Time in a bottle: Brunswick student embraces rare hobby of bottle-collecting
GREENWICH — For two hours a day, low tide along Long Island Sound exposed a mud bank that conceals antique glass bottles, pottery, marbles, hotel tokens, pocket watches and coins.
But when the tide rushed in, 17-year-old K. Maron Salame was still deep in the mud, unearthing antique treasures. Getting stuck, he says, was worth it: The mud held thousands of bottles, including a bottle from 1840 in “flawless” condition that is worth more than $700.
Field research, Google maps, and original Sanborn Fire Insurance maps from the 1800s — as well as the recommendation of a fellow enthusiast — led Salame, a junior at Brunswick School in Greenwich, to the site. Neither he nor his fellow enthusiast, Cos Cob resident Bill Cameron, will reveal the location. It remains their secret because more treasure is out there.
Salame is eager to share his hobby, however, and is forming an antique bottle collecting club for residents of Greenwich, Stamford and Port Chester, N.Y. He is reviving a club that Cameron operated in the early 2000s before, as Cameron says, it “dwindled down to nothing” as members aged, moved or died.
“I have a responsibility as the next generation of collector to revive that and to get young kids interested in the hobby, because that’s what we need: Young kids interested in collecting bottles so that the hobby can survive,” Salame said.
Cameron and Salame met through a metal-detecting club in Stamford. Cameron, who lectures yearly in Greenwich on the history of American medicine told through medicine bottles, loaned Salame his books on bottle-collecting and watched the budding collector run with it.
Bottle collecting has five levels — historical, commercial, medicinal, beauty and value — and Salame got interested in all of them.
Now, the young collector, who may have the largest bottle collection in Fairfield County, sees Cameron as a mentor.
“He is a very smart, very ambitious young man,” Cameron said. “I am delighted that he feels that I am his mentor. I have enjoyed helping him with his collection for last five to seven years.”
Before he knew about the world of collecting antique glass bottles, Salame enjoyed nature hikes with his father and finding buried treasure near the crumbling stone walls he walked by.
From a young age, he tried to imagine the lives of long-dead residents of Greenwich: Who were they? What did they do? What did they like to drink? What ailed them?
He started metal-detecting to find answers, which evolved into antique bottle-collecting. For him, the bottles contain some answers.
“Bottle-digging on a local level is the archaeology of the common man,” he said. “It’s archaeology under our feet every day. We stand on the shoulders of those who came before us.”
Salame has a lot of milk bottles, because Greenwich was a farming town. His bottles come from Round Hill Dairy, which closed in the 1950s, as well as Conyers Farm Dairy and Rock Ridge Farm Dairy.
“These are places we visit every day, drive by daily, but we never picture what went on before we were there, but it’s a physical relic of the past to own a milk bottle,” he said.
Now older and busier, bottle-collecting is more of an academic interest, but he still digs.
Salame enjoys studying Ancient Latin and Greek, and plans to major in classics in college, with a possible second major in archaeology.
He is the only kid his age he knows who digs for bottles, and he is often the youngest person at a bottle show. He is also the youngest contributor to the monthly “Antique Bottle & Glass Collector,” the largest magazine in the country for bottle collecting.
Other collectors are enthusiastic to buy from or sell to Salame because of his youth.
“I’ve had people pay a lot of money for my bottles, or they give me nice deals,” he said. “It’s all about inspiring the next generation, keeping the next generation interested.”
Salame does not collect for the money, but he will sell duplicates to buy rarer bottles that will improve his collection.
Most of his bottles are worth $20 to $40, but his most prized bottle — a piercing cobalt blue squat soda bottle from the late 1840s — is worth $700. He has heard of bottles that sell at auction for $68,000, and in private deals for over $100,000.
The hobby has held its own over the years, and bottle shows are well attended, but it is not as bustling as it once was, Cameron said. He remembers an article from the ’80s or ’90s that said bottle-collecting was one of America’s top 70 collecting hobbies.
Now, collecting hobbies are “dying on the vine because of electronics,” he said.
“I wish the whole genre of hobbies would come back,” Cameron said. “They’re going to have the strongest thumbs in history, but children don’t collect things anymore, and it’s such a shame.”
Salame hopes to reverse this trend with his club. Having a club makes digs more fun, raises awareness for non-collectors and opens them to the idea of a collector digging on their land.
Finally, it helps the hobby survive for future generations.
“It’s all about preserving local history,” he said.