Guns & Antique Bottles

This morning, Sebastian & I had a conversation about upcoming plans to attend a bottle collector show to look for a bottle made by his 4x great grandfather. We’ve been told by a collecting enthusiast that while the specific bottles do come to market with some regularity, they aren’t the most common. I told Sebastian that even if we can’t find one of his bottles at this particular show, I would like to see if I can learn more about his ancestor. This is where he thought I was crazy.

His response: “That would be like going into a gun show and asking some random dealer to tell you all about Samuel Colt. They’ll probably think you’re kind of crazy.”

I think he’s wrong. I think a better analogy would be going to an antiques-only gun show as a total newbie and asking an organizer or representative of a collector group if they know, or can point me in the direction of someone who knows, a more detailed history on someone like Christian Sharps because Sebastian is a recently discovered descendant of the man and would like to know more about his business history. Maybe I’m naïve, but I’d like to think that I’d get at least a little assistance, and maybe even someone who is eager to bring new people into the culture, even if they will only ever be interested in one particular type of rifle. Ultimately, he did agree that this was a better example and somewhat less crazy.

Given that kind of context, I don’t think I’ll sound as odd as Sebastian first worried. But, who knows? That said, I’m willing to come off as a little foolish and dumb if it ultimately leads me to more answers in uncovering more information and resources about Sebastian’s ancestors.

Also, this kind of serves as a reminder to us gunnies that if we encounter total newbies asking seemingly odd questions, don’t be rude. You never know when they might have a motivation you don’t yet understand, and they would willing to become part of the culture.

That said, to the degree that we do learn more about antique bottle collecting, we will never get to the level of enthusiasm that exists for privy diggers. (No offense to any readers who might be privy diggers, but, yeah, no…no way that I’m doing that.)

32 thoughts on “Guns & Antique Bottles”

  1. The first thing a friend of mine asked, upon hearing that I still owned the property where my 3x Grandfather once had his home, was “Do you know exactly where the outhouse was located?”

    1. The funny thing is that when I told my mom that this hobby existed, she did think about it for a second and realized that when she was growing up, most of their junk that couldn’t go in the burn barrel went in the outhouse. It makes sense. I’m aware that things have…decomposed…but still, it’s just not an activity that I ever see a future in for myself. :) But for those who do it, may their rewards be great.

      1. There was a real good TV program (or maybe internet video) I saw once about urban archeology. In particular is focused on a guy who would look on old maps for the location of outhouses and start digging there. For exactly that purpose. What wasn’t burnt was dropped down into the outhouse. And is likely still there.

  2. Who cares if you look odd. Worst thing that happens is you get a Sgt Schultz answer, which is exactly where you are now…

    1. It’s not just the issue of looking odd, it’s the likelihood of not getting information. But, I will say that I really don’t care how odd I look. Getting into genealogy sometimes means doing weird things like saying, “You won’t believe what I found today? Four death certificates of family members!!” This happened last night, and even Sebastian looked at me funny for being excited by that. (For anyone reading this who doesn’t know, a completed death certificate holds a ton of genealogical information.)

      1. I haven’t heard about death certificates, but I’ve known genealogy nuts who were excited to find obituary records. (Either from cemetery records or from old newspapers.)

        1. Oh yeah, those are also worth gold. However, they aren’t considered official for someone doing more formal genealogy for a lineage group or some legal purposes. (Like, in order for me to get a death certificate for a family member in Oklahoma, I have to document every. single. connection. I have to that person using only government-produced documents. Since I need some for my 3x great grandparents on one line, this is not a requirement that makes me happy.)

          1. Obituaries from years ago aren’t acceptable? I would think that in some locations that might end up being akin to a newspapers legal notice.

            1. I think they can be, depending on the status of official record keeping in the area and time they were there. For DAR, I believe it’s the first three generations are supposed to be documented with official copies of birth/death records. But, there’s flexibility in that. For example, rather than waiting for a copy of a death certificate for my grandfather from Hawaii, I just submitted a copy of a photo of his grave marker. Since he’s not the line I’m following up for the ancestor, that wasn’t an issue. Now, for the ancestor on his line that I will eventually trace back to a DAR patriot, I will need his death certificate. So, yeah, the demands for various lineage purposes vary. For Oklahoma, they absolutely will not consider an obit, but they will consider a census record. (Even though, in my experience so far, obits have been more reliable than census records. The only time I found someone lying in an obit, they were also lying to the census workers.)

      2. Folks used to say there was no such thing as a dumb question. That needs to be revised because appparantly asking difficult questions about the science behind some of the political rehtoric proclaiming the need for climate change action now is akin to committee genocide. But beyond that, I would say there still is no such thing as a dumb question. And if you don’t ask it, then you absolutely will not get any information. If you do ask it and learn somethign you already know, your no worse off. In fact, your better off because the person you asked might stumble upon something down the road and recall you asked it and pay attention. WHich means you might learn something eventually. Thats the worst that could happen.

        Of course, the best that could happen is to find someone who has an encycolopedic knowledge of Sebastian’s ancestors. And you won’t find them if you don’t ask either.

  3. It certainly can’t hurt, especially since he’s well known enough for a collector to identify his bottles.

    I got a machinist neighbor who works on old ship restoration, and if he can’t answer a question on the subject, you can bet he’ll point you to someone who can (possibly on another continent).
    Hobbyists and collectors are amazingly well-connected.

    1. That’s exactly what I’m hoping. The collector who gave me the information that I do have said that unlike most random inquiries about bottles, this bottler was actually a major producer in our area. He knew enough and made it sound like there is much more information to be known about the company his ancestor founded and owned. I just can’t find it online, so I’d like to know if there are books, magazine articles, or even hobbyist newsletter archives that would give us a better picture on the life of this man.

      1. WHAT?!?!?!
        There’s something you Can’t find online?
        Damn, that in it’s self is amazing!

    2. “Hobbyists and collectors are amazingly well-connected.”

      After our experience, I have to say, THIS! ^

      I kid you not, just saying a first name among the collectors there, and everyone knew who you were talking about.

  4. My guess is that Bitter is right. Collectors of antiques tend to be wildly enthusiastic about the obscure history (which sometimes means that what they know about it is right).

    1. Yes.

      And “going into a gun show and asking some random dealer to tell you all about Samuel Colt” would be perfectly rational if the gun show (or the particular dealer) specialized in older and/or antique weapons. It would be a slam dunk if it was a Colt show (or auction).

      1. This isn’t a Colt show equivalent. :) It is more like going to an antique firearms show, though. Like I said, I’m willing to come off as a little silly or dumb asking anyone and everyone I can find who looks remotely knowledgable about what they know about this manufacturer, or if they can refer me to sources of information. The fact is that an internet search turns up very little beyond “he was a bottler.”

        1. I’ve come off as a little bit dumb often enough that it no longer bothers me. Go for it.


        2. Look at it this way, an antique bottle show is probably the biggest single reference source for info on the subject you will ever find.
          Milk it for all it’s worth!

  5. I had never heard of ‘privy digging’, but it is exactly what it sounds like to me. Yeah, I’m not sure I could really get behind that, even as sanitary as it must be.

    1. I totally understand. The first time I came across the reference on a bottle collector website, I thought, “There’s no way that can be what that sounds like.” Then, I clicked the link to see pictures of their digging operations, and I realize it was exactly what it sounded like.

      1. Judging by the few history classes I took in college, most of the really interesting historical artifacts are found in middens.

        A single liquor bottle, coin, or broken tool dropped down the toilet shows way more about history than a thousand generic statues of “yet another dude calling himself king of kings and the eternal ruler of the world”.

        Plus, nobody ever gets the mummy curse of Amenhotep from digging up a privy. :D

        1. You would be amazed what you can find in the most unlikely places. Excavations of the graveyard at Jamestown demonstrated that firearms were really, really common from all the lead shot and bullets that they found buried in the ground there. This is likely because of the traditional practice of firing guns at funerals.

  6. Have to go with you, not Sebastian. NOT to ask would be like attending a gathering of Egyptologists and not asking about Tut’s grandmother if you only knew she was apparently important.

    Privy digging is, as noted above, also a mainstream archeological practice as well as “amateur”.

    1. I should add that Sebastian ultimately agreed with me when I laid out my argument also using gun analogies. :)

  7. Look forward to a follow-up post on this! Earlier this year I finished working with my Mom on her second book of family genealogy, and at least this time everybody was in America. The first book was entirely related (no pun intended) to the Swedish-side, and went back through many generations to one last recognizable ancestor in the mid 1400’s. The Swedes kept all kinds of records, and material exist going further back on microfiche, but the ink and the handwriting has “bloomed” or something, making it impossible to distinguish or connect between “Jennsdottor” and “Johansdottor” – or any other number of Scandahoovian names. The main problem of loss was was simply illegibility of the ancient script…
    I did some “privy digging” after college when I took a class in Field Study Methods and worked at an archaeological site in the Midwest. It was a 2,000 year old Amerindian settlement that had garbage pits inside the house-outlines. The house post-holes had charred from being burnt to the ground, but deep circles of *other* dark “sediments” contained much in the way of deer-bones and other artifacts… In one we found a human skull, upsidown on top of a stone knife blade – that was the most significant find of the summer.

    1. Nothing much to report for follow-up. We didn’t find the bottle we were looking for. We did, however handle an awful lot of bottles that look like they came out of a privy. :)

      I came away with a couple of phone numbers and names. One guy who has a couple of the more common varieties clearly thought it was pretty cool that a descendant was interesting in picking some up. I’m going to give him a call next week.

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