Vol.3  No. 9                                                                                                                                                                                   SEPTEMBER 2005


Bill Van Beck:

As most of you know, we have lost yet another friend and fellow bottle collector, Bill Van Beck. Bill passed on at the young age of 51, on May 31, 2005, at his home. Bill's brother Richard sent me some personal memories of his brother.

Bill was born March 25, 1954, in Kalamazoo. Richard told me that Bill was a special child growing up. In the 60's if you got into a little trouble, the Kalamazoo court system thought it best to put the child into a boy's school. So at an early age of 10, he started his journey of traveling and wandering. Bill's favorite song was "Wander," by Dion and the Belmonts. Bill would say "I was once a Roman Catholic, now I'm just roaming." From time to time, Bill would surprise the family with a break-out and come home, only to be placed in another detention home.

Once he turned 18, Bill dreamed of Hawaii and, with the heart of a dreamer and the faith of a survivor, Bill ventured west with his thumb out!

Richard made me chuckle with this next line.

"Once he arrived in Hawaii, he lived at the 'Tree's Resort.' He found the trees there so big and offered so much cover -- they were all the shelter he needed."

Bill loved the locals in Hawaii, soon found work as a painter and became "Painter Bill." After many years in Hawaii, Bill became homesick for his family and friends in Michigan. When back in Kalamazoo, Bill continued his work as a professional painter.

Richard told me that the big white church next to the courthouse in downtown Kalamazoo was painted by Bill. There is a clock on the bell tower 100 feet up where Bill free-hand painted the clock's numbers. Bill tried to take Richard up in the man-lift, but at 40 feet, he persuaded Bill to return him to the ground!

Bill became a union painter and stayed very busy. The Painter's Union was a God-send during his illness, providing a pay check and insurance.

Bill had a love of antique bottles and stamps. Bill's favorite bottle category was the bitters bottles. Bill's wish was to be cremated and to have his ashes sealed in his favorite bottle.

Richard adds, "There he rests today with his passion and beauty."

We all know that the real love of Bill's life was his wife, our friend, Cathy. Richard told me that she was great through this difficult ordeal and took very good care of Bill. Cathy was Bill's first love, and his painting and bottles were tied for second.

There were many expenses that were far above and beyond the insurance help. So Richard sold some of his historical flasks online. In his listing, Richard explained, "All of the proceeds are to help my brother, a fellow bottle collector, in his battle with cancer."

Richard said the bottle collectors really pitched in and the auctioned bottles fetched record prices! The money was used to pay ahead the mortgage, with cash to spare!

I really loved to see Bill at the meetings and our friendship was strengthened due to e-mail. Bill was one who never missed a chance to forward something from the Internet that he felt may be of interest to me, and I tried to return the favor whenever I could. Each and every time I sent out a newsletter, Bill thanked me even when he was so very sick.

I felt a burden for Bill from a spiritual standpoint. The Bible teaches about eternal life and eternal death, and each of us is on one of these two paths. The only one of these two routes that has an off-ramp is the eternal death road, but you must take the exit marked with the cross if you want eternal life.

Man has been shaking his fist at God for thousands of years and trying to disprove his word with no success. In fact, in every attempt to disprove God, God has proved Himself to be "Truth" clearer than before.

They say that the atheist doesn't believe in God. I for one do not believe in atheists. Like it or not, everyone will be given one final opportunity to make that single-most important decision about eternity.

I sent Bill a letter that clearly presented him with God's one and only plan of salvation. I knew by this time he was very weak, because his e-mail's were not much more than a few words. After that important message was sent, I checked every hour for a reply.

The hours turned into days and I was afraid that I may have offended my friend. Nonetheless, I felt peace in my heart knowing that I did the most important thing that I could for him. I was praying that he would read and understand, as well as take to heart my words. Finally I received a letter from "Bottlesnstamps!" I hurried to open it. It simply said, "Thanks Al, You are a good friend."

I knew in my heart Bill was saying "bye---- for now."

Richard said, "Bill was a special person and would do anything to help out. About six months ago, was diagnosed with throat cancer and fought it bravely. The last time I saw him coherently, he looked up at me and said, 'Peace bro-- I love ya.'

In his eyes I could see him saying good-bye."

We will all miss our good friend, Bill Van Beck.

Meeting Sept 13th

Well it's time to get back to the monthly meetings after our long summer break. President Chuck Parker called to tell me a few things for this newsletter and the one thing he emphasized was that we need to get our 2005-06 dues paid this month. It is still one of the best deals going for only $10.00! It's not that we are in a panic for your ten bucks. We are more interested to see if you are still with us! Also we want to make sure we have our address and phone number database up to date.

Our meetings are to be held once again in the Van Deusen Room on the third floor of the main downtown Kalamazoo Library. The Meeting starts at 7:00 pm and is out no later than 9:00 pm.

Naturally because this is the first meeting of a new season, we are anxious to see some of your best finds during the summer break. Maybe you picked up an awesome bottle at the national show? Tell us your story! I sure hope each of you can make it to the meeting!

Enclosed with the hard copy of the newsletter is a membership dues form. If you cannot make the meeting please fill it out and mail your check or money order for $10.00 to


Include your Name, Address, Phone, E-Mail address.


I enjoy writing very much and, as most of you know, I do two different newsletters. One is for this club, and one for the Southwest Michigan Seek & Search Club, which is a metal detecting club. I am more comfortable writing that newsletter because I am involved with the detector crowd every day. They come into my shop all the time with great stories and their treasure finds to show off , which really makes writing easy.

You, my friends in the bottle club, I don't see very often during the summer. And I don't get out to dig bottles because my metal detector business keeps me way too busy. I truly believe that there are far better people than me who are more qualified to write this. Oh, don't worry-- I will keep plugging along until the right person steps to the plate.

In fact, I send the newsletter to the F.O.H.B.C. each month, yet I never see or hear of them covering the club's news anywhere. I think that is simply because it isn't bottle- oriented enough. I know that this one will be lacking bottle news because of our 3 month break.

I had intended to make it to the National Bottle Show, but I had just one window of opportunity and that was Sunday. However, before I could head north to Grand Rapids, I needed to run my 90 year old grandmother south to Kalamazoo.

We were headed south on U.S. 131, near the Ravine Road overpass, traveling along at 70 miles per hour. I was following a tractor trailer rig in the passing lane when he hit his brakes hard and quickly pulled to the roadside. That's when I noticed a full-sized inner-spring mattress laying in the middle of the expressway lane!

The person who lost the mattress out of the back of her pickup was slowly backing up on the road's shoulder to reload it. She had come to a stop beside the mattress, when a minivan driver with her attention on the mattress, swerved sharply to miss it and slammed broadside into the pickup. The pickup was hit so hard that it flipped in mid-air and landed on its top, pinning a victim beneath it.

Even though the van was traveling about 70 miles per hour, the impact was so great that the van's body absorbed all of the inertia, so the two wrecked vehicles lay side by side. The minivan was loaded with children and it was now half its normal width. All of the young people that I could see inside the van looked lifeless.

I was so glad to see people stopping to lend assistance. I didn't feel it would be a good idea to get Grandma involved it that situation. Only a couple times in my life have I seen such a gut-wrenching scene. The news said that there were 6 hospitalized with 3 critical, but after that I never heard another thing.

Needless to say, the bottle show never entered my mind after that. I traveled from Otsego to Kalamazoo on Ravine Road 3 ½ hours later and the overpass was still loaded with onlookers. I didn't stop, but I looked down while I drove by. They were still removing bodies from the van and there were 2 ambulances standing by.

It makes you wonder what awaits you in your new day. In the blink of an eye, everything can change! I have seen my friends quibble over the rights to an antique bottle, or disagree on its value to the point of breaking up friendships. I'm not picking on anyone in particular: I must turn in a guilty plea! From this point on I shall picture that horrible accident scene when I catch myself behaving so childishly!

While I am on such a morbid subject such as death, this has been a heartbreaking summer for me. One of my friends in the detector industry was killed in a metal detecting accident. Wayne Otto was someone I spoke with nearly everyday. Wayne was a avid water hunter and very successful. What a water hunter does is use a completely waterproof metal detector and a long-handled scoop to find metal items lost by swimmers.

We have water hunters in our club who have recovered as many as 200 rings in one summer--- even more!

One of my customers found a ring in 1985, then had it professionally appraised that same year. The 7.65 ct. medium-dark blue sapphire was removed to measure and weigh it. An expert in antique jewelry was brought in to look at the ring and somehow she was able to say that the ring was crafted in the mid-1800's. The ring band tested to be 18-K and was appraised, not as an antique or a collectable, but simply as a ring for $25,675.00. I have been told that a natural sapphire of this quality and color has gone up in value nearly 300% since 1985!

I have a necklace that was found by one of my water hunting customers. I traded some cash and equipment for it with a plan to resell it on E-bay. This piece has 250 diamonds, 12 rubies and is 14-K gold. It was appraised at $29,500.00!

I don't know if Wayne was detecting for rings and coins. I heard rumors of some water hunters finding prehistoric, hammered copper pieces in the area of northern Wisconsin near where he was hunting with 2 friends.

I don't know the letter of the law regarding these artifacts. I believe it is illegal to even add this stuff to your personal collection, and do I know that it is illegal to sell it. If you buy Native American copper items to add to a collection, I'm pretty sure you have to be able to prove it was in a private collection for over 10 years. On the Black Market, if you will, this stuff goes for $500.00 to $1,000.00 for certain items.

I don't know that this is what Wayne and his friends were finding. I have very few details about what happened, other than to say that he slipped off the edge of a sand bar into a deep drop-off and was unable to free himself from his equipment to swim to safety. Wayne was 42 and left behind a very dear friend of mine, his wife Teri and three children all under the age of 8. Yes, in a blink of an eye, our lives can be changed.


I have never witnessed so many major construction projects in the downtown Kalamazoo area as I have this summer. And the antique bottle reports reach my ears nearly every week.

These construction sites attract metal detector users like flies! I know of a coin found recently at a construction site (not Kalamazoo) that was a 1806 Draped Bust Half Cent!

Even though I cannot personally find the time to work these sites, I can prove that nice guys do not finish last. Oftentimes the detector guys are first on the scene and, even though most are not bottle collectors, they think of me and gather them up! That's right, they give them to me! How do you like that! I have acquired over a dozen hand-finished bottles from different Kalamazoo digs, without getting the least bit dirty!

No, I cannot boast of anything rare or valuable, and I do tell these friends what they are worth. Frankly everything so far has been worth under $20.00, most under $5.00. I wouldn't have really wanted to buy them, but each time these guys insist they are a gift. I think that is a pretty good arrangement and I am not going to discourage them.

Who knows, maybe one of them will walk in the shop with a "Best Bitters," or at least be as lucky as fellow club member, Kevin Seigfried, and find a pontiled Genseng Panacea bottle! Kevin said that the bottle was lying right on top of a freshly dug pile of dirt and he simply picked it up.

After Mark Churchill cleaned the Panacea bottle, Kevin put it on his sales table at the national show. He told me that a lady picked it up at the same time another person was showing interest in it. He said that she wouldn't put it down! She gripped it with both hands as she frantically panned the room for her husband. I don't recall which of these eager buyers ended up with it, but I do know Kevin ended up with $250.00 in his pocket!

The best ones that I have from the Kalamazoo digs are: an aqua blob-top beer "Columbia Brewing Co. Logansport Indiana,"an amber "Hay's Hair Health," a very old (almost pontiled) "Dr. J. WKER MOTT DETROIT," and a much later "C.P. Bidlack, Portage Street drugstore." Also, an unembossed dark chocolate amber bottle that is as square as a brick and half the size with a very crude, oversized neck, like you would expect on a whisky fifth.

One of my customers said that there were two men from Indiana passing by when they noticed a work crew had unearthed a large bottle cache near Walnut and Westnedge Ave. They stopped and loaded them into their vehicle. He reported that they had baskets full of bottles! It's hearing stories like this that makes me feel like a prisoner to this detector shop! Well there, we did get some bottle reporting in!

North Star Gold

One of the things I love about my vacation time in the western U.P. is taking the time to relax and read a good book. Deb's parents have a screened house attached to their garage, which is about 20 feet from the beautiful Hemlock River. Their section of the river is shallow and rocky, so the water makes a relaxing, bubbling sound. I didn't believe in noise therapy until I experienced this place.

The screen house is shaded by giant pines and willow trees. It is not unusual to have a mother deer and her fawn to wander by-- it is so peaceful!

Usually I pack several books because I never know which one I will like. If a book doesn't grab my interest quickly it won't be read-- and I only like non-fiction. When I order books, it can be very risky. In the catalog that I order from, the listing is only the title, author, and number of pages. You can easily get something that you do not like.

I wanted to increase the number of prospecting how-to books to my selection when I noticed a title that looked promising-- Black Sand and Gold. When I opened the book, I saw that it wasn't at all what I had hoped. It appeared to be a family story about the Klondike Gold Rush and not at all instructional. After being in stock for a year or two, a customer purchased the book and I was thinking 'good- riddance.' Later that year, this same customer came into my shop carrying that book, and she told me that it was one of the best books she had ever read. She learned from the cover about another book by the same author, called Trail to North Star Gold. She wanted to know if I could I get it for her.

She did a pretty good sales job on me and I ordered three copies of each book. They all sold, and again and again customers would tell me what great books they were. I never found the time to read them myself, and when I placed my last order they only shipped Trail to North Star Gold. I think the first book, Black Sand and Gold is no longer available.

Trail to North Star Gold is a historical record of those hectic days when thousands of Americans, and others, rushed north to seek their fortune. Ed Lung was one of these men.

When we think of the Great Depression, we think of the 1930's, but there was what was called the Great Depression of the late 1880's and the 'Panic of the Nineties' which left great numbers of people destitute.

Lumber mills, shipyards, smelters, stores and factories were closed and people walked the streets hunting jobs that were nowhere to be found.

Ed Lung lost his job and was forced to leave his young wife and baby with her parents, then he headed for the gold fields of the Klondike. Ed was in the first wave of prospectors to head into the gold fields, but he wasn't exactly the luckiest. He did however kept an amazing daily diary! There were rich claims all around his claim, which he named, 'Old Brutus.' He made other claims, but he always seemed to pick the wrong piece of ground. His daily clean- ups would yield anywhere from 25¢ cents to $2.00 a pan so he was able to save enough money to send for his wife and son after about 2 years.

That doesn't sound too bad when you consider this was 1899. But you also need to consider that some of the claims around him were producing from $600.00 to $1,000 per pan! There were several men with claims like his who would give up and sell their claims for enough money to get them another claim-- or get them home. Then, sometimes in weeks or months, the new owner would find a million dollar pay streak on that same claim.

The first part of the book is about Ed's wife and young son's journey to Dawson Alaska, and it is simply unbelievable to read the struggles they had to go through! Sometimes they were on steam ships in dangerous rivers or fogged in, sometimes they would be walking for weeks -- travel wasn't easy. Ed's wife was named Velma and she mentioned the names of different steam ships that she saw as they traveled north.

One of the ships mentioned was the ill-fated S.S. Islander. I saw a picture of the Islander and she looked like many of the Lake Michigan passenger ships of her day -- about 275 to 300 feet long. In the picture, it looked like there may have been at least 200 crowding her deck.

The Islander was down-bound, away from the gold fields, and loaded with wealthy prospectors known as Klondike Kings! Also a gold shipment of $3,400,000 was on board. In those days, with little law enforcement and rampant crime, several witnesses had to sign that they saw the gold aboard the ship. In this case, there were 17 who swore it was there.

I decided to do some more research on the Islander and I came up with some amazing stuff.

The captain went to the galley to get a bite to eat and a cup of coffee. As he finished his second cup of coffee, he heard the pilot frantically blast the whistle to get echo-soundings. The Islander had just rounded a bend in the channel and had quickly sailed into a thick fog. Soon the echos bounced back with quick promptness. Before the ship could be slowed, the Islander struck a fresh new iceberg that had broken free just the night before from giant Taku Glacier.

Quickly the Islander filled with water, while the captain tried some last minute measures to save her. The iceberg twisted the ship like a toy, causing most closed doors and windows to jam tightly shut. Crewmen used fire axes to batter down doors and free screaming passengers. In a panic, the passengers, mostly men, were pushing crew members away from the winches and trying to lower the life boats themselves, causing many to break free and some tangled.

A survivor described how one man dumped out his suitcase and went to each gaming table, sweeping stacks of $20.00 gold pieces into it, then, with it clutched in his arms, he jumped overboard. Of course he went down like a missile and was never seen again. The Islander came to rest on the bottom, which was 300 feet down and was considered gone forever.

What happened to the ship next was in 1928, when Carl and Albert Wiley built a custom diving bell that could be lowered to 750 feet. A large metal claw was rigged up near thick glass portholes that could be operated with cables and pulleys. The claw worked to some degree and bit by bit they chewed into the ship. They recovered some relics, including a gold watch and cash register that contained several hundred dollars, but not enough to even pay their expenses.

In 1934, a man named Frank Curtis, owner of a Seattle house moving company, bought two barges and a diving bell. They managed to pass a cable under the ship and ran it back up to the other side of the barge. Then, at low tide, they winched up all the slack. When the tide came in, the cable tightened and lifted the Islander a few feet out of her muddy grave. This allowed more cables and winches to be added. A powerful steam winch on shore was used to slowly pull the Islander into shallower water. At each stop, they winched up the slack, then again let the tide do all the lifting.

Soon both barges were put to use and they raised the ship right up between the two. Eventually the islander was run up on Admiralty Island Beach.

The inhabitants of the villages downwind of the ship complained to the authorities about the horrid stench of the wreck. Workers had to make special masks to even get near the foul smelling vessel.

They recovered cases of champagne that were as bubbly and tart as the day they were bottled. Whale oil lamps were still full and lit right up. The body of one victim was found below deck and beside him was a broken shovel that he had used in a futile attempt to pry open a jammed door.

They found a 17-pound poke of gold and, in the captain's quarters, they found a safe with $40,000 in gold. Where was the $3,000,000? When the hot steam boilers hit the icy waters, they exploded, blowing a massive hole in the bottom of the ship. Chances are the gold spilled out and arrived at the bottom long before the ship did.

To this day, treasure hunters are trying to get permits to bring up all of the remaining wreckage and cargo, but we know how that goes. The road block as always is the government's question, "Who does it belong to?"

The latest information I had was taken from a court transcript dated 1999 and maybe by now the gold shipment has been salvaged. I know that the Canadian government claimed ownership.

I wrote this story and put it into our August metal detector club newsletter. A few days after I posted it on the Internet, a man contacted me about the story. He lives in West Virginia, but his family is from the Seattle area and that is where he was salmon fishing when he contacted me. He is researching the Islander wreck and wanted to know my resources. His name is Ed Wiley and he is a descendent of the 1928 salvage crew Carl and Albert Wiley. I thought that was neat.