ARTICLES WITH INFORMATION FOR WISCONSIN ANTIQUE BOTTLE COLLECTORS:::.
A few years back, we began to develop a reputation for finding great bottles. When we decided to dive right near shore one spring, a small audience of friends wanted to come see what we were doing. They planned to overlook our near shore dives and to be the first to see any old bottles we might pull out. It was still fairly early in the year (March), but once we decided to go hunting, we wouldn't let a few little things like the temperature or the weather stop us. Steve and I planned a shallow two-tank dive in a lake near Oconomowoc, Wisconsin. As were searching for a good spot in the icy water, I found a pint amber blob beer embossed, "P. BINZEL / OCONOMOWOC / WIS." This is a great bottle. Now that we knew that there were bottles here, it was just a matter of finding more of them.
Not too long after we began searching in earnest, Steve found a quart bottle. Because the water was murky, he did not know what it was. He surfaced, pulled his mask up and off of his face while keeping the bottle submerged. With the audience from shore looking on, he gradually lifted it out. A blob emerged that was aqua in color. As the long thin neck became visible, a loose Putnam stopper appeared. Bottle experts will recognize that this usually means that the bottle is old. This style of stopper was primarily used in the 1860s and 1870s. The neck surfaced curving into the shoulders in a long sloping arc. Finally, Steve exposed the embossing. It read, "PETER BINZEL / BREWER / OCONOMOWOC, WIS." A very cool and early piece of glass! Although I secretly thought that it was a little confident to put on a show to spectators BEFORE he knew that the bottle was any good, I was forced to admit to myself that the bottle was indeed, very good. The variants where the word "PETER" is spelled out are quite rare. I don't think any of us had ever seen one like it before. So, I resolved to find something myself and to put on my own little show...
As I was searching, I finally bumped a bottle. I grabbed it and felt up and down the sides. It felt smooth with a thick and heavy blob. It was a Hutchinson soda. I could not see the brand name underwater. If I had to hazard a guess, I would have said that it was most likely one from "F. LUGVIEL" or "E. SCHERMERHORN". Those were known names of bottlers that had used hutch bottles from Oconomowoc. I knew that it was not a "JOHN GRAF" (a more common hutch) because it did not have a mug (or faceted) base. There was a chance that it was from another town - you can't control what you find, but I was still thinking that it was from Oconomowoc. I surfaced holding the hutch underwater. Next, I said, "Here's one for my collection." Everyone there knew that I collected Hutchinson soda bottles from Wisconsin. I matched Steve's earlier drama by gradually revealing the blob, the neck, and the embossing. But wait! It said, "OCONOMOWOC", but the bottler was neither "LUGVIEL" nor "SCHERMERHORN". As soon as I realized this, I announced to the bystanders that I had found an unknown variant. I think I said that it was a "new one" and that I had found an unlisted bottle. They wanted to see it pronto. In my excitement, I wanted to show it to Steve first. After I brought him up from the bottom and he had a chance to view it, I began to make my way towards shore. Gary and Tom guessed that it might be a "MICHELS" bottle. There were known sodas from "H. MICHELS" but they were earlier than Hutchinson bottles. I took another look. Nope. It says, "M. WEBER & CO / BOTTLERS / OCONOMOWOC, WIS." I took it to shore where it was passed around with amazement. It's not every day that you find a bottle that rare. And oddly enough, it was on a day that we had an audience waiting. Maybe we should have invited them along on more dives?
As we unsuited and dried off, we continued to speculate about the Weber bottle. We thought that maybe Weber was a known bottler but that no examples had been found in modern times. When we got home and checked the books, we could not find a single reference to an M. Weber from Oconomowoc! I had found the first known modern example! And this was not just an unknown variant. This was an unknown variant from an unknown bottler located in a small town. Amazing! I had found one of the ultimate bottles for my own collection.
The condition of the bottle was pretty good but not mint. It had some typical case-wear around the hub that is frequently seen on returnable old bottles. It was also heavily opalized. Nonetheless, I loved it. You can't control the condition of the bottles that you find. The wear you find them with is part of the history and legacy of that particular bottle. You can only do your best to make sure that no further damage occurs to them.
As time went by, and we searched the area more thoroughly, a few more of these bottles turned up. Steve found the second modern example in near mint condition. He does not collect hutches, so, he generously offered me the chance to trade mine for his. He next planned to wheel and deal it to get something in trade for his own collection. The bottle was still so rare that people would give up great value to obtain it even with some case wear. However, I was pretty emotionally attached to my example. It now had a rainbow of opalization, and it was the first one ever found, and it was the exact example that I had found. It was history in the making (at least for me). I set the two bottles side by side on a table. I cleared my thoughts and tried to set aside my attachment to that first example. Now, I asked myself if I were buying this bottle, which one would I rather purchase? The answer was obvious. The near mint bottle was better. I thanked Steve and left with an upgrade. That's unbelievable. Thanks again, Steve.
At the next bottle show, I took the bottle over to Roger Peters. Roger has written one of the best guides to collecting Hutchinson sodas called Wisconsin Soda Water Bottles (1845-1910) (1996). At the beginning of the book, he has a forward where he thanks some of the many collectors who have helped him by sharing information with him and by allowing him access to their collections. I approached Roger and asked him if he would add my name to the list of people in the forward in his next edition if I showed him a Hutchinson soda that he had never before seen or heard of. He agreed that he could do that. I pulled the bottle out and handed it over. I think it would be fair to say that Roger had never seen it. So, Roger, if you read this, the last name is spelled with an "E-Y". That's "L-I-B-B-E-Y". As fate would have it, I eventually acquired a second example of this bottle. That one now resides in Roger's collection.