Collectors await show

February 23, 1992|By James Bready | James Bready,Contributing Writer

Tom Robusto, going digging, takes a long-handle shovel, a short-handle shovel, a probe, a long rake, and an extra shovel for when, in hard clay, one more handle breaks. And he takes a compartmented, cardboard liquor box to store his finds.

Upon returning from a dig at some 19th century town dump, he usually has old bottles in his box, shards of pottery, wood or metal implements. If it was a good day, the box has in it a Hutch soda, carefully wrapped.

"A man in Illinois named Hutchinson patented a metal stopper," Mr. Robusto explains. "From 1879 to about 1910, glassmakers made this model, with its distinctive neck. Often they embossed a local name into the glass, and sometimes a decorative ornament."

Mr. Robusto has 45 local Hutches embossed with Baltimore or Maryland. No one else seems to have that many.

"But check with me after next Sunday's bottle show," he says. The Maryland Antique Bottle Club's 12th annual show, the biggest in the East, opens at 9 a.m. at Timonium State Fairgrounds.

He'll primarily look for the five Maryland bottles he doesn't have, any of which may turn up on one of the 220 dealer tables.

There will be rival seekers. The big thing in Hutches is an all-50-states collection. Displayed, they are impressive; some are made from different color glass.

"Forty states, you can do," Mr. Robusto says. "The last 10, it gets hard." Rhode Island is the scarcest, with only seven known names and two of them unique examples so far. "A Rhode Island Hutch might bring $1,500, and a 50-state collection would go for as much as $5,000.

"For Pennsylvania, Delaware, New York -- you'll find scores of names. Maryland is one of the less common states; depending on condition, values go from $10 to $75 or more."

Some Hutches come from attics, but far more from the ground. (The label is gone and often the stopper has disintegrated; the glass is what matters.)

Mr. Robusto, a suburban garden-store manager, has been a weekend and day-off digger for more than 20 years. He and fellow shovelers know one another's specialties. When a new Maryland name turns up, Mr. Robusto takes on another role -- trader or buyer.

His first Hutch was a Keystone Bottling Works, Baltimore: then a familiar name, but now uncommon.

"Last summer at the York Bottle Show," he relates, "I got one I'd never heard of, a C. F. Willard, Knoxville, Md." That night, he shelved it near another choice rarity, his F. T. Rhodes, "Fredrick," Maryland.

There is, so far, no Hutchinson soda bottle catalog. Mr. Harms puts the known, nationwide total at some 5,000 names.

At Sunday's show, Hutchinson collectors will be joined by collectors of other bottles. Historical flasks, milks, inks, bitters, figurals, whiskeys, jugs, crocks, gins, perfumes, poisons, medicines, nursers, beers, fruit jars, whimsies, trade-name material all have their followings. Even if the weather is fine, Sunday is one day in the year when many of Maryland's relic-seekers leave their spades home, and bring their compartmented cardboard boxes to the show.

"If you have an ancient bottle and are uncertain of its use or worth, take it to our free appraisal table during the show," says Ferd Meyer, co-chairman with Andy Agnew.

Beneficiaries from the bottle show include the National Bottle Museum at Ballston Spa, N.Y., and the history department of the University of Maryland Baltimore County.

Baltimore Antique Bottle Show and Sale, March 1, Timonium State Fairgrounds, 4-H Building, 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Admission,

$1.50. Information, (410) 592-3565.

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