Today, I went to a friend's home to help her with a computer problem (a minor one because I am no expert!). After we resolved the issue with her files, she asked me if I would like to see the large collection of ginger beer bottles that her husband had been gathering over a long period of time. No way I was going to turn down that invitation! I was absolutely blown away when I walked into the room that housed this huge assortment of crockery bottles most of them dating from the mid to late 1800's and mostly from England, Scotland, Wales and Ireland. They number 518 in total and are all catalogued, inventoried and displayed beautifully in custom made shelving units. He told me that he had started looking for these out of boredom and it just kept growing. You meet someone with the same interest and they connect you to someone else with that same obsession and so on and so on until before you realize it, you have amassed something spectacular! Can you imagine the time, energy, miles of travel, dedication and money it took to reach this point?
I was told that there were times when they found these all over the British Isles and carried as many as 18 back in a duffel bag to get them home safely. That is pure dedication. Or obsession. Or passion!
Ginger beer was a strong soft drink often consumed by workers at their lunch hour. It was packaged in the brown stone crock bottles that originally had no markings but in the mid 1800's the bottles became lighter in color and they began marking them with the names of the company and often with the town where it was made. Often times it was mixed with an alcoholic ale and was called "shandygaff".
The bottle on the left is the most expensive in the collection and cost $180 at the time of purchase. The large jug on the right still contains its wooden spout -- the individual bottles could be refilled from this large bottle which probably held about 2 gallons. The stone crocks helped to keep the liquid cool and when empty, many were just tossed aside. Now they are found buried in the ground, cleaned and valued greatly by collectors. My description and photos don't do this collection justice but I was so impressed with the shear number of bottles that I wanted to share it with you. I was told that at some point in the near future, the owner will begin to sell these to others who share his love of something so simple and utilitarian. I hate to think of this collection being split up but so many others will be able to enjoy a part of it and begin their own passion.