Father and son reap harvest of bottles from dump sites of past

February 28, 1993|By James H. Bready | James H. Bready,Contributing Writer

It's not easy, in this part of the country, to find places where the 19th century left portable objects behind -- places that smart 20th-century diggers, divers and document-readers haven't already cleaned out. But John and Keith Miceli, father-and-son foragers, have quietly discovered an untouched realm. During five years of roaming the woods and fields of middle and upper Baltimore County, they have amassed a treasure in antiquities.

"For years, the dream of searchers has been to find town dumps, filled-in privies or very old landing docks," says John Grimm, an authority on early urban buildings. "Generally, that means downtown.

"But the Micelis head exactly the other way -- toward the early farms."

Sometimes a map will show where farmhouses were; often the trick is, rather, to discern the site of a vanished building by noticing lines, mounds, depressions or other indicators in the terrain. "Much land that was once plowed or built on is now woods again," Keith Miceli, a high school student, comments. "Usually it still has a private owner, and we are careful to get permission before digging."

Beside or near every old farmstead was an area where household articles, worn out or outmoded, were discarded. If made of metal, glass, china, even wood, such artifacts endure. The Micelis have turned up, intact or broken, weapon points and stone ax heads, scrapers, buttons, hinges, doll heads, toys, coins, locks and keys, clay marbles, pipes, powder flasks, musket flints, spectacles, toothbrushes, sleigh bells, whiskey jugs, dishes, cutlery, thimbles, bottles.

Especially bottles.

Keith Miceli, now 17, has come a long way. Having duplicates and spares, he could trade and sell. Joining the Baltimore Antique Bottle Club (currently headed by Nicholas P. Benedict) and renting tables at its annual shows, he has become a specialist in pontiled medicines and early Baltimore blob-top beers. Quadrennially, bottle collectors and dealers from across the nation put on a vast sale. Last August, Keith and a fellow collector drove off to Toledo, Ohio, for the 1992 Bottle Expo.

"We were there and back in 36 hours," Keith relates. "Didn't spend a cent on a place to stay; we used our money for bottles." He brought back three embossed rarities, including a Hopkins Chalybeate (an 1840s Baltimore medicine).

Since then, John and Keith Miceli -- one totes a metal detector, the other a shovel and rake; any beers they find go to Keith, any historical flasks to his father -- have done scant exploring. Homework crimps a St. Paul's School junior; worse, last autumn Keith broke bones in his ankle and foot in a wrestling-team match.

But, gleaming on their bedroom display racks, three of the Micelis' glass farm-dump finds lure him onward. One bottle is an olive Gardner & Brown torpedo that dealers tell him would fetch at least $800; one is an 1840s P. Babb turquoise soda, a choice item of Baltimoreana; and one, amber and pontiled, bears a seal with the name Pralon & Co.: location unknown.

A fortnight ago, Keith's plaster cast came off. Great timing -- next Sunday, the Baltimore Antique Bottle Club holds its annual show and sale, 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. at Timonium Fairgrounds' 4-H Building. And the teen-age collector/businessman has rented not his usual one table but two.

Baltimore Sun Articles
Please note the green-lined linked article text has been applied commercially without any involvement from our newsroom editors, reporters or any other editorial staff.