Twin brothers Blake and Brent Cousins, who are known as the “Bottle Hunters of Hawaii” have more than 3,000 collectible bottles. Not a bad total considering they’ve only been collecting for two years. Raised on a sugar plantation dating back to the 1800s, the brothers do the majority of their digging on the Hamakua Coast of Hawaii’s Big Island.
Their digging adventures and bottle collecting began when Brent was working in the backyard garden and found a corked bottle. Immigrants migrated to these sugar plantations looking for work and, along with Hawaiians and plantation owners, formed a diverse culture resulting in a variety of bottles such as opium, medicine, rare Hawaiian soda, gin and whiskey bottles from the 1870s to the early 1900s found in the many island locations.
Since many workers lived near the edge of gulches and 300-500-foot cliffs, rappelling down with ropes and harnesses is often the only way to enter bottle digging hot spots. “Privy digs are a walk in the park compared to the daunting task to reach some of the old dumping grounds,” Blake says.
As an example of getting down and dirty, the brothers made a rare discovery while studying an old aerial photo of a historical building from the 1930s. The photo revealed an old camp with more than 20 homes, known as the “Over Ran Camp.” This discovery led to an excruciating dig of about 20 feet and the removal of 400 wheelbarrow loads of dirt.
Their persistence paid off when a small rust layer was uncovered, which then exploded into the mother lode of a major bottle pit, producing extremely rare collectibles such as a Honolulu Hollister & Co. squat blob variant and intact Japanese medicines. It took over a week of digging with preventative measures to insure the safety of the crew before the bottle pit was tapped out. “This was a very exciting time,” Blake says. “The adrenalin rush of locating a spot, not knowing what was coming out next, untouched for over 130 years, was like being in a candy store! Over 100 collectible bottles were excavated, not bad for a week’s worth of work!”
For more on the adventures of Brent and Blake, check out their “Bottle Hunters of Hawaii” videos on YouTube. You won’t be disappointed.
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