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Hobbyist enjoys collecting glass containers, appreciates their craftsmanship, history

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ROCHELLE B. BIRKELO
May 10, 2010
— If Michael Seeliger could deliver one message in the bottles of his private collection, it would be to collect what you like.

“It connects you to history similar to picking up a gold coin that has traded hands over the years,’’ he said.


Seeliger’s colorful glass treasures decorate his spacious, rural Brooklyn home. All sizes, shapes and shades—reds, blues, greens and golds—accent the fireplace mantel. They decorate windowsills, perch on kitchen cupboards and fill antique cabinets and rows of shelves.


Seeliger began accumulating bottles as a child. He comes from collecting family, who collected everything from bottles to arrowheads. After collecting Schlitz nonreturnable ruby red beer bottles (tricky for Seeliger because he’s red and green color blind), Seeliger discovered more interesting bottles.


In a dump behind an old farmhouse along the Wisconsin River, he unearthed five Warner’s “Safe” Kidney and Liver Cure bottles made between 1880 and 1910.


“It was my 15 minutes of fame in life,’’ he said about finding the olive green and amber pint-size bottles.


Seeliger later began selling and buying bottles with collectors and in bottle clubs. He explored the history of H.H. Warner. The result was a book, “H.H. Warner: His Company & His Bottles,” which Seeliger and his wife, Alice, co-authored about the big patent medicine company in 1974. It describes all the bottles in Warner’s collection.


Over the past 40 years, Seeliger’s hobby has resulted in a collection of 800 bottles—primarily patent medicine bottles that date from the 1600s through 1970. Most are originals, but he has some reproductions of early American glass. Some are duplicates.


The appeal of antique bottles, he said, is their history.


“These are actual bottles that had medicine in them you bought for 50 cents and $1—a day’s wages—at the time, which was not cheap. I enjoy looking at some of the old bottles and think about who used them, where they came from and what they were sick with,’’ he said.


Although Seeliger continues to find bottles in basements, attics and old farm dumps, he also travels to antique stores and bottle shows throughout the country. In the 1970s, he bought what had been merchandise in an old drug store. The bottles had sat in a basement for 50 years.


“It’s a treasure hunt,’’ he said.


People collect all different kinds of bottles—beer bottles of Wisconsin, milk bottles, Mountain Dew bottles and fruit jars, Seeliger said.


But since Ball and Mason jars were made by the millions and never thrown away, “they’re nice; they’re just not worth much,’’ he said.


For Seeliger, bottles with labels still attached are the most interesting because they contain more history.


He is past president, member and founder of the now defunct South Central Wisconsin Bottle Club. He said he collects bottles for enjoyment, not as an investment.


“If you like bottles and glass, see the craftsmanship and appreciate history,” he said. “Bottles are a part of that.”


BOTTLE COLLECTING TIPS

To determine a bottle’s age:


-- Look at its base and neck. If the bottle’s seam stops on the neck, it’s top was applied after the rest of the bottle was cast, meaning the bottle was made before 1910.


-- If you find a pontil—an imperfect circular scar indentation—in the bottle’s base, this is where the bottle was broken from a metal rod used to handle the molten glass while it was being made and means the bottle was made before 1870.


To determine a bottle’s value:


-- Log on to eBay.com, the best place to learn what a bottle is selling for.


-- Ask an expert.


Other markings and what they mean:


-- If you find a number on the base of the bottle, this is its mold number.


-- If you find an initial on the bottom of the bottle, it will be that of its manufacturer.



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