Tribune Print Share Text

One man’s trash, another man’s treasure

Antique bottle collector discovers hunt is half the fun

Created date

September 20th, 2011

Some people fish to unwind, others enjoy golf or gardening, but for Nicholas Benedict nothing beats spending a Sunday afternoon bottle hunting or as he describes it, poor man s archeology. There s something magical about digging and going on a treasure hunt in search of that unique bottle, Nicholas says. A retired businessman, Nicholas began collecting bottles in the early 1970s at a friend s invitation. A friend of a friend invited me to go on a bottle hunt, says Nicholas. The next thing I knew, there I was on a Sunday morning digging into the side of a hill at an old dump site in Curtis Bay. I found my very first bottle that day a Lash s Bitters bottle. After that I was hooked. He proudly displays that bottle, along with half a dozen other bottles from his original collection, in a glass cabinet at his home in Oak Crest, an Erickson Living community in Parkville, Md. His collection once totaled more than 150 bottles and still includes a Baltimore Glass Works whiskey bottle, a cobalt blue Carter s Master Ink bottle, and a 2,000-year-old funeral oil bottle.

Thrill of the hunt

On Sundays I would take a trowel and a potato digger and head out to the Curtis Bay area with my buddy, and we would dig holes big enough to fit a Volkswagen, says Nicholas. Typically we looked in areas notorious for dumping trash. Nicholas often frequented the sites of old outhouses. Years ago in downtown Baltimore, they would bury big barrels in the ground and build an outhouse over it, says Nicholas. Since there wasn t regular garbage collection in the late 1700s and 1800s, it was common for people to dump their refuse in the outhouse. Sometimes you can get lucky and find old coins, buttons, and bottles. Sometimes you don t. But that s the fun of it; you never know what you ll get. Over the years Nicholas became an aficionado of antique bottles and well versed in the history of glass making. He started the Baltimore Antique Bottle Club, which now has more than 100 members, with a number of other antique bottle collectors. As past president, Nicholas developed the organization s signature event, a one-day international bottle show, with more than 300 exhibitors displaying bottles, jars, and pottery. The show is the largest of its kind in the world and still continues today.

Eye of the beholder

Whether bottles, vinyl records, pocket watches, or snow globes, the hobby of collecting has come a long way since Nicholas and his fellow bottle digging buddies started out in the 70s. Websites like eBay and, as well as popular TV shows like American Pickers, Antiques Roadshow, and Auction Hunters, make it easier than ever to buy, trade, or just get the scoop on what s hot in the collectibles market. The Association of Collecting Clubs reports currently there are more than 50,000 collecting clubs to choose from. When it comes to bottle collecting many people start out by accident, whether they see a colorful bottle that catches their eye in a store window or an old bottle that was handed down to them from family, says Nicholas. For example, my daughter-in-law collects perfume bottles. They re not rare or expensive, but she likes them and thinks they re beautiful so they re valuable to her. If you think about it, all of us collect something or another, whether it s shoes, jewelry, or even old socks; it doesn t really matter what it s worth as long as it s worth something to you. Although Nicholas gave up bottle digging years ago, he still enjoys sharing the history behind each one he s kept. I sold most of my collection when I moved to Oak Crest, he says. But among the ones I kept are the very first bottle I ever found and the very last. And let me tell you, there were a lot of stories in between.