends. Before the show began on Sunday April 22nd he bought a rare white milk glass druggist bottle from one of the other dealers in the room. The bottle reads GARLAND & RUTHERFORD / APOTHECARIES / KING ST. HAMILTON  and according to Ron it could be worth between two and three hundred dollars depending on condition.

By some strange coincidence a digger named Mark VanHee who is also known as ‘Trail’ had the very same bottle in his pocket. He had just found this piece in a dump near Hamilton and had come to the Toronto show to learn its price.  These guys are active diggers – I want to write a story about a cave-in they recently experienced which Ace says was the scariest fifteen minutes of his life. Click the small photo left to see Jason Hayter and Mark VanHee, AKA the Ace of Spades and Trail.

 Bob Andrews collects mortuary relics in Port Ryerse, Ontario.

Bob often buys whole boxes of stuff at sales and job lots at auctions, which keeps him busy
sorting, cleaning and restoring historic items all year long. He had a twelve unit wax candle mold on his table. Bob collects all types of stoneware and sells his doubles and anything outside his niche here at the show. Himself and his wife Sue have decorated their house in Roycroft metalware and
Rockingham pottery. Apparently the two styles really complement each
other and provide the motif in which they live. One recent acquisition was
a butter pat cutter that can slice a one pound block of butter in three
sizes – 48 squares, 60 squares or 72 small pats of butter – this is
hotelier kitchenware.
“How do you have it set today?” I asked
“Oh.. we eat Becel margarine” Sue answered, “its made from Olive oil and not cow’s milk.”

Around five years ago Bob Andrews started collecting embalming fluid bottles and other mortuary relics. This rather unusual and slightly morbid new focus came after he acquired a massive J.H. Schwartz embalming fluid bottle. Its very pretty and a natural centerpiece to any mortuary product display. Now Bob finds himself looking for more antiques funeral home related artifacts, especially paper label embalming fluid bottles like the one on the right.

Tim Maitland and his father Jim Maitland were at the north end of the arena, holding court behind six dozen painted label milks beers and soda pop bottles. Back in 2010, Tim Maitland really distinguished himself by holding up a gorgeous yellow and black Maple Leaf Beverages soda from Hamilton. Check it out on Flickr.

Both Tim and Jim Maitland reside in southwestern Ontario and collect bottles from Sarnia, Petrolia, Lemington and other small towns found down along the Windsor flats. Jim collects really early beers. He comes to the Toronto show to buy up the last of the prime pieces he needs to complete his huge collection. In the photo above, Jim holds such a bottle. Here’s a rare amber blob top quart beer with a lightning stopper marked COLBERT / EGMONDVILLE.  The historic vessel is reputed to be worth over $1000, and both men were real happy with their successive trades alongside the necessary cash spent to acquire the piece. This was Jim’s prize that day at the show, and something he can take to show off to Pete Bechtel and the rest of the CCBA – the Collectors of Canadian Brewery Advertising at their annual convention in July.

Steve Peters is another Southwestern Ontario dumpdigger!

Steve collects stoneware ginger beer bottles from St Thomas and he has all manner of jugs and crocks from that part of the world on display in his house.  He used to dig old dumps with Tim Maitland and that explains why they both collect Petrolia bottles, which as you might remember was an oil company town in 1857 after James Miller Williams of Hamilton struck oil and built the first commercial oil well near Oil Springs, Ontario.   

Steve was absolutely jubilant this day, for he too had just purchased a remarkable crown jewel for his St Thomas area collection, and was now feeling very proud of himself. He had just wrestled this beauty away from Scott Jordan who had bought it auction from the late John Meyers estate sale. Steve told me that he paid $2000 for this little pint-sized vessel, which as you can see is marked  ENGLISH GINGER BEER / J CORDERY. This little stoneware bottle was, by all accounts, made in Canada and not ordered in from abroad (Bristol Pottery in England) like so many of the Great Lakes breweries. James Cordery brewed beer in London Ontario in the 1880s before moving to St Thomas in 1890. He set up shop in that small south western Ontario town and soon thereafter went blind. In 1900 he offered everything he had for sale and Mr. Peters actually has a copy of the bill of sale.

Richard St Onge returned to the 2012 Toronto Bottle Show as an official dealer, alongside Bill Cook. The two wise men stood behind a legislature of Coca Cola related artifacts and advertising products. They love Coke items and were the first to remark on their scarcity at the show this year.  Bill also pointed out that there were absolutely no glass marbles this year and he wondered if that strain of collecting was finally heading into obsolescence, with no more collectors.  When I asked him to hold up his best piece he instinctively reached for a fine honey amber 1910 Coke bottle from Chattanooga Tennessee that he had just bought in Atlanta Georgia, which is the home of Coke and of course the largest annual Coca Cola collectibles convention in the world.  The price was $125.

Bob Harris is a member of the Four Seasons bottle club and  veteran digger, multidisciplinary picker and antique aquarium collector.  I caught him at the 2012 Bottle Show holding a highly collectible fish food tin marked NATURAL AQUARIUM FOOD from Grassyfork Fisheries Inc that he had just bought off Jamie McDougall for twenty dollars. Bob loves to talk about aquariums and we have talked before about the jewel in his collection, a fourteen gallon Sherring Bros aquarium made in 1857 for marine research laboratories. This very old artifact is, Bob claims, the very first commercial aquarium ever sold in North America.  What is something like that worth? Bob says he’s been offered eight thousand dollars for the piece and he turned it down. Bob sent me an email today and dutifully reported,  “I should have mentioned that the reason I
know that the fish food tin I bought from Jamie is old, is that the fish
bowl and stand on the tin cover is a representative of the 1930’s style
fishbowl.  I have a few of these bowls in my collection, so it’s nice
to have the tin as a go-with.  The food in the tin is pellet food. 
Flake food was developed in Germany in 1950 by a company called Tetra
Werke.   They are still in business and produce a fish food called,
Tetra Min.  So the tin has to be older than that.  My guess is just
after WWII.  Obviously, nothing was being made during the war.  The
company that made this tin is Grassyfork which is a very large goldfish
fish farm in the US.  By the way, the old fish food was actually made of
crushed dog biscuits.  Nothing scientific about that.

Jamie McDougal was parked beside the front door and became the first stop for every shopper heading north. His colorful shirt captures curious eyeballs. The artifacts on his table were even more interesting; they’re not always beautiful but full of good stories. Like these two pop cans Jamie had on display. At first glance they appear downright ugly. The can on the right looks practically new. But look closer. Pick it up and hold it and you will understand that this aluminum can is completely empty and yet it’s unopened.  That means it was erroneously sealed shut and shipped empty of the contents! How does something like that happen? It occurs more often than you might think, but often times its caught by staff filling vending machines or retailers, truck drivers or … This one unit of product was shipped empty and bought by a consumer and not reported – it survives to exist today as unique variation of a popular soft drink package. How did this happen? It could be the people at the bottling plant were messing around on the night shift. Perhaps one factory worker was making himself some rare collectibles? 

Terry Matz is Canada’s foremost torpedo bottle dealer and runs an antique website called Terry’s Torpedo Bottles which is first on Google for the word torpedo bottles only because Terry comes first in the hobby. Here he is holding a relic from the Boer War, and English rifleman’s torpedo bottle canteen. The leather bound glass vessel is stamped 1st V.B.M.R 59 which he translates for me as First Volunteer Battery Manchester Regiment and the 59 could refer to the individual soldier or the brigade or the artillery piece to which the squad was assigned. The piece has no top? Terry says it would have had a cork top, like any wine bottle of the day. The leather casing has a belt loop and the bottle is meant to be worn on the soldier’s belt. Terry thinks the British Army of the early 1900s decided the torpedo bottle shape was the strongest and best suited to the soldier’s rough and tumble lifestyle.

All of the torpedo bottles on Terry Matz’s primary table are under glass. They start in price at $500 and go up steadily from there. Terry talks fast and I tried to make detailed notes but ended up with scribbles. I know one of these pieces is a McLaughlin Soda from Edmonton? acid etched? for which he wants $1000. The dark green torpedo is marked Peter Conolan from Montreal, and another $1000 bottle in the case is the aqua torpedo embossed WILLIAM FARQUHAR / SUPERIOR AERATED SODA WATER AND GINGER NECTAR

Terry also had a queer plaque that didn’t photograph very well but which is marked HOT SODA WATER, and he laughed ‘who would ever want to drink hot soda water?’, and we both reflected back to a time when aerated water was considered very healthy and drinking it hot would of course lend to its appeal as a medicinal remedy.

Always a popular table at the show, this year Terry was breaking all the records and running something of a milk bottle clearing house on the north corner of the village. He had fixed in the center of his 2nd table a sign, which said All Milk Bottles $1 each and this created quite a buzz.  When the dust settled and he finally got away and had a chance to walk around another curious thing happened… His daughter discounted prices by half again, and her merchandising brought more customers.

The best bottles were up on the tables, and these sold rather quickly at the original price of $1 each, while the remnants below in boxes were soon picked over by collectors looking for variations or good fodder for trades. This was a once in lifetime opportunity for young collectors to clean out a guy who just wants out of ACL milk bottles.

John Hunter was there and introduced himself to me as a fan of this blog. He told me to that Bert Dalmage, a pioneer I had profiled earlier on my blog lived to be 103 years old and only died just recently at the Golden Plow nursing home in Cobourg Ontario.

John dove into Terry’s bottles and while I watched he fetched out and purchased for five dollars several vessels including this ABSOLUTE PURE MILE / BELLEVILLE reproduction amber glass bottle. If this bottle were real it would be worth a fortune. It’s a spectacular color and has a picture of a dairy cow on the slug plate. But alas its a reproduction of what is probably one of Ontario’s best and certainly most stereotypical classic milk bottle slug plates. The bottle is made by skilled craftsmen in China to pay homage to the Canadian bottle collecting industry.

John Hunter likes to dig in rural dumps and has a big collection of glass bottles from all over eastern Ontario. He’ll add some of Terry’s milk bottles to the mix and this yellow vessel will impress anyone that doesn’t know the difference between real and reproduction pieces. 

Melissa Clare is the principle organizer of the annual Four Season Bottle Collectors show and she was having fun calling out the winners of the Show Bucks. At regular intervals throughout the day she would venture over and borrow the microphone from guitar Randall and bequeath $25 Show Bucks coupons, which are laminated cards that promise dealers the money and serve as random door prizes to people who filled out questionnaires ? some forms ? or paid? or… I don’t know.  Somehow people got draw tickets and I’m not exactly sure how because I didn’t get any tickets and was therefore ineligible to win these show bucks.

But young Sandra Spudic was eligible and she won. I noticed her first after I heard her scream! Thats right. I began watching with interest after she let out a tiny burst of excitement (which her friend Erika Wilson echoed even louder) immediately after Mellissa called out the winning numbers. I followed as the duo claimed their prize. Here I learned that they both work together in a nearby historical conservation area, and so that explains their interest in antiques.  Without delaying them too long, I made Sandra promise to report back to me on what she bought with her Show Bucks.

Dwight Fryer is Poison Bottle Collector
Dwight is an international poison bottle collector and his table, (as I always tell him, every year) will the first to profit from the new awakening – when young people go forth and buy into the pastime. These little poisons are ‘condo bottles’ and as such will always be cool collectibles to decorate bathroom medicine cabinets and window shelves. They add personality to morning light.

Dwight told me he’s still buying bottles, mostly coloured poisons and rare blown glass chemical bottles from no less than thirty eight different countries.

Small green poison bottles are among my favourite obsessions. I was admiring this little green German bauble, on which the skull and crossbones are so delicately pronounced, as Dwight Fryer translated the embossing GIFT FLASCHE to mean ‘poison bottle’.

Dwight’s poisons are always very popular with the ladies because they look so cool and could someday again be filled with fantastic potions, or maybe liquid bath soap? These little bottle are cool and perfect to add a touch of personality to sterile Toronto condominium bathrooms.

Here’s another curious piece, a clear glass bottle embossed TAYLOR PRODUCTS / BREEZY / HOUSEHOLD AMMONIA, on sale here for only $10 cash.

Carl Parsons appeared  late at the show and made quite an entrance wearing a lovely beige jacket and stylish brown shirt and pants. I held the door for him outside as he entered, lugging along a rather large and mysterious steel can. The vessel was heavy, and made of thick steel and long ago painted white. The container had a very heavy solid steel lid that was three inches thick with more of its width below top edge of the can, and so it forms a good airtight seal by virtue of it’s great weight.

What was this weird metal can used for?

Inside this heavy metal can, Carl explained, is where early urban dentists would pitch the freshly extracted teeth of their patients, esp the molars with gold or silver filings. For the bottom part of the can was filled with acid and would work to dissolve the teeth around the silver or gold deposits. After a few months or a year in the can, the dentist could easily recover the precious metals.

I went on the 2010 FSBC Club Dig with Carl Parsons. He led the June expedition down into the Rosedale Valley and picked a spot whereupon he couldn’t remember having dug already. We did struck some virgin dump there, but we didn’t find anything valuable. All the same, it was a memorable bonding experience for five diggers that hadn’t previously dug together and didn’t even know each other well. We all had a lot of fun that day, we dug a deep hole and poked about in virgin dump under some easily moved soil.

James Jarzabek and Adam Jarzabek were at the show again this year. James is twelve years old now and already he knows most of the values and prices of his father’s inventory off by heart.

I pointed to a powder blue silk screened LAKESIDE JERSY milk bottle and James told me it was $300 without having to check any price lists. “Why so much?” I asked. And he flipped the bottle over to reveal the backside. ‘Because of the baby” he said. 

Sean Murphy was a fixture at the bottle show, executing the role of the club treasurer and spokesperson for the FSBC from his spacious holdings in the south central part of the floor. Two or three times we agreed to meet up for a talk, but he was always so busy entertaining longtime friends. Some of these guys may have come to the show just to see him, and to conclude a transaction of some description. Sean has lots of nice stuff and he does the research and learns about each piece before trading, selling or adding to his own collection.

In the photo you can his right hand clutching the neck of a large thick glass Coca Cola wall mounted display bottle. This was one of the only Coke pieces at the show and apparently it didn’t much excite Richard St Onge because he didn’t buy it. But once again proving again the strength of these items as truly magnetic collectibles, Abel DaSilva appeared a few moments later and bought the 1970s era relic for $300.

Abel bought the piece despite the sad fact that the bottom had a centimeter wide hole drilled in it to accommodate a pin hole light bulb. This was apparently not how Coke had sold the memorabilia but rather how some enterprising decorator or restauranteur had modified the display advertising. Abel (his buyer) was okay with modifications.

Sean was having a good time and he was thrilled to report his own most recent acquisition. In this next photo he holds a J. KERNOHAH LONDON aqua torpedo soda bottle on which there is a fish logo. Think about that… Who would have bought a soda water with a fish logo on the bottle? What flavour were they expecting?

Ron DeMoor holds up his best treasure, on sale for $5000. This is a cobalt blue, twelve panel H. Sproat soda water . It was found in an recent excavation at Queen’s University in Kingston Ontario, and smuggled out of the construction site by diggers in the middle of the night. Ron doesn’t know who those people were, nor will he confirm or deny that authenticity of the tale, but he will ballpark the age of the vessel – it was made between 1850 and 1862. Henry Sproat is listed in the red book as ‘Ginger beer maker’ .

You can gaze upon the H SPROAT torpedo soda bottle here in Tim Braithwaite’s collection courtesy of Early Canadian Bottle Works, Darren’s website.

Minutes before I arrived at Ron’s table he sold this lovely paper label, P.C. FLETT CO, APPLE AND GOOSEBERRY JAM stoneware container which is certainly one of the most beautiful jam jars I have ever seen in my life. We find these all the time when digging in the dumps and I have seen a few simple labels but never anything as breath taking as this..

Sandra Spudic found me again and showed me what she bought with her Show Bucks. She spent $15 on two very elegant looking enamel / mirrored tea light candle holders (I’m sure they started life as some form of cosmetics accessories) and another ten bucks on a small fruit sealer with the correct lid (I forget the embossing – maybe Sandra could tell us in the comments) in which she hopes to keep buttons or other small keepsakes directly related to her passion for mending clothes and repairing high quality vintage garments.  Good for you Sandra! Thanks for coming out to the show and I hope we see you out here next year.

John Dunbar didnt sell his Gay Liquid Detergent sign on Sunday.  This joker runs the Antique Mall in Orono and loves for all things related to early Canadian television and steam engines. He buys old TV show props and cereal box mementos as well as railway collectibles and artifacts relating to transatlantic travel on steamships. In addition to this event, John is also a fixture at the Toronto Nostalgia Show. The sign he holds is something that decorator crowd would really appreciate, because of Guy Lombardo, It seems the gay liquid detergent held no appeal to this years bottle collectors.

And Mr Dunbar was one of the last vendors I spoke with before I walked out the door.

You can read all about the previous occasions here,
The 2009 Toronto Bottle Show
The 2010 Toronto Bottle Show
The 2011 Toronto Bottle Show

Besides being a great places to hunt for antiques and collectibles to sell on eBay, the
2012  Toronto bottle show was a great celebration for the continued strength of the hobby. This special
one day affair was open to the public and did therein provide ample opportunity for young and old collectors to meet and ask questions and fast-track their research on their own mystery bottles and storied artifacts. For on this past Sunday April 22 there were indeed over forty experts in the room,
and together they did know pretty much everything there is to know about
collecting antique glass bottles and pottery in Canada.

Gotham City Salvage Digs

Good news. Veteran historical digger Daniel McGee, a resident of New York City and core to the Manhattan Well Diggers has handcrafted another adventure filled digging story and graciously donated pictures and text to Dumpdiggers for your reading enjoyment.  Like always, the story begins with a way cool shot of NYC and here again is the new World Trade Center nearing completion. Now without further delay, lets tunnel back in time 150 years…

Gotham City Salvage I, II, III

by Daniel McGee

While out drumming up some digs, we noticed an entire section of a city block being demolished. The old maps showed this area had been laid out around 1780, and this was one of the original cobblestone streets! These old house-lots have lots of potential for subterranean discoveries in their long buried, long forgotten, elusive backyard privies. This location was densely populated and lined with buildings by the 1820s-30s, including a sizable schoolhouse by the 1840s, which is a key period in bottle manufacturing history.  Recently all the buildings had been knocked down and the bare earth exposed. This sight inspired several more recon trips.

On our next journey to the site we observed all the telltale signs of a disturbed privy. The evidence was there on the surface, including a large piece of an early banded bowl with a worm /cable pattern and a redware fragment with black splotching alongside it, a few dark blue transferware shards and some recently unearthed oyster shells resting beside desiccated food bones, all with night soil and ashes stuck to them.  Without any doubts, we knew at least one old vault had been penetrated by the heavy machinery processing the site.  In any case, we had to mobilize quickly.     

At the edge of a broken sidewalk scoping out the terrain, trackhoes were filling 30 ton dump trucks with weighty buckets of brick-rubble, dirt and debris.  Around noon the booms were resting and the engines idled down to a barely audible thrum. The trucks were tarped and gone, and the trackhoe operators off on a long break.  It was time to head back over to the edge of the site, and have another look around for the original lot lines.  This is usually a good place to search for evidence of privies and trash pits.  Even more so that day, since the spot had recently been scraped down 3 feet by a large machine.  This condition left certain features exposed which hadn’t seen the light of day in 150 years.

We began by shoveling alongside what appeared to be the remains of a freestanding redbrick wall. Brick by brick a second wall was outlined and then a third.  Without a doubt it was some kind of underground chamber.  We grew more excited as we found wood ashes, and three moldy leather shoe bottoms, a clay pipe with a bit of stem left on it dating to the late 19th century, a mouth-blown bottleneck here and there, and a bone or ivory toothbrush handle.

Doing all this digging and discovering took some time, as you can imagine, and we soon observed the guys in charge rounding the corner, returning from their lunch. They were visible working some distance away, and although their machines were running at full throttle again, they never drifted back over to our deepening hole.

Descending into the bricklined privy-vault, we soon encountered a wide array of dirt encrusted antique glass bottles from the 1880s-1890s. At one point really pretty bottles were being discovered one after another.  The recovered specimens were perhaps not the very pinnacle of bottle collecting, but all were handmade examples of the art and sufficiently motivating for us diggers, with plenty more ground left under our feet to explore.

After identifying all four walls of the 5’x 6’structure and cleaning the dirt away, the dig went on for a few more hours until reaching the hardpan base. As we dug down we encountered several layers of bottles and artifacts, and some of the best ones at the bottom had been manufactured as early as the 1850s.

In conclusion we had recovered about sixty intact antique glass bottles ranging from 1850s-1890s.  An assortment of mostly generic pontils, two Civil War era sodas, a half dozen crude early black-ales, several smooth-based medicines, a handful of local pharmacies, hutches, whiskeys, and others were arranged for the picture.  We packed up the best ones and backfilled the hole.

But this digging story doesn’t end here,

Despite the major excavation being done on the site, we knew it was still possible a few more privies were concealed here. On our next visit we learned that a twelve story building with a large underground parking garage was being developed on the property, which guaranteed everything had to be removed before construction could begin.   Most of the original land had already been dug up and trucked away by the contractor, and the one slice which remained still had a 3 foot ledge covering it, including a layer of concrete with an asphalt cap. Amid the densely packed rubble at the border of the ledge we dug test holes to settle the matter as productively as possible before nightfall.  This was Dig II.

This dig was hard work.
Sharply contrasting the general ease of our first excavation, this area was a bitch. It wasn’t until after I dug deep and descending up to my neck into one of our narrow test holes that I found some encouraging evidence. On the end of my shovel I could see early transfer fragments. First one, and then another, and then other recognizable shapes began to appear. An early discovery was the forest green glass soda Philadelphia “XXX” Porter bottle and then a similar example in a much lighter shade.  Despite numerous setbacks, which I wont describe here, we eventually discovered a seam of bottles and chased the goody vein into dense pocket of broken pottery and glass, lying snugly within a promising bed of night soil.

An intact ovoid crock with a local maker’s mark was eventually extracted from its formidable resting spot. This is an important example of the Potters’ art, which was probably made down at Raritan Bay, somewhere around 1825-1835.  The privy also contained 25 intact bottles, half of them pontiled and half of them smooth based, half embossed and half blanks.

The oldest artifacts at the bottom of the second privy dated to about 1830. We had uncovered a pocket of good history here that included a colorful mixture of decimated tableware from nearly two centuries ago, all wedged between brick-bats, stones, oyster shells, wet dirt and damp ashes, but no intact antique glass bottles were found. There were no significant discoveries of any kind, which is, in my experience, quite typical when digging with pre-1850s privies.

However the best things come to those who dig, and dig, and keep digging.

The following week, Dig III in another early brickliner produced the best bottle yet, an iron pontiled soda, in sapphire, from the 1850s!  This rare variant was discovered in a layer with 4 broken examples and a deep green soda from the same period missing its lip, along with a smooth based soda, an umbrella ink and a number of other intact bottles.    

By our estimation there are probably 2-3 privies still waiting under the concrete at the far end of the site… we’ll keep you posted as things unfold.


2010 Toronto Bottle Club Show and Sale

Sunday April 18th 2010 was a beautiful day for the Four Seasons Bottle Collectors club Toronto Bottle Show at the Humber College gymnasium in Rexdale Ontario. The show consists of about sixty dealers and has an attendance of over thousand people, but the room is filled with about a half million dollars worth of rare and valuable early Canadian antique bottles and glass.

Of course I wrote about the 2010 Toronto Bottle Show on and detailed the event, highlighting exceptional bottles, bargains and the best dealers that make it all happen. Year after year, this show gets better and better (except the bottles seem to be going down in price).

The article details ten different antique glass and pottery dealers alongside their favourite collectibles. I interviewed Tim Denton, Fred Spoelstra, Pete Bechtel, Dwight Fryer, Cliff and Donna Stunden, Kert Wrigley, Jamie McDougall, Bill Ash, Terry Matz, Richard St Onge and Bill Cook, Michael Anders, Tim Maitland, Marcus Johnson and closed the piece on Scott Wallace and Scott Jordan sitting pretty at the Maple Leaf Auctions table.

The article also chronicles my day’s traveling companion, Kelly Gadzala the Toronto Grunge Queen blogger who specializes in writing about finding vintage collectibles, clothing and keepsakes.

The Toronto Bottle Show is always an emotional experience for me – it breaks my heart to see great pieces of glass selling for ten or twelve dollars, and whenever I spot something that I have in my own collection I almost don’t even want to look at the price, as I’m sure it will always be priced to move here and cost much less than I paid, or had valued in my own head. I think it would be worthwhile to visit this show and spend forty thousand dollars buying the best pieces – it would be a great investment in the future.

The 2009 Toronto Bottle Show

At 6pm on Saturday April 18th the Four Seasons Bottle Collectors Club was busy setting up their annual show and sale. The Toronto Bottle Show is the largest antique glass bottle and pottery exposition (and tins, stoneware, insulators, ephemera and so much more) in Canada, with approx 75 antiques dealers and impressive attendance. There was a palpable sense of excitement in the empty gymnasium as I looked at all the empty tables… In just a few hours the dealers waiting outside would enter and display thousands of historic antiquities for show, sale and trade.

Saturday Night Set-Up
I laboured right alongside the other members of the Four Seasons Bottle Collectors Club on Saturday April 18th to help set up the show. The entire episode is the subject of this article, Dealers Night at The Bottle Show which also chronicles the excitement of watching Malcom and Newf unpack and sell three years of dug treasure to ready buyers and collectors that were the other dealers.

Sunday’s Bottle Show
On April 19th 2009 the morning sun warmed the faces of several hundred people outside the gymnasium at Humber College in Rexdale, Ontario as they waited to enter the building and marvel at all the beautiful glass inside.

Dealers included,
Michael Anders,
Dean Axelson and Judy Axelson,
John Barclay and Marie Renault,
Brett Bloxam and Jackie Bloxam,
Robert Brak and Linda Brak,
Mark Clayton and Candice Clayton,
Bill Cook and Bill Ash,
Abel DaSilva and June Ng,
Ron Demoor and John Dunbar,
Mike Emre and Barbara Emre,
Bob Falle,
Ray Ruddy,
John Finlay, Dave Marrotte,
Dwight Fryer and Earl Fryer,
John Goodyer and Mark Wilson,
Frederic Hartl and Jean-Marc Helie,
Bob Hayward and Tyler Hayward,
Grahame Hudson and George Jones,
Ron Hunsperger and Russ Hunsperger,
Barbara Jackson and Randall Mathieu,
Adam Jarzabek, Steve Vasda,
Marcus Johnson,
Scott Jordan and Paul Marchand,
John Knight, John Knight sr,
Robert Lloyd, Blake Woods,
Ed Locke, Sheryl MacKenzie,
Tim and Jim Maitland,
Michael Malanowski and Caitlin Malanowski,
Terry Matz and Evelyn Matz,
Malcom Mcleod and Newf,
Jamie McDougall,
Glen and Cynthia Moorhouse,
Morris Marlowe and Wendy Marlowe,
Steve Mouck,
Robin Newton-Smith, Richard Clark,
Jason Pfeffer and Barb Pfeffer,
Norm Playtor and Jackie Playtor,
Collin Potter and Jennifer Potter,
Michael Rossman and Jan Rossman,
Fred Spoelstra and Bill Comer,
Cliff Stunden and Donna Stunden,
Scott Wallace and John Wells,
Roger Warren and Carol Warren,
Jack Welton and Judy Welton, and Kert Wrigley.

Readers can find more pictures and stories documenting the 2009 Toronto Bottle Show in the Dumpdiggers Library.

Big Larry digs a hole in Toronto’s history

Big Larry is a professional excavator with a backhoe and a reputation for finding early Canadian glass and pottery. He brings thirty years of digging experience to the Diggers’ collective. He also brings a healthy sense of humor – here’s a picture of Big Larry on the job, in the oldest part of Toronto (east of Yonge st, south of Queen).

April 25th 2008 was an exciting day. Big Larry was removing some suspicious soil under the parking lot behind 252 Adelaide St E, which any knowledgeable local historian will tell you is the site of Toronto’s very first post office (circa 1834). The Town of York website hosts the story of Toronto’s first post office amid the trappings of so many dedicated historians; this page is a veritable treasure trove of facts and information concerning James Scott Howard. The dig site also contained something valuable – what Larry found in the ground is important.
It was a small hole, and not even that deep, but look at the stratigraphy. On the morning of April 25th 2008 it was possible to see the shifting sands under this great city right back to 1834 when this exact spot was a mini marsh with cattails and bullfrogs. Look carefully and note the bottom is clay and layers of top soil and finally gravel and asphalt as each generation used and improved the property. And of course let’s notice that log at the very bottom of the hole. That’s not a fence post, or a foundation beam… According to Big Larry that post is the mooring of a small dock which may have existed here on the south side of a swampy pond almost two hundred years ago. The piles may have once supported a wooden dock or retaining wall – the whole mess was covered in and filled over in the 1830s and the land supported the busy post office and Toronto dentist. Big Larry was just doing his job; he was digging a hole in a construction site. But like the wise old man, Larry keeps his eyes open all the time – especially when he’s working in history. As I watched him, he watched the hole. After a glimpse of ash, and the flash of glass, Larry jumped out of the cab and down into the pit, to grub knee deep in the mud on a hunt for the prize. And it was worth it – from the depths of time Big Larry retrieved a ‘Riddel & Burns / 406 Yonge St / Toronto’ aqua torpedo bottle.
How did this bottle get here? The site is not a dump, but may have been dumped on all the same… This bottle was probably pitched into a water filled ditch sometime in the late 1860’s or early 1870s by someone who wasn’t interested in collecting the deposit. TimBits tells me that the bottle was made in 1869 by Francis Ridell and AW Burns, the proprietors of the beaver soda company. It was one of the last torpedo bottles made, before they came back into fashion again briefly in the early 1900s.

This is a very rare bottle; even good information is hard to find.
When Dumpdiggers went searching about for data on these two early Toronto beverage makers, we rediscovered the Canadian Bottle Lover’s pages, and their wonderful photo gallery collection of early Toronto sodas.

But there’s no Riddel & Burns torpedos on display here; the only similar specimen is a broken ‘bowling pin’ squat soda.

When Larry cleans and tumbles this piece I hope to do a follow-up on Francis Riddel & AW Burns. Anyway Big Larry, nice find.

Irradiated Glass, the Amethyst Color of Greed

Sometimes called desert glass, or sun-colored amethyst glass, these pretty purple bottles are fake; their color is artificially produced by gamma radiation in a lead lined chamber by an unscrupulous merchant with one motive – profit.Irradiated glass is a problem for bottle collectors and a nightmare for insulator collectors. That’s because there are so many irradiated insulators on eBay and some are gorgeous and exhibit previously unknown colors. Even though some sellers do admit their insulators have been ‘altered’, the foremost objective of their fakery is immediate profit with no regard for the effects on the insulator collecting hobby.
Thankfully, experts like Dwayn Anthony at the National Insulator Association have created a comprehensive collection of fakes to help warn amateur enthusiasts; over the past six years they’ve conducted extensive research and subjected many different makes and models of insulators to different types of radiation to photograph and catalog the results. Radiation of old glass produces colors without historical precedent. It isn’t natural and it’s irreversible. It isn’t natural because no druggists bottles, cough medicines, hair tonics, lotions, whiskeys or sodas were ever made that color amethyst, or in those particular shades of cobalt blue, or those unnatural shades of amber… A rare or unusual color today probably means that somebody somewhere tampered with the chemical composition of the glass (using gamma radiation) to make it a unique specimen, and now unfortunately that piece is ruined forever. Here is a Digger on eBay selling irradiated glass which he admits is altered (but not in the headline, and only after suggesting that it could be the product of the sun’s own ultraviolet light) and his page contains some information about the history of manganese in glass making. He should probably stop this practice altogether… Dumpdiggers is of the opinion that Digger Dave is ruining the historic glass he finds, while fostering deception.
Here’s a Ball fruit sealer jar that’s a weird color of amber… Dumpdiggers found this on after doing a Google search on the words ‘irradiated glass bottle’. Don’t give this guy a hard time though as I don’t believe he’s the source of these irradiated fruit sealer jars.
The Chemistry of Glass is at the core of this controversy, and the history of North American glassmaking is subdivided by the price of lead and the US Civil War. You see up until the 1860’s lead had always been used as the principle clarifying agent (vitrifying) in making clear glass from what would otherwise be green glass (due to iron impurities in sand). Even before the American Civil War 1861-1864, the element Lead Pb was a valuable strategic commodity and used for all manner of industrial applications, the most important being the manufacture of munitions. But lead was also used to line the insides of British East India tea boxes, and as the principle ingredient in white paint and clear glass. In the industrial markets of London in the summer of 1853, the price of pig lead climbed from £17.77 all the way up to £23.40 per ton and eventually peaked at £24 in the spring of 1856 – the rise was affected in part by the Crimean War 1853-56. The price of lead affected the price of glass in England and North America. During the 1850’s, almost all of the small glasshouses that had appeared along the new railway lines in Upper and Lower Canada failed.
In 1864 William Leighton, a son of Thomas Leighton developed a successful soda lime formula for glass that didn’t require lead. From this point on all North American glasshouses were classified as either flint glass (with lead), or green glass houses which used soda lime. The New England Glass Company in Boston is probably the most famous lead glass house. 1860 – 1880 Canadian Glass Houses Of the four dominant glass companies operating in the early 1860s, the Canada Glass Works in Hudson, Qué, 1864-72, and the Hamilton Glass Company, Hamilton, Ont, 1865-96, were “green” glasshouses that used Leighton’s soda lime recipe to make green hued window glass and bottles which ranged in colour from aqua through green to olive green and amber. The St Lawrence Glass Company, Montréal, 1867-73, and the Burlington Glass Company 1874-98 in Hamilton, Ontario however were lead / flint glass houses. Flint is a colourless glass mineral that occurs in nature and has been known since ancient times – flint is a sedimentary cryptocrystalline form of quartz, and is categorized by geologists as a variety of chalcedony or ‘chert’ which can sometimes contain fossilized shellfish. Flint is usually dark-grey, black, or deep brown in color and when crushed into powder and added to molten sand and soda mixture it becomes a decolorizing agent that masks out the natural iron molecular impurities present in every grain of sand. Because of the high price of lead in the 1860’s, pure manganese and manganese dioxide (specifically the mineral pyrolusite which is the primary ore of manganese and occurs as black or dark bluish-gray powder) was substituted as the glass makers ‘soap’ – the element worked just as well as lead to counteract the green discoloration caused by impurities. (Pure manganese is a silvery white brittle metal that does not occur in nature and was not isolated and identified as an element until 1774 – pure manganese was exported from Germany to England and America between 1880 and1914 – this was the great era of manganese glass. ) Manganese was the most common vitrifying agent in clear glass made in the American industrial revolution – it was used right up until World War One and war with Germany cut North American supplies. It was at this time that selenium was discovered and soon replaced manganese as the vitrifying agent of choice in clear glass. When exposed to the radioactive isotopes Cobalt-60 and Cesium-137, most manganese glass will turn amethyst, while glass made with selenium will become either straw, wheat, or honey colored. Irradiated Glass in rural Canadian Antiques Markets
A few years ago Dumpdiggers went shopping for early Canadian glass bottles at the Aberfoyle Antiques Market in Southern Ontario, Canada – it was July 2001, and while wandering the ‘antiques village’, this author spotted three separate displays of irradiated glass showcased in various windows and doorways and being sold at premium prices. Upon questioning the vendors, Dumpdiggers learned that all three shopkeepers had bought the merchandise from the same individual, on the same day. That fakery isn’t tolerated in Toronto, and so ‘sun-coloured amethyst’ glass ends up out in the country bazaars, at village antique shops and flea markets where the vendors are hobbyists and the customers are tourists or cottagers with summer homes in the area. Out there the dealers feign ignorance when you point and ask ‘Is that glass irradiated?’

The Quest in Campbellford Ontario

About this time last summer a digger named Little Hole went looking for Campbellford’s first municipal dump. He found it. And although it had been probed by other diggers, to his surprise it was still full of gingerbeers and early Canadian glass.

The survey map above was made in 1878 and shows Campbellford as a thriving settlement on both sides of the Trent River. Notice the black dashed line that bisects the image? That’s the proposed railway line which was to be built two years later in 1880…. That railroad line was moved south and Little Hole used this map to help find the treasures documented in this article – finding the real railway line was the key to finding the 1885 town dump.

X marks the spot! Little Hole found the place outside anyone’s thoughts or perception, but still inside the actual town of Campbellford. Here beneath his shovel was a (mostly) virgin dump and Little Hole could only imagine the historic treasures it might contain…

Little Hole immediately called for some help sinking a hole. And I of course embraced the challenge – like a borrowing rodent I moved dump.

We spent evenings and weekends at the site all summer long, and really came to know the place. The Campbellford 1885 town dump is in fact many dumps, spread out over about fifty years time. Under three feet of nondescript ash and dirt, there were about a dozen well stratified layers of trash. Each of these pockets is a period in time. Each can tell the story of the community, to anyone willing to listen. Every relic unearthed is another sentence in the chronology of Campbellford’s existence.

The pearl ash in the stratigraphy is from two major sources – very hot fires both here at the dump, and the population of the town produces furnace ashes – which was also mixed with lime and used as road paving material. Some of this ash could be road paving that’s been removed. Up until the early 1900’s the streets in Campbellford were ‘paved’ in hard packed potash made by settlers burning hardwood trees while clearing their land.

Little Hole, who collects 1800’s Ontario ginger beers bottles found this rare and special treasure on a hot night in late August. Here he is on site holding a mint James Thompson ginger beer bottle from nearby Hamilton Ontario.

August 17th 2006 was a very special day. On that day Little Hole and myself, Rob Campbell hit a big pocket of well preserved ginger beer bottles, and lots of rare whiskys and sodas. It was the mother-of-all goodie veins and we diggers chased it down, under a tree, right to the very bottom of the dump.

Before ‘flipping for picks’ (like most dumpdiggers we flip a coin to see keeps what) we lined up our symphony of dug relics to collectively admire the hoard.

Pic of the Picks The Quest in Campbellford Ontario culminated in the best cache to which I’ve ever contributed. Little Hole snapped this photo late in the afternoon and I love the patches of light on the trees in the swamp behind the dump.

The whiskeys, inks, medicines and ginger beer bottles recovered here were waiting in the earth for almost one hundred and twenty years.