Is the bottle half-full or half-empty? Show: Baltimore collector's club works to get its record-keeping act together. It has the sale part down.

March 01, 1997|By James H. Bready | James H. Bready,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

Washington's bottle club has published a list of old bottles that is already in its third edition.

The Ohio Bottle Club's book -- oversized -- contains 8,933 listings and is 438 pages thick.

Even the Little Rhody Club now has a book out -- "over 1,000 Rhode Island bottles listed."

And the Baltimore Antique Bottle Club, founded in 1970?

For years, the kind thing has been not to ask. Poor, listless BABC.

But all this is about to change.

"It's a formidable undertaking," says Rick Lease, club president, "but our members are pooling their information, a committee is at work, by late next year we hope to publish a comprehensive, standardized list of the Baltimore area's known old bottles."

But first, the Baltimore club will hold its 17th annual show and sale, the East Coast's largest indoor bottle event, tomorrow beginning at 9 a.m. at Essex Community College. Some 225 tables will display the wares of dealers from around the country.

In bottle collecting, definitions are always a problem, but the objects of the Baltimore club's survey are all made of glass, by and large were manufactured before the invention of the automatic bottle machine, and bear the embossed name and address of the contents' producer or distributor. Bottles bearing only a paper label are not included.

"We have set descriptive techniques," says Dr. William A. Andersen, committee chairman, "and lists are lengthening in a dozen categories: beers, bitters, figurals, fruit jars, inks,

medicines and tonics, milks, mineral waters, poisons, seltzer waters, sodas, wines and liquors."

Bottles made by blowing liquid glass into a mold at one of Baltimore's several glassworks -- a mold with lettering as well as a picture -- date back to 1840. But how far forward does the listing go? For beverage alcohol, the answer is easy: 1920, the start of Prohibition. For other headings, such as milk, where most bottles are machine-made, the cutoff point is more recent; complications include baked-on lettering (Pyroglaze) and type of seal.

Then there's value.

Most bottle censuses offer a range or estimate, in dollars, for every entry. "However, not only does the condition of a specific bottle affect value greatly," says Mary H. Collins, editor of the BABC newsletter, "but the moment that book comes out, its evaluations start becoming out of date."

At their shows, BABC members do free appraisals of bottles brought in by the public.

One difficulty in keeping lists current is that some members are so intent on the next dump dig or country auction as not to maintain a written record of what they already have. "How much detail can a mind hold?" asks Andy Agnew, 1997 show chairman. Some collectors are two-legged data banks."

For every item on its lists, the BABC committee needs, in writing, its color, size and shape, as well as its legend.

Dr. Anderson says tomorrow's show is an ideal, if unlikely, place for list-making to go on in earnest.

"How nice it would be," he muses, "to behold a gymnasium full of people measuring bottles, and writing down the embossed lettering."

He sighs.

"But I guess the reality is, they'll just rush from table to table, as in the past, looking, buying, squirreling their finds away."

Pub Date: 3/01/97

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