Collector's message in an antique bottle

Glass: Steve Charing keeps his obsession bottled up as he searches for the perfect piece to add to his collection.

March 04, 2000|By James H. Bready | James H. Bready,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

As a youth, Steve Charing denied that his hairline was receding. His scalp was growing, that was all. Today he is 53, and his mirror shows skin as far back as the eye dares to look. So now he collects bottles.

Barber bottles.

Many a collector goes for them, with their typical large round base, long neck and flamboyantly colored glass. Old barber bottles, that is, from the great days of pre-machine glassmaking, roughly 1870 to 1920.

A dollop of sweet-smelling fluid upon the wavy locks of the seated male customer was the apogee of an old-time haircut. The container might say Bay Rum or Hair Restorer. Customers were urged to buy their own bottles, for interim home use. Some, Charing notes, "bore the owner's name, or the picture of a president or a good-looking young woman, on a label under glass."

"With most barber bottles, the place of origin is uncertain, but one is probably from Baltimore," he says. "Its lettering reads, `Lorrimer's Excelsior Hair Tonic and Forcer.' "

The tonic came from a manufacturing chemist on North Howard Street, Charing explains, his pate glistening.

"I want one," says the retired Social Security management analyst from Clarksville. "I seek it, relentlessly."

He will get a chance Sunday as the Baltimore Antique Bottle Club, of which he is president, holds its 20th annual dealer show at Essex Community College. As chairman and co-chairman of the show, Dr. William A. Andersen and Robert Ford will bear primary responsibility for the day's events. That means Charing should be free to circulate among the 313 merchandise tables.

There will, of course, be other collectors on hand, seeking their own grails in many other categories: inks, beers, milks, gins, whiskeys, whimsys, bitters, nursers, sodas, patent medicines, figurals, historical flasks, mineral waters, fruit jars, marbles -- even stoneware.

And you don't have to be an expert to attend: Club members will perform free appraisals for objects brought in by the public.

And when he's not busy hunting for that Lorrimer's tonic bottle, Charing will help the club honor two of its colleagues.

"We'll honor Hunter Cox, of Chesapeake, Va., the one out-of-state dealer who has set up every year since the club's show started," he says. "And also Reggie Lynch, of Durham, N.C."

Lynch is the group's primary connection to the high-tech present: He maintains the Web site, which includes the Baltimore club's Web page.

The Baltimore Antique Bottle Club's 20th Annual Show & Sale takes place Sunday, 8 a.m.-3 p.m. at Essex Community College Athletic Center, 7201 Rossville Blvd., Baltimore. Admission is $2. Call 410-252-0024 (or e-mail

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