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Bottle shows, digging, and Wyatt Earp (again)

Antique Trader resident bottle expert Mike Polak shares tales from his summer bottle digging and collecting road trip in a recent Bottle Treasures Uncorked column.

June is always a busy month, with many bottle shows across the country kicking off the summer bottle madness. Not wanting to miss the fun, I jumped into the madness with a

SD Bottle Club Show

Larry Westfall‚ SD Bottle Club Vice President at San Diego Show displaying his wares. (Photo by Mike Polak)

trip to San Diego, California, to attend the San Diego Antique Bottle Club’s Bottle & Collectibles show held June 14, sandwiched in a trip to Tonopah, Nevada, to re-visit the Wyatt Earp Saloon site for some metal detecting and digging, before heading to Reno, Nevada, for the Reno Antique Bottle Club’s 51st Bottle & Collectibles Club’s show June 27-28.

The San Diego show is always fun, with a great selection of bottles and antique collectibles attracting a good crowd of collectors. And, there are other great attractions in the area such as the beaches, Sea World and the famous San Diego Zoo. The show opened at 8 a.m. for the “Early Bird” buyers with 53 tables of choice items consisting of 31 dealers, 9 a.m. for general admission and free admission after 12 p.m. Club President Jim Walker, who handles the table sales and show set-up, said, “Our show was a smashing success with lots of positive feedback. Most said sales were better than ever, and our crowd was higher than the previous year with well over 200 paid customers and many free entries after 12 p.m.”

An added surprise was a visit by Brian Bingham and Cheryl Reynolds, direct descendants of family who fought in the American Revolution, dressed in authentic American Revolution outfits including a musket. Brian and Cheryl are proud members the Sons & Daughters of the American Revolution.

Along with Jim Walker, attention and thanks needs to be given to Mike Bryant, show chairman, who handles the fliers, advertising and tons of leg work; Larry Westfall club vice president and the display chairman for organizing the great displays; Mike Kaszuba, who handles the security and assists with unloading and loading; and thanks to all of the club members who contributed their time and efforts for such a great show. I’m already looking forward to next year.

Next stop on the bottle trail was Goldfield and Tonopah, Nevada. My truck just seems to kick into auto-pilot and knows exactly where to go without a GPS. Funny how that

Mike Polak

Mike Polak holding a recently found “Vienna Bakery Token” Circa 1905-1907.

happens. As a refresher, the July 24, 2013, issue of the Antique Trader featured the story “Dig unearths bottle treasures at Wyatt Earp’s Northern Saloon in Tonopah, Nev”, chronicling the excavation of Wyatt Earp’s Northern Saloon and the Vienna Bakery from May 4, 2013, to June 10, 2013, unearthing 618 bottles along with numerous tokens, coins and other artifacts.

On June 10, the lot was suppose to be paved over, which effectively ended the dig. Then, a miracle happened. Due to construction delays, the paving didn’t happen and the owner gave Ray Forrey permission to re-start his digging. Ray and his fellow diggers started in early April 2014 after the winter’s cold, rain and snow left town. During the early digging, three Cobalt Blue Poison bottles were quickly found along with some common bottles, a number of Vienna Baker tokens, an 1899 “V” Nickel, numerous early turn of the century Wheat Pennies and other artifacts.

I arrived in town June 21 and met up with another adventurer, Dave Finnern. An award-winning writer, he has published more than 200 articles on underwater explorations and has authored several books, including “Passage Through Deep Waters,” “The Sport Diver’s Guide to Sunken Treasure” and “Lost Below.” Besides metal detecting and digging, Dave is also an experienced diver who has explored ancient shipwrecks, sunken aircraft and other submerged ruins. I met Dave in 1994 while giving a presentation to the California Wreck Divers Club on the first edition of “Bottles: Identification and Price Guide.” We became friends and he eventually authored the chapter “Diving for Bottles” in the 4th and 5th editions of my book. Recently, while giving a presentation on the Wyatt Earp Dig to the “Adventurers Club of Los Angeles” of which Dave is a member, he asked if he could tag along with me on this dig since he wanted to write an article for “Treasure” magazine on Tonopah and Wyatt Earp. We quickly hooked up with Ray Forrey, broke out the shovels and began digging and sifting dirt.

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Luck was on our side with the temperature at 85 degrees with cloud cover that saved the day. After five hours of digging and sifting, we didn’t find any bottles, but I did find two Vienna Bakery (circa 1905-1907) tokens. Dave found two wheat pennies dated 1918 and 1920. We jumped back into the dig early the next day with Dave determined to find a token of any kind from the Earp/Vienna Bakery hole. After a full day of digging fun, I found three more Vienna Bakery tokens without any luck on the bottles. Since Dave had to leave the next day, we couldn’t let him leave without a token in his pocket, so we had a special presentation and gave him one of the five Vienna Bakery tokens to go along with his two wheat pennies.

We had a lot of fun with the adventure of digging under Wyatt Earp’s Northern Saloon, and there is still a ton (literally) of dirt to sift and dig through that will be sure to turn up

Whiskey, medicine and food bottles

Common Whiskeys, Medicine, and Food Bottles found at the Tonopah, Nevada, dump in June. (Photo by Mike Polak)

more bottles, tokens and treasures. The hole is open for digging until September 30, so I will return to try again.

Before I left town, I spent a day digging the Tonopah dump and found many common whiskey, medicine and food bottles. Like I always say, you can’t have a bad day digging (or fishing).

Leaving Tonopah, I traveled north to Reno for the Reno Bottle Club’s show June 27-28. This was the club’s 51st annual show, and as usual they did a fantastic job. The show opened at 9:30 a.m. for the “Early Bird” buyers with 120 tables consisting of 72 dealers and some great displays. A good variety of nice displays is an added touch since they are informative, educational and fun to look at. There was the usual good crowd with anxious buyers looking for that great deal, and on Saturday at 9 a.m. with free admission, there were even more buyers looking for that elusive hard-to-find treasure.

Mary Hall, the show’s chairman said, “Everyone was very pleased with the lighting and the room in general, and we’ll be setting the 2015 date at our December meeting.” Helene Walker also deserves thanks for handling the table sales and assisting in the show set-up.

When it comes to selections of every type of bottle for every collector’s budget, I consider this to be one of the best shows in the West. There is a large array of fine quality bottles ranging from high-end whiskeys, bitters, sodas, poisons and insulators, along with more affordable bottles in the same categories. And a fine collection of advertising and “go-with” items to complement the bottles can be found as well.

As you can see, there are plenty of bottle collectors out there attending bottles shows, digging, buying, trading and just having a lot of fun with the hobby of bottle collecting.


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