Every March Through the Looking Glass


“But I don’t want to go among mad people,” Alice remarked.
“Oh, you can’t help that,” said the Cat: “we’re all mad here. I’m mad. You’re mad.”
“How do you know I’m mad?” said Alice.
“You must be,” said the Cat, “or you wouldn’t have come here.”
― Lewis Carroll, Alice in Wonderland


It is like going down the rabbit hole.

You do go a little mad.

Every first Sunday in March. Baltimore.

It’s the largest one day bottle show in the world. Over 300 tables. It’s hopeless fighting the madness, it feels too right. Just stay focused. Remember what you came looking for. Don’t get distracted by something cool at each table.

It’s staggers the senses. A complete overload. You have to take bottles you bought out to the car on purpose. Your mind and eyes need a break. You come back in and march furtively down certain aisles to have a look see at something again. You’ve already paced down wrong aisles until you realize the piece you want to see is two aisles over in the same area. It’s surreal, being surrounded by incredible historic items most of which you’d love to possess, but have to narrow it down to only those you know you’ll pull the trigger on.

Your marbles, don’t lose ’em.



It took me four hours to check out every table. I went methodically up and down each aisle, making a few selections. After three trips out to my car with bottles and glass, I got out my camera. Let’s take the tour down this rabbit hole.


The Glass and Antiques


Nice tables of poison bottles. Beautiful blues. Very rich colors and variety.



“If you drink much from a bottle marked ‘poison’ it is certain to disagree with you sooner or later.”
― Lewis Carroll



There were bottles and historic glass from every price range. Shown above, I was astounded to see these very early 1800’s examples from (two on the right) Boston & Sandwich Glass Company and the two on the left from Pittsburgh, possibly Bakewell and Pears. These early glass blowers were true artists. The two Sandwich ball top vases on the right were priced at $9500.00 each. Museum quality? Uhmn….Yeah. (Note the one on the far right is a marraige, the other three are all original.)


These colors caught my eye. The Hall’s hair bottle is a beautiful peacock blue. The Ayer’s is a cobalt with a touch of sapphire. They contrast nicely with the kelly green magnesia bottle.


A beautiful display of old and older milk bottles.


This extremely cool, spooky doll’s head was at a privy digger’s table. What a great look. There’s usually one or more found in a well used privy.


Stick ’em up! I enjoyed seeing this old pistol flask. It’s not the gun that gets loaded, but you.


A very nice selection and beautiful display of 1800’s glass. Predominately Boston & Sandwich, the canary yellow contains uranium oxide and will glow fantastically under a black light. The satiny peach blow items are exquisite.


A great example of a ‘Big Bill’s Bitters.’ Figurals have so much character and Big Bill is no exception.


Nice table full of nostalgia with labels and names.


A very old and rare colored medicine. A McGuire Chemists and Druggists out of St. Louis. This is an iron pontilled bottle dating to around 1850. This might be the only example I’ll ever see.


These neat advertising signs got my attention.


A beautiful early 18th Century English onion transitioning to mallet found in Philadelphia.


A nice variety to stop and gaze to see if there’s anything I am looking for amongst the barrel bitters, mineral water bottles, medicines, and flasks. I like seeing lots of different items mixed together, no telling what could be there.


Adorable lioness and the lion puppets, such character.


A giant of an amber whiskey barrel.


Got cabin fever? These beautiful 1860’s Drakes cabin figural bitters could be the cure.


A very pretty mix of colored druggist pharmacy and poison bottles. Pick your poison.


I liked the look of this old Baltimore lantern. It’s like there was just enough room on the table corner and it settled down like an Apollo lunar misson.


A beautiful assortment of telegraph insulators you won’t see everyday.


Plates, tumblers, mugs, and steins. This show always has something for everyone.


Eye catching assortment. Carnival glass, bottles and flasks and nice stoneware. Also two different kinds of plates.


Nice old oyster tins.


A very scary 1800’s advertisement. The legs give it a very macabre look.


Old fruit and canning jars. There was every type of glass at this show.


But the bottles are only half the fun.


My Historic Bottle and Glass Collecting Friends

A bottle show presents the opportunity to see old friends and make new ones. This is really the best part of this show. You meet in person again with all your glass buds who are just as nuts as you. Especially all my friends on Facebook, at the Bottle Collectors and Historic American Glass pages, and the FOHBC members, many of whom I’ve seen at prior shows. We all have alot in common. Knowing I’m not alone and there are others like me is comforting. Right down to it all, these are fantastic people. I tip my hat to The Baltimore Bottle Club for putting on such a fine show. Every March, it’s really like a one day special retreat into madness. I drop down the rabbit hole and all my historic bottle and glass collecting friends are there.


Allow me to introduce to you Ferdinand Meyer, the President of the Federation of Historical Bottle Collectors, and bitters collector extraordinaire. He’s as mad about glass as the rest of us. Be sure to see his fantastic website: www.peachridgeglass.com It was Ferdinand who encouraged me to begin writing again a couple of years ago and look what happened. I recently agreed with bottle friend Gary Katzen that Ferd’s that rare person from whom you come away the better for having known.


The Federation of Historical Bottle Collectors table. On the left is Jamie Houdeshell, Second Vice-President and Ed Kuskie, Director of the Northeast Region. What fast friends one can make; I sat and had lunch and we three just chatted it up about everything. Amazing how this shared madness about glass can make it seem like you’ve known each other for years. It’s the oldest and largest bottle club, (since 1969) approaching some 2000 members. Check it out, for more information see: www.FOHBC.org


It’s always a pleasure to see Noel Tomas, publisher of The Down East Glassman in 1969, also one of the original Vice-Presidents of the FOHBC also in 1969. Noel founded the  Museum of Connecticut Glass and we each published articles about the renowned and legendary collector Charles B. Gardner in the July/August 2013 issue of the FOHBC’s official magazine, Bottles and Extras. (Center magazine cover on FOHBC table display above.) Noel is grinning over an awesome rare amber Corn For the World flask. I would be too.


I met Gary Katzen right after walking in and just started talking. I thought I already knew him, but I didn’t. We Facebook friended on the spot and he showed me his display of 1800’s milk glass. What a nice guy with a sense of humor and a fantastic, extremely unique and historic collection. I took this photograph before Gary won Best in Show and Peoples Choice Awards. Well deserved. I was intrigued by many fascinating items, but the sex club bottle was the bomb. Can’t see it? Let’s blow it up:


Gary said, “What, you think they didn’t have sex in the 1800’s?” I was busy thinking of everything existing in black and white, and prissy Victorian ladies in large hooped skirts and suffocating corsets with upturned noses, knowing it was extremely questionable if I would have gotten any back then, but agreed with Gary.



If you aren’t familiar with how stained and hazy dug bottles are cleaned to their original luster, meet Wayne Lowry, the Jar Doctor who came all the way from Kansas City, Missouri. www.jardoctor.com Wayne learned of using aluminum oxide to polish bottles back when it was a secret in the late 1960’s. He ingeniously revolutionized the process by designing a bottle tumbling machine. The bottles are held fast and copper pellets, which are softer than glass, bear weight against the aluminum oxide, along with water and the out of the ground hazed bottles are turned at different RPM with different grade oxide until they look like the day they were blown. I order my polishing oxide from Wayne, but I use a coat hanger with a crimped cotton cloth tip and polish with elbow grease for cleaning bottles that might have a small stain or two. Wayne and I discussed the softness of early 1820’s glass compared to the first real hard glass of the 1880’s and the different oxides one would use. I didn’t see Wayne last year, but was delighted to meet him now.


Bob and Cathy Barenski. I met Bob at Shupp’s Grove last summer and it was great to meet his smiling other half now. A wonderful and happy couple with fantastic glass. They helped me talk myself into pulling the trigger on a flask I really wanted and had come to the show hoping to find. It wasn’t a difficult process.


Michael Anderson, of Albany, New York. Mike has a renowned figural bottle collection and had a few for sale at his table. I love the cobalt blue one with the painted head, it really stands out.



Coming across Greg Bair’s table was a real treat. Greg had an amazing bit of everything. I asked he and Maureen Crawford to hold up a bubbly, crude, 1860’s honey amber coffin flask. Greg had the largest ancient Roman bottles and glass I have seen outside a museum.



The 2000 year old irridescence is stunning. The glass is literally decomposing and returning to sand. Completely biodegradeable. Amazing patina with breathtaking age.


Always happy to see David Olsen. Dave’s a traveling picking, ‘on the road’ bottle guy. He finds amazing and unique items. A frequently asked question on the Bottle Collectors page on Facebook is, “What state’s Dave in now?


With Rick Ciralli, one of the foremost minds on New England glass. I first purchased from Rick back in 1998. Rick and the other foremost mind in New England glass, Michael George, were sharing a table. The glass on that table was amazing.


Rick and Michael to his left, chatting with prospective clients. I’m looking at the glass, especially noting the amethyst Steigel daisy in diamond c1760 flask. That little blown patterened purple flask is a real dream piece for me. That wasn’t New England, that was from my neighborhood. Being only 15 minutes from Manheim, or Steigal Stadel as it was called in the mid 18th Century, I’ve been trying to acquire Steigel glass. It was already sold when I laid eyes on it. A Steigel flask can (and usually does) sell for five thousand plus. This little gem was smaller than usual size and was pinched on two sides, making it even more dear. This was the only Steigel flask I saw at the show.


A beauty. Something you’d see in the Corning Museum of Glass. I keep an eye out for the chance of a local one turning up and for cheap too. Excuse me while I keep dreaming.

Rick had a stunning, very rare early 1800’s blown bowl from Pennsylvania that sold just minutes after I took a picture of it.



My friend Chip Cable with his newly acquired West Point Class of 1846 bottle. There are seven known at present. This one changed hands and Chip is one happy man. An article about these extremely rare and ultra historic bottles will be featured soon in the Federation of Historical Bottle Collectors magazine, Bottles and Extras. Join the FOHBC now; that’s an issue not to be missed.


My friend Ed Nikles. What he’s holding is quite unique. A Dyottville whiskey cylinder with the base mold post in reverse. Referred to as a “Freak” by Helen McKearin in her and her father’s 1941 book American Glass, I was quite surprised to see an example. There aren’t many.


A great bottle. They probably fired that mold maker.


A happy Jim and Jodi Hall of Illinois. Jim had exactly what I came looking for. There were only two examples at the show and one was damaged but Jim’s was not. I made the right choice. I was happy too.


The flask I came to the show hoping to find, a Charles Wharton Chestnut Grove pocket flask in a brilliant blue. I had been wanting one to go with my Wharton’s Philadelphia whiskey collection. These four were all blown at Whitney Glass Works in Glassboro, New Jersey between 1850 and 1869. The real kicker here is that this example comes from the renowned Bryan Grapentine Collection. It’s always great to find the best example possible with provenance from a famous collection.


One thing I have a habit of at bottle shows is when I acquire something, my camera stays in my pocket. I don’t even think about photographing, I’m too busy doing the deal. Below is another item I came home with.


A very large piece of archaeological glass from…Yes, it’s Baron Von Steigel from the ground where his glasshouse once stood in the 1760’s. By 1780, he was in debtors prison in Philadelphia, the Sheriff having sold off his property in Manheim just 15 minutes from me. Residential homes exist now on the site and a friend of mine at the show had dug in a yard two years ago and this was unearthed. A beautiful hefty piece of pure cobalt blue. So blue it glows purple in the light.


More than a handful, this was molten glass in the 1700’s.

I’m mad about historic glass.

I’m sure I’ll fall down the rabbit hole next March.

Until then.

“Begin at the beginning,” the King said, very gravely, “and go on till you come to the end: then stop.”
―  Lewis Carroll, Alice in Wonderland


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