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Digging for Bottles

The most inexpensive and gratifying way to finding old bottles is to dig them out of the ground. This is some hard, dirty work, but worth it because you never know what you might unearth. Besides bottles you may find other artifacts of the time period which can tell you a lot about the past. You will need to research where to dig. Your local library in your town will have very useful information such as old plat maps and insurance maps. City directories often can tell who the person was and when they settled there, what they did for a living, and where they lived.

Places to dig: Most city and towns started having dump sites in the 1870s and were getting more popular by the 1890s. The dump was usually with in a mile from the city or town. Be sure to research the growth of the city or town, if the original dump is still there or if the ground was redeveloped and the dump site was moved further outside of the town. As people and business would dump there garbage, heavy equipment would push the garbage away to the sides and the end of the dump site.

The best place to dig would be the end and the sides of the dump site for the oldest bottles. The depth you have to dig usually can be determined the adjacent property level. Farm dumps are in most cases are very small one or two family dump sites. Most of the time they were located at the end of a field, just inside a wooded area, or a ravine. In most cases, you only have to dig one to two feet deep depending on how much foliage there has been.

When digging a ravine you start at the bottom and dig your way up the hill. As you are working your way up the hill you are covering the hole you have just dug. This will make for a lot of less work. Also, most old farm homesteads had a fruit cellar that you can dig and under a porch is another good spot. Old barns sometime had a ramp made out of dirt to enter the barn. I have dug old bottles on the sides of these ramps.

Most homes had a privy or in modern terms an outdoor restroom. This was one way people would dispose of they garbage or they would just dig a hole in they yard and dispose of it that way. Many privies could be in the back yard as one would get filled up, another would get dug. This is I think the best way to dig for older open pontil bottles. Please note that privies and cisterns (a hole in the ground for water storage) digging can be very dangerous because the hole you have to dig may be six to fifteen feet deep and cave-ins can happen.

I would suggest that you go to Digger Odell’s bottle book website,, and purchase a copy his book on "THE SECRETS OF PRIVY DIGGING" by John Odell. The most important thing to remember is always have a buddy or two with you on the dig and always have permission from the property owner. Always respect the owners property, fill the hole in and clean up the mess. Always be very careful so know one gets hurt.

Digging equipment that you will need:

1. Long handle shovel

2. Small hand shovel

3. Small hand plastic rack

4. A potato rake in some soils is very handy

5. Good pair of leather gloves

6. Safety glasses

7. A spoon comes in handy

8. A small brush

9. 2 foot probe

10. 5 foot probe

11. Insect repellent

12. First aid kit

13. Plenty of liquids to drink

14. Sometimes a sandwich is a good idea

15. Some bubble wrap for your bottles

16. A back pack to put your small equipment in.

17. Cell phone

18. Dirt sifter for small relics that you might dig up Additional equipment for privy digging

19. Pick

20. Posthole digger

21. Root cuter

22. Rope with tripod and pulley

23. Some plastic five gallon buckets

24. Come along and heavy straps

25. Some tarps

26. Hard hat when in a deep hole

27. Ladder when in deep hole

28. 4x8 sheet of plywood to cover hole if you need to come back another day to continue hole

29. Pick truck to put all this equipment in

30. GPR (ground penetrating radar) for the diehard professional