Henry Waskey, 29, started collecting bottles as a kid while out for walks with his dad.
“We came across some old bottles and brought them home and did research,” Waskey said. “Next thing you know, we’re out actually looking for them.”
Howard County once was home to several dairy farms and each had its own milk bottle design. Waskey said. Now Waskey spends most Sundays digging at locations where he has permission to dig to find bottle treasures.
Much of what he finds isn’t usable anymore, but he’s in it for the hunt.
“I would say the ratio is one to 100 for whole to broken bottles,” Waskey said.
The Baltimore Bottle Club approached him years ago, he said, after members found a website he once published about the hobby.
“They gave me different bottles and a lot of information,” Waskey said. “I never looked back.”
Waskey joined the club for the 41st Annual Bottle Show and Sale last Sunday at Howard County Fairgrounds in West Friendship. He and Micah Dolina debuted their book, “Howard County Antique Bottle Book,” at the show.
It was the first time the show was held at the venue in Howard County. Since 1996 the event has been held at the Community College of Baltimore County Essex’s campus, but pandemic protocols forced its relocation.
Show chairman Rick Lease of Finksburg said the fairground’s main exhibition hall was ideal for the show, as it has grown and needed the extra space.
Lease spent the end of March confirming vendors, handling cancellations, filling vacancies with those on the waiting list, and creating a new layout.
“It is a long building to lay out and design. It’s not square,” said Lease, of Finksburg. “It’s a lot bigger. Thirty percent bigger.”
Dealers from 25 states and three foreign countries set up their wares on 344 tables at the show. That number, along with an expected large crowd, was too much for CCBC Essex’s pandemic protocols, according to Steve Charing, who handles media relations for the club.
“COVID restrictions limited us to 250 people,” Charing, of Clarksville, said. “We have that many dealers. That’s how we migrated to Howard County Fairgrounds.”
Charing estimated that more than 1,000 people attended Sunday’s show. Remarks from dealers were “overwhelming positive,” he said, with the convenient location cited as one of the top draws.
All kinds of bottles, from milk and medicinal to beer and soda bottles, were on display, as well as jars, pottery, small antiques and Lease’s collection of fruit jars.
“Club members and dealers are always happy to answer questions,” said Charing, and they are always looking for new members. At the show on Sunday, youths 12 years and under received a free bottle to start their own collections.
“It’s an interesting hobby,” Charing said. “It really teaches you the history of what people were doing in the 1890s. What they drank, ate. They are historic artifacts.”
“I used to have 1,200 jars,” Lease said. “Now I have 50 or 60 and maybe 200 bottles.”
Growing up in Baltimore County, Lease and his friends would dig for free stuff around rivers. He was an “active digger” for many years, exploring historic privies and trash sites in both Baltimore and Carroll counties for old bottles.
“I don’t do it anymore. It does bad things to joints,” said Lease, who moved to Carroll County in the 1980s.
Instead, Lease hunts for bottles and jars at flea markets, yard sales, antique stores and online, looking for rare colored fruit jars or those locally made.
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“There are a lot of whiskey bottles in Westminster, and flasks,” Lease said. “Beer bottles can be found throughout Carroll County. There were a lot of Germans here and they like their beer.”
While Lease no longer digs for bottles, he does clean ones that other people find.
“When people dig things up, they don’t look really good. They’re ugly,” Lease said. “It’s a polishing process. I never thought of it as an art, but it is. You have to get it just right.”
A bottle’s worth depends on its age, condition and rarity, according to Charing.
“Plain bottles with no emblem or label are not worth as much as they are machine made,” Charing said.
Many items once stored in glass are now stored in plastic. Lease isn’t sure what bottles will be valuable in the future.
“People are collecting microbrew beer bottles. That’s interesting,” Lease said. “It’s a whole different world.”