Vol. 3 No. 10                                                                                                                                                         October 2007
Kalamazoo Antique Bottle Club News
Member club of the F.O.H.B.C.

 2007-08 Club Season Now Underway!

Good Turnout!

Here is a list of names which conger up images of smiling faces, each one belonging to the following people. If you made it to the September meeting here is a glimpse of who you saw: Tim and Judy Hayes, Ed Nickerson, Ernie Lawson, Jack Short, Brent Heighton, Lee Meeker, Scott Hendrichson, Mike Hade, Chuck Parker, John Pastor and Al Holden! Should I make up a "Where was" list? There were several faces absent and I want you to know you were missed!

As you can see, we had a great turnout and a really great meeting! Jack Short took some pictures at the meeting and then e-mailed them to me. Included with the pictures, Jack sent a two word message, "Great meeting!"

I could still make a good- sized list of folks who were absent and we all missed you. If you had a chance to read the last newsletter, you had a pretty good idea what you could expect to see at the September meeting. President Chuck Parker did a great job of putting together a list of the bottles that Scott, Mike and Chuck had recently dug. Thanks, Chuck! Your extra work made the newsletter far more interesting, not to mention easier to write.

If you wonder what bottles we saw at the last meeting, I would refer you back to the September newsletter where all the bottles listed were pretty much all on display. There were a couple of surprise bottles there. Ed Nickerson came across a very neat salesman's sample for motor oil, which looked to be from the 1920's. The old leather case held several glass tubes containing different weight and viscosity oils.

I wonder if these oil salesmen made far reaching claims for their products, like the medicine companies did. I guess they couldn't have made the claim, "cures all diseases" like William Radam did. But who knows, a couple of those oil blends may have been promised to take the wobble out of your wheel and the rattle out of your hubcap! Sounds funny, doesn't it! Next time you are in the oil additive aisle, pick up one of those bottles of any kind of 'Motor Magic' and you will find they are still up to their con jobs!

The other surprise bottle was one that I displayed. The Saturday before our meeting, a couple of my bottle digging friends gained access to an 1850 home in Kalamazoo. They probed the back yard and found two outhouse pits, which they dug. Both pits were the last two that were used, and newer, so they were somewhat disappointed. Clearly they had not been dug before because the root structure was intact, but the bottles were common. Well, you just never know until you dig!

The fellows, Sanjit, (pronounced San' gee) and Bill, cleaned up the dig site, then went to the door to thank the homeowner. The guys figured that the original, older outhouse pits had been destroyed when a newer outbuilding was built behind the house, so they questioned the homeowner about that. She had no knowledge of the builders finding any bottles. However, she did say that a carpenter found an old bottle when they had the front door replaced.

You see, these two diggers are professional! Seriously! You must leave no stone unturned!

In one of the digs that I was in on, a big three-car garage was built over at least two outhouse pits. The contractors do not completely dig the pits as we do, sometimes they just peel away the cap, but they do expose some old bottles. In this situation, the homeowner picked the bottles up, thinking that they may be of some value. However, by now he had all but forgotten about them-- until we asked! We found that he had stored the bottles in a wood box, back in a corner of that new garage. As I recall, there were a few keepers, including a rare Michigan whiskey that was worth at least a couple hundred dollars! Here is the kicker, the homeowner insisted we take the entire collection for free!

Meanwhile Sanjit and Bill waited while the lady went to get her antique bottle. She had told the guys that the front door of the old house was big and drafty, yet it also had no window. After a long search they found a modern door that fit well with the old home's architecture, but it was bigger and would require all new framing. The new door was much taller, so the area over the old door had to be removed. There, hidden in the wall was a bottle left by the builder 157 years ago!

Sanjit and Bill knew that it was what collectors call an "Historic Flask." Knowing just enough to know it was worth some risk, Sanjit offered the lady $100.00 for the bottle, which she gladly accepted. After leaving the home with their treasure, Sanjit phoned me on his cell phone.

"Al, are you interested in buying a nice bottle? We came across something that I think you might like."

I turned my first thought into words, "At this time of year I am nearly broke!"

Early fall, when the kids are going back to school it gets tough! Most of the guys are thinking about deer hunting, and many of the county fairs are going on. Well, folks are not thinking about metal detecting. Not me, fall is my favorite time for detecting and privy digging.

"Well Al, at least let us run it over for you to see."

"Hold up Sanjit! About how much money are you thinking?

" I don't know for sure. Al, you have all the books, why don't you look it up?"

"OK, I'll look it up, tell me what it is, then call me back in five minutes."

I found the bottle listed in the big Auction Price Report but my copy is very old, it was printed in 1996! When Sanjit called me back, I told him that there are 9 different variants of this bottle, and in my older report they range from $120.00 to nearly $3,000.00! I told him;

"Sanjit, I still don't have a clue what this bottle is worth."

"Well Al, let's narrow it down one step at a time. It says, 'Traveler's Companion' on one side, and it has an eight pointed star. On the other side, it says 'Ravenna Glass Co.' and it has another eight pointed star."

That narrowed it down, it put the bottle in the most desirable grouping!

"Al, the color is medium amber, and it is iron pontiled with a sheared top."

Amber is nearly, if not thee, most valuable color! So the price shoots right up! Iron pontiled means, this could be one of the oldest variants, so the price shoots even higher! The last part, the "sheared lip," well, that detail takes the (could be) out of the last sentence! This is indeed one of the oldest! Also, because it is not chipped, scratched, and in an un-dug attic-mint condition the price soars even higher!

"Sorry Sanjit, this bottle is out of my league! To be honest, I don't even want to see it! I would be better off if I didn't even know about it."

"Al, we put all of our cash together to buy this bottle and we need to raise some money so we can keep digging this weekend."

"Sanjit, just so that you will understand my situation, the very most I can spend right now is $300.00! So now you can see that you are barking up the wrong tree! I wish I could help you, my friend."

You could have knocked me over with a feather after hearing Sanjit's next remark!

"Al, $300.00 is just what we were thinking!"

I took the bottle to the bottle club meeting and it was a real show stopper! The experts were very impressed! Sometimes you just get lucky!

Here is a photo that I took at the last meeting. Scott dug this beautiful 1800's child's chamber pot with a seaweed pattern. Mike Hade wisely took it as the treasures were divided! This is a real treasure and it came from the pit without a flaw! It is somewhat crude from the maker. For example it has a chip in the rim but it is glazed! I love this  find!


             I heard some news at the last meeting that really stunned me! Our friend, Mike Hade, is relocating to the Carolinas. I first met Mike a few years ago when he purchased his metal detector from me. Mike and I have become good friends and I know that many of you can say the same. I got Mike started with an interest in locating, digging and collecting antique bottles and he really caught the bug bad! Watching him reminded me of myself several years back when Ernie and Jack exposed me to this strange sort of virus!

           Well Mike, we will stay linked up by e-mail and by the newsletter but we will miss that smile of yours!

           Mike Hade, Scott Hendrickson and our President, Chuck Parker, really hit a honey hole in Otsego! This pit was loaded with neat local antique bottles. When they tried to explain the pit to me, they referred to it as a 'barrel pit.' The privy was made by sinking a round-shaped wooden cylinder made of wooden-staves and iron-rings. The first time I heard the story I pictured a Whisky or pickle barrel which would have been somewhat small for a privy. Then, on the second telling of the story I learned that the "barrel" was 8 foot in diameter and 8 feet deep!

           Ok, now we can change the name from ' barrel' to 'vat.' This was something that had been discarded by one of the local industries and scavenged for privy-duty. My Grandfather used large vats in the cottage cheese plant, which was only a mile away, but this pit predates his business by about 35 years. There can be only one possibility-- in my mind. This house was a short walk away from the old Bardeen Paper Mill which was started in back the 1880's. If this is what was known as a 'beater- vat' it was very likely one of the first ones used and was quickly outgrown. A beater-vat today would be much different, but the results would be much the same. The cooked wood pulp would be blended into a slurry that could be pressed and finished into paper products. If this wasn't an early beater vat, it was still most likely discarded by the paper mill where it had been used to hold and blend chemicals used in the paper mill.

          I think our guys uncovered more history than they realized! Did the folks who scavenged this discarded vat roll it to this location or did they load it onto a heavy wagon? Either way, I'd bet it gained lots of attention! Here are some of the bottles found in this huge pit.


1. Abbott Brother's Rheumatic Cure, Chicago

2. Dr King's New Discovery, H.E. Bucklen & Co., Chicago

3. Howard Brother's Cough Cure, Pittit's American

4.Dr. JR. Miller's, Magnetic Balm

5. The Druggest 'Barnes' Otsego MI          (found 4  variants )

6. Conrad Bros, Druggist, Otsego MI         (found 4 variants)

7. Wood's Norway Pine Syrup, Foster Milburn Co. Buffalo NY

8. C.C. Kennedy's White Pine Cough Remedy.

9. Dr. Baxter's Mandrake Bitters, Lord Bros Proprietors, Burlington Vt.

   (found 4  variants )


1. Dr. J.R. Miller's Magnetic Balm

2. Seven different sized Conrad Bros Druggist Otsego.

3. Two sizes The Druggist 'Barnes' Otsego.   (found 2  variants )

4.Mixer's Cancer & Scrofula Syrup

5. C.H. Felt Druggist, Constantine MI

4. Couraud's Oriental Cream N.Y.

5. Wood's Norway Pine Syrup

6. Piso's Cure for Consumption

7. Dr. A. Boschee's German Syrup

8. John Crispe Druggist, Plainwell

9. Scribner's Pharmacy, Monroe & Ottawa Street Grand Rapids MI

10. Three inkwells, assorted doll parts  and (bone?) toothbrushes.


I didn't get a full report in from Mike, but Chuck and Scott recalled:

1. Horowitz Sassperilla

2. Adam's Druggist, Otsego.

Many of these bottles and more will be on display at the next meeting, so plan to be there!

       Also, at the next meeting we will have another $25.00 bottle raffle! Bring along any bottle worth at least $25.00 or a combination of two or three, which combined are worth $25.00. If the drawing winner picks your bottle-- the club buys it for the winner!

Bernard L. Desenberg     "BEST BITTERS IN AMERICA"

          I had mentioned at the last meeting that I happened to stumble upon some interesting information on the manufactures and distributors of the 'Best Bitters in America.' There was no mention of our mascot bottle in this article. Interestingly, in my research I did find that the National Park Service found one during one of their digs back in 1980 and it is now displayed (or stored) at the Midwest Archeological Center, Lincoln, Nebraska.

         "The early Kalamazoo Jewish community came from Germany, engaged primarily in retailing, prospered and was accepted into the wider community.

Gold, Fruit and Cigars: ( Meyer and Bernhard Desenberg)

          Meyer Desenberg came to Kalamazoo in 1854, one year after his brother, Bernhard L., had taken a job as a clerk at the M. Israel Dry Goods store. Meyer worked as a traveling peddler for about a year before taking a job at Henry Stern's clothing store. Still a young man of 22, he decided to seek greater fortune in California and, in 1856, made his way to San Francisco by way of Panama. Meyer spent one year selling cigars and fruit in the gold fields before taking up placer mining in Calaveras County. He experienced some success, returning to Kalamazoo with his new wealth. Meyer then entered into the retail grocery business with his brother, Bernhard L., who opened a store in 1857. Initially known as Desenberg & Brother, the name soon changed to B. Desenberg & Company and continued to prosper under that name into the 20th Century.

         B. Desenberg & Company grew rapidly and the Desenbergs became wholesale grocers, eventually becoming the largest in Kalamazoo. Even after Meyer left the firm in 1879, it continued to grow. Contemporary reports indicate that B. Desenberg & Company purchased the first two commercial trucks in Kalamazoo.

        In 1880, Meyer moved to Salt Lake City and invested in gold and silver mines. Two years later, he returned to Kalamazoo and started a wine and cigar retail business with Julius Schuster,remaining until both retired in 1896.

         Both Desenberg brothers were highly respected members of the Kalamazoo business community. Bernhard L. was a director of the Kalamazoo National Bank. Meyer's business partner, Julius Schuster, served several terms as an alderman from Kalamazoo's 4th Ward.



The Kalamazoo Antique Bottle Club meets October 9th at the main
downtown Kalamazoo Library, located at 315 South Rose street.
We meet on the third floor in the Van Deusen Room
 Meeting starts at 7:00 pm.
To e-mail with questions regarding the club, or for bottle info, click here