Antique-glass seller hopes to trap lightning in a bottle

March 04, 1995|By James H. Bready | James H. Bready,Special to The Sun

The foxes were vanishing in his area of the Eastern Shore, and Alan Wesche was looking for something else to do. He gazed toward his living room window, and the old glass objects lined up there glowed in the sunlight.

His conversion wasn't instantaneous, but quickly enough the animal trapper had become a bottle dealer.

This was five years ago. Tomorrow, Mr. Wesche will be on the western shore, at the Fairgrounds in Timonium, behind a table at the 15th annual Baltimore Antique Bottle Club show.

"By now, Alan is probably the Shore's most active bottle hunter," says Ferdinand Meyer IV, co-chairman of the Timonium show, which runs from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. and is expected to draw 2,000 collectors. "He's a great digger, he cleans bottles, goes to the auctions, checks with the watermen."

Mr. Wesche, 47, has been a Shoreman since 1970. He grew up in Kansas, the son and grandson of beaver trappers. He stays close to nature by digging for bottles.

"All the obvious spots over here have been pretty well dug," he said the other day from his home in Bishopville, "but some permission digs have been productive." He and partners also dig in Baltimore.

In the glassy world of 100- or 150-year-old flasks, bitters, figurals, cures, inks, sodas, fruit jars, beers, milks, gins and insulators, a few truths always hold true. For instance, the price may be more negotiable late in the show day -- if the bottle's still there.

Another is that inside the typical dealer lurks not just a collector but a passionate collector.

What grabs Mr. Wesche?

"Wheeler's Berliner Bitters," he says, quietly. "It's a Baltimore bottle. Every year, I hope some out-of-state dealer will bring one, even though it'll be beyond my reach."

Without cracks, chips or stains, a Wheeler's Berliner goes for, oh, $7,000 or so.

Another axiom from the collector world is that in any buyer-seller deal, or swap, one party knows more than the other as to the object's market value. In Timonium tomorrow, veterans and beginners are invited to try to outfox Alan Wesche.

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