Charleston, SC – Travel Guide/Travel Stories

This post is about Mine and Melanie’s recent trip to Charleston. It’s meant to function as a minor travel guide, which is why it does not go chronologically according to what we did on the trip. I do, however, try to put some of the anecdotes in here for entertainment value.

Melanie and I had a hectic few months what with work, getting a duplex rent ready, renting it out, tours, wedding planning, etc; so 3 or so weeks ago we decided that we had to go somewhere for my birthday. While still a few weeks away, I get a paid day off for my birthday which was moved to Labor Day Friday, plus Labor Day itself is a holiday, making for a perfect long weekend.

Where to go? Mel’s grandparents who I’d never met live outside of Charleston, South Carolina. We figure that it would probably be good to meet the grandparents before our impending wedding. Coupling that with the fact that I’d never been to Charleston; we decided to killed two birds with one stone in this historic city. So I got the Richmond Tour Guys’ reliable and awesome tour guide, Ray, to take over tours this weekend (which, I might add were very well attended) and we were off!

NOTE: ALL HEADINGS ARE LINKS TO THE WEBSITES OF THE ACTIVITY/ATTRACTION/RESTAURANT IN QUESTIONS. ALSO, THESE PICTURES WERE TAKEN WITH MY CEL PHONE CAMERA, SO THEY ARE OF SOMEWHAT POOR QUALITY.

Getting There – Driving

We left Thursday Night after work to be able to spend more time in South Carolina and split our trip at the 4 (out of 6) hour mark to stay the night in Florence, South Carolina.

We had pre-booked the  Suburban Extended Stay Hotel. For $55 for the night, it was what you’d expect. A bed, a TV, a bathroom, and a kitchenette.

I’ve been feeling itchy on my legs since we left that hotel.

The only time I wore shorts was to bed. You do the math.

Like any good road trip through the South… we spotted many-a- Cracker Barrel. Being from the West Coast, I’d never actually eaten at one. Being that our restaurant choices were few and far between in Florence, South Carolina, Melanie thought it a good idea to have me try it.

The food was what you’d expect for a $7 breakfast of pancakes, turkey sausage and eggs. But the table games, on the other hand…..

I beat it! With the guidance of the women next to us.

I beat it! With the guidance of the women next to us.

Outside of Charleston

We had some time to kill before going to visit Melanie’s grandparents, so we checked out some stuff around the City. There is a long row of plantations along the Ashley River. Our chosen victim was:

Magnolia Plantation – $15/Adult

It was (and is) owned by the Drayton family; an old South Carolinian family. One of the Drayton’s (a priest) got tuberculosis and began gardening as a treatment upon his doctor’s prescription. The result was a very awesome garden that was opened to the public. The gardens were probably much more colorful in the spring, but were still very pretty in early September. The best features were the Spanish Moss, the Live Oaks, the Peacocks……and….alligators!

The Spanish Moss on the Live Oaktrees

The Spanish Moss on the Live Oaktree

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Peacocks!

Peacocks!

Alligators!

Alligators!

Angel Oak Tree– 1,500 year old Tree

Who found it and how? Nobody knows…

The Angel Oak

The Angel Oak

Accommodation

Hampton Inn – Charleston Historic District

Melanie’s parents booked us a room at the Hampton Inn in Historic Downtown Charleston. It was great! Hot breakfast in the morning, solid wi-fi, clean, comfortable beds, nice bathrooms, and killer black out curtains.Our booking even came with a free Historic Tour on a carriage (more on that later).

Only complaint is that there is no free parking. We had to pay $16/day for City Parking since Hampton has no parking garage. A forgivable peccadillo, but still an unexpected expense.

The City and the Sights

Prior to arriving in Charleston, we looked up places to go. There are about 40 different buildings and houses that you could visit in Charleston. Given unlimited time and funds, I probably still wouldn’t. As with churches in Europe, temples in SE Asia, and so forth, you can only see so many before it gets old. I imagine the same would be true for the inside of so many rich dead people’s houses. Not to mention they are around $12-25 to tour.

If you go to Charleston, be selective.

Charleston is a very old City (by American standards anyway). It was founded in 1670 and was surrounded by a wall. Over time, the City filled in the swamps that surrounded the original peninsula to increase its size. It was a center for drinking, gambling, and…… religious tolerance. (See Wikipedia for more history).

As a the proprietor of a fledgling historical walking tour business and an employee of a Restoration Builders of Virginia, just strolling through the City blocks was enough to make the trip worth it. It had some of the first (and some of the strictest) architectural preservation laws in the country. There is block after block of antebellum homes and buildings. There are a myriad of incredible and old churches (as a result of South Carolina’s religious tolerance). The main streets have gorgeous public and commercial buildings. It is almost like a UNESCO World Heritage site.

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Check Out that Staircase

Check Out that Staircase

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Church Adjacent to Washington Square

Church Adjacent to Washington Square

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Aside from the beautiful older homes and churches, there are also several impressive commercial buildings of historical significance.

Four Corners of the Law

There’s a corner of Meeting and Broad Streets is called “Four Corners of the Law.” It is called that because it has St. Michael’s Episcopal Church (God’s Law); Charleston City Hall (Local Law); Charleston County Courthouse (formerly South Carolina’s provincial Capital so, State Law); and the US Post Office and Federal Courthouse (Federal Law).

4 Corners of the Law: St. Michael's Episcopal Church

4 Corners of the Law: St. Michael’s Episcopal Church

US Post Office and Courthoue

US Post Office and Courthoue

Us Customs House

Us Customs House

Old City Market

This market was founded in the early 19th Century to be the meat market. Butchers would carve up their meats and sell it  to shoppers. There was also a separate market for vegetables, dry goods, and slaves.

The market today however is a bustling center of artisans and entrepreneurs. You can buy your souvenirs and other tourist junk here, but also a lot of artists and craftspeople set up booths and do some pretty impressive work.

It’s also very very crowded.

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Gator Gutter

Gator Gutter

Inside of the market

Inside of the market

 The Old Exchange Building and Provost Dungeon

“Is the Old Exchange Building a fancy architectural jewel designed to house 18th-century assemblies? Or is it the ghoulish prison of the Revolution, the place where the martyr Isaac Hayne spent his last night? Or is it the place where George Washington greeted his fellow citizens? And there is no question that slaves were sold for generations next to the very balcony from which the Declaration of Independence was read.” (from The Website)

The building itself is impressive and historical, but the neatest thing was the basement. It was a prison during the Revolutionary War where Loyalists and then Rebels were held. It is a brick structure. they built the brick arches by stacking wet sand and laying the bricks around that. It was also built over Charleston’s early walls. In fact, in the basement you can see remains of the old City Wall. It is pretty neat.

The basement tour is worth the $10 price of admission.

The rest of the building is sort of like a museum to the different functions that the building has held throughout it existence. It’s worth poking around in for a bit.

Remains of the Old City Wall in the Basement

Remains of the Old City Wall in the Basement

The brick arches

The brick arches

A wax statue of a clerk when this was storage for the postal service.

A wax statue of a clerk when this was storage for the postal service.

 

Activities

Palmetto Carriage Tour

Being a walking tour guide, I usually prefer to take walking tours (our choice was Free Tours By Foot), but our hotel stay included a free Carriage Tour of Charleston ($25/per ticket), so we opted for that instead. The operator was Palmetto Carriage Tour.

Our guide took us from the market and through the North of Broad area of Charleston. He recounted stories and histories of Charleston; pointed out certain houses and talked of their residents. and pointed out architectural features of Charleston houses such as the large porches that had their own front privacy doors (see below).

Open porches with full outside doors

Open porches with full outside doors

We went by an old prison that was in used up from 1802 until 1939. Ouch! It’s supposedly haunted. Either way, it looks really neat.

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I probably wouldn’t have gone on this carriage tour if it wasn’t comped by our hotel. I prefer walking tours, so this probably wouldn’t have been worth it to me at any price.

The tour itself was good, especially if you have kids who can’t do a lot of walking or if you are older. The guide was knowledgeable and interesting. It’s hard to take pictures from a moving carriage (which might explain the poor quality of some of the photos I have up here).You don’t see any of the major sights of Charleston. I would have been more disappointed by this, but we saw a lot of them on the Pub Stroll (talked about later).

However, if this was Trip Advisor, I’d give it 3.5 stars.

Fort Sumter

The famed Fort Sumter. The first shots of the American Civil War rang out here. We booked a ferry to the fort via Fort Sumter Tours (independent operator)for $22/person.

While waiting for our time on the ferry, the National Park Center had a lot of great background information on the American Civil War, as well as Fort Sumter. It gave a great context to what we were about to see.

Once the ferry left, we passed by a couple of other old forts as well, while a Park Ranger very unenthusiastically recounted the events of the assault on Fort Sumter that touched off a gruesome and tragic conflict.

The Fort itself was interesting. It’s a shell of its former self. When you walked onto it though, you could feel 170 years of soldiers killing down time on it. It has a modern portion that was used through World War II which now houses a nice museum. There are some old cannons and the Park Rangers are there to answer any questions.

IMG_20150905_134726 IMG_20150905_152155 IMG_20150905_152532  It’s worthwhile to go to for the history enthusiast such as myself. It was a bit underwhelming, though the novelty was cool; and if you’re in Charleston, it’s a must do because of what it is.

(This coming from the guy who skipped the Louvre when he was in Paris because of the lines).

Drinking

While we had a drink or two with various lunches and dinners, our main drinking was done on the….

Charles Towne Pub Stroll

Looking for things to do on Trip Advisor, we came across the Charles Town Pub Stroll and booked. We didn’t really know what to expect, but I’ve led bar crawls in Spain and they were a lot of fun and great way to meet people. This tour was the perfect blend of historical tour and pub crawl.

Our guide was knowledgeable, great at story telling, friendly, and recommended good drinks at great bars.

We met at Washington Square Park and our guide, Mike, was dressed as a pirate. He told some stories about Charleston and made a couple of stops on the way to the first bar.

Blind Tiger Pub: This was an old brick building that was a colonial bank turned speakeasy with 3 bars and a nice patio in the old bank vault. It was really, really cool. They even had an old pirate game of a ring on a string that you have to land on a hook.

More fun than it sounds.

Our guide gave us some suggestions of beers to try. We had the Lazy Magnolia Southern Pecan Beer. I don’t like too sweet of beers, but it almost like an amber with a twinge of sweetness, yet was also hoppy. I don’t have a very sophisticated pallet or ability to describe tastes, but I do know that it was very good stuff.

We hadn’t eaten dinner, so we decided to try the Crab Cakes appetizer. It was only one crab cake and a bunch of french fries. Melanie and I agreed that we would have preferred an extra crab cake and skip the fries. The crab cakes weren’t anything special. We didn’t have any entrees due to time constraints and not wanting to hold up the Crawl.

In between sips, the guide kept the conversation within the group flowing

Us and our guide, Mike

Us and our guide, Mike

The Blind Tiger Pub

The Blind Tiger Pub

The Griffon: was our next stop. It was a bit dark. It was another old brick building, except that it had signed dollar bills decorating the wall. Our guide said that they have the best Fish N Chips in town. We didn’t order them, but some folks on the tour did and very much enjoyed them

Our drinks were Coast Brewing (a Charleston based brewer) Hop Art which was good, but didn’t stick out anymore than hoppy beer XXX from any other craft brewer.

We also tried a local vodka from Firefly, a distillery based 30 mins outside of Charleston. Our guide talked up the Sweet Tea Vodka and it did not disappoint. I’m not even a big vodka guy, but this was so smooth and delicious. If you can rustle some of this up somehow, you definitely should.

Another anecdote by our guide and we were off to:

Craftsmen Taphouse: I have to be honest in saying my brain was getting a little fuzzy at this point. I remember ordering some sort of beer. We did order some Bratwurst Bangers. They were super delish with bratwurst and mustard on a pretzel roll. Super good, and it was half-off because they ran out of casing for Brats, so double score.

More great stories from our guide, of which I’m really getting fuzzy on at this point. (By the way, I’m not telling the stories so that you can go and I don’t ruin the tour for you.) Then our guide dropped us off at

Tommy Condon’s: Pretty standard Irish Bar. There was a great band that our guide told us about who does Irish folk music, but also modern songs in the form of Irish folk music. Super awesome; although their famed fiddler was out sick that day.

As far as the drinks, at this point I had had enough craft beer and just got a Yuengling and a shot of whiskey. We were pretty fuzzy at this point and the last thing I remember is devouring a Chicken Quesadilla which was delicious because I was inebriated and quesadillas are cheesy and delicious.

Then we walked back to our hotel around 11. (Don’t judge okay, I’m turning 30 this year, and we had been drinking since 6:30 when the tour began.)

If you’re in Charleston and you like to drink, I can’t recommend this enough. At $20/person it’s totally worth it if for no other reason than you get to meet other travelers.

Eating

Charleston has what they call “low-country cuisine.” It’s basically Southern food with more of an emphasis on seafood (it is an oceanic harbor). Fried Green Tomatoes are also a Charleston thing.

Gilligan’s Grill:

Outside of Charleston we ate at Gilligan’s Grill. I had the fish tacos which were extremely delicious. Melanie had the crab cake sandwich which features cheese and a fried green tomato. I was surprised by how good this place was for a random stop in John’s Neck.

39 Rue De Jean:

A French cafe/restaurant. This was a really random choice. We actually walked about 4 blocks around the hotel looking for a place to eat (we found plenty, but none that we felt like eating at) and finally settled on this spot which was actually right next to our hotel! We had unknowingly walked a giant circle….

Anyway, once we sat down, we found the old brick building (looks like an old warehouse) to be very comfortable and wide open. The waiter was excellent and took time to describe the specials and answer all of our questions about the menu. I always ask the waiter what the restaurant’s specialty is and he offered up the Bouillabaise (Seafood Stewed In Garlic, White Wine And Saffron With Crostini And Red Pepper Rouille; $13.99)) and the Braised Beef Sandwich (Horseradish Aioli And Choice Of Gruyère Or Cheddar Cheese; we opted for Gruyere; $11.99).

Both were extremely delicious. Once again, I’m terrible at describing food, but I know what I like, and these dishes were incredibly delicious. We also got them at Lunch prices which was fantastic and the food we got was worth much more than the price we paid. Highly recommend for lunch.

Fleet Landing:

The next day, after our carriage tour, we ate at Fleet Landing, a seafood/low-country (Charleston) food spot. This was recommended to us by the girl who sold us candied apples. I always ask people “If I only eat at one place in Charleston, where should it be?” and this was her suggestion.

They were very crowded at 2 PM, but we sat at the bar to avoid the wait. The atmosphere was very “coastal” for lack of a better term. It was right on a dock out to Charleston Harbor.

I asked the bartender the best things there and he suggested the Blackened Triggerfish Sandwich (Avocado Aioli, Pepper Jack Cheese, Shredded Lettuce, & Tomato on Toasted Roll; $9.99) so Melanie ordered that. As per the usual, I tried a bite and it did not disappoint.

I had the Chef’s fresh fish choice of the day which was salmon ($13.99). I got it with the daily fresh vegetable (collard greens) and red rice. It was the perfect meal. The salmon was sort of Cajun style, and the greens were so very mouth-wateringly delicious.

By the way, the service was great. Excellent choice candy-apple lady!

Overall Impressions

Charleston has a great vibe. It’s got so much culture and history. History, of course, is my primary interest when traveling and Charleston quenched that thirst in me. Prior to arriving, I had no idea the city had such a big historic district with so many old houses. We could have spent another day or so just walking around the neighborhoods.

Their was nothing special or particularly unique about the “low-country” cuisine of Charleston. As mentioned earlier, it’s basically Southern with a heavy emphasis on seafood. That being said, there are some restaurants that prepare this food very well, and Charleston is a great city for eats.

Would I go back again? Probably. There is a bunch of stuff we missed like walking around Battery Park, the South Carolina State Museum, the Aquarium, some of the other historical buildings that we did not get to go in. That’s stuff that I would be more likely to try out if we were there visiting Melanie’s grandparents again and took a day trip to the City.

I hope somebody find this useful!

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New Evidence of Ruins Outside of Atlanta, GA Point to English Colony Older Than Jamestown

french map

I found out something the other day that made me nerd out on an insane level: a 17th Century melting pot of Native Americans, English colonists, Sephardic Jews, and French Huguenots existed in the “Track Rock Terrace” ruins outside of Atlanta. This has long been cast off as preposterous by archaeological scholars for various reasons, has been corroborated by a letter in French archives found by regional planner and historian Michael Jacobs written on:

“…January 6, 1660 in perfect Renaissance French by Edward Graves (Graeves) a member of the board of directors of the colony, to the Rev. Charles de Rochefort, a French Protestant minister living in exile in Rotterdam, Holland. De Rochefort’s commentary on the letter said that Graves held a Doctor of Law and lived in Melilot within the Apalache Kingdom. The ruins of Melilot are probably located at Little Mulberry River Park in Gwinnett County, GA.”

Cool!?! Apparently a book written by De Rochefort in 1668 on the “Appalache Kingdom”:

“…stated that six survivors of the doomed French colony at Fort Caroline arrived in Apalache in 1566. They converted King Mahdo to Protestant Christianity. Mahdo then began welcoming Protestant and Jewish refugees to his kingdom. A handful of survivors from the Roanoke Colony arrived in 1591. In early 1621 a shipload of English colonists arrived, who permanently gave the colony an English character, complete with a Protestant church. These colonists had planned to settle in Virginia, but re-embarked because of smallpox and hostile Indians. The Dutch sea captain told them about the Melilot colony.”

Apparently some scholars who were presented with De Rochefort’s book concluded that this was phony because the Natives of the area were not capable of building such giant stone structures.

Richard Thorton, who wrote the article in which I discovered this bit of information, has been onto this for quite a while, and several governmental sources tried to slander and disrepute him. The whole ordeal is outlined here on his LinkedIn. It seems a bit conspiracy theory-like in some respects, but apparently several local officials were opposed to digging here because it interrupted drug routes.

Thornton also points to evidence that these folks are likely related to Incans in Peru who made their way North to find a new village, and thus have many mound or pyramid type structures that are similar to Incan temple structures. He has concluded this because of common language characteristics between the two peoples.

Now Thorton has the local governments doing LIDAR tests and GIS mappings to help him uncover these ruins. And hopefully we can get some more light shed on this Colonial mixing pot.

It makes me think: “What else don’t we know?” What other cool archaeological discoveries could we make to completely rewrite or add a chapter to history? Some myopic scholars cast off an entire book because it was “inconceivable” that that Native Americans built stone structures. It’s interesting how something that was once considered fringe comes to have some legs to stand on. This happened with the theory of evolution and the earth revolving around the sun. This might not be as earth shattering as those theories, but it’s still pretty novel and goes against what is considered accepted dogma. The history nerd and rebel in me loves this.

I can’t wait to visit these ruins at some point. Hopefully before too many people go and it costs and arm and a leg to gain access.

Dr. William Foushee – Remarkable Richmonders

One-to-two times per month, I write a blog post on Richmond history and/our tourism on my Richmond Tour Guys website. This month was one that I’ve wanted to write for a long time. Unfortunately, there’s not a lot of research done on him, and I don’t have the time to sift through primary sources in the Library of Virginia due to work obligations during the week. So my biggest, but not sole source for this post was “Richmond: The Story of a City” by Virginius Dabney (totally destined to be a Virginia historian, am I right?). A book that I highly recommend for the history buff. Anyway, here is Richmond’s first mayor.

Dr. William Foushee

Dr. William Foushee - The First Mayor of Richmond

Dr. William Foushee – The First Mayor of Richmond

Largely forgotten by history outside of Richmond history buffs, Dr. William Foushee was Richmond’s first Mayor, first citizen, and very much a contemporary of famous founders such as Thomas Jefferson and George Washington and was held in similar high regard.

Dr. Foushee was the descendant of French Huguenots (French Protestants who fled France during the Reformation and were given asylum by the Governor of Virginia in the early-17th Century). He grew up in Virginia, but was educated in the Medical Profession at the University of Edinburgh in Scotland. He came back to Richmond to practice.

On March 6, 1775, Foushee married Elizabeth Isabella Harmondson in Northampton County, Virginia. They would have 7 children: William Jr., John, Nancy, Margarette, Elizabeth, Charlotte, and Isabella.

Which also pretty much covers all of the common names of that era.

Foushee was very highly regarded in the Medical profession. He became a renowned surgeon during the American Revolutionary War. He was at one time President of the Medical Society of Virginia. He was also a first mover in the newly discovered Smallpox inoculation. In 1788, Henrico County gave him permission to administer it. To prove he rolled with the Revolutionary elite, here is a letter that he wrote to Thomas Jefferson about the vaccine (which he CC’d a Dr. Currie on).

His medical expertise also came in handy in a way he may not have envisioned. At the time of the Revolution, the rougher sort of men in Richmond had the practice of growing one finger nail very long and sharpening it to a fine point. With this point they would try to gouge their opponents eyes out or their scrotum sack open.

Richmond was a… different place back then. A port city with many brigands and lots of rabble.

One day, Foushee was walking around with a paroled British Officer named Thomas Aubrey. Among the “Gentleman” it was not uncommon for theFoushee aristocracy to associate with British Officers in a cordial manner, but the commoners were not quite so open. One of these sharp-nailed ruffians decided Foushee was too friendly with the enemy and gouged the future Mayor’s his eye out of socket. With the good Doctor’s eye dangling out of the socket onto his cheek, the ruffian attempted to yank it out, but was tackled by Thomas Aubrey. Foushee quickly put the eye back in.

In 1782, Richmond was officially made a City and Foushee was elected as the  first Mayor of Richmond from among the 12 Council Members. He also, at one time or another, was a member of the General Assembly, Postmaster, and President of the James River Navigation Company (which built and managed the canal system in Richmond).

During the War of 1812 while Postmaster of Virginia, he commanded a company of troops that was raised to defend Norfolk from British attack. Norfolk was razed and the unit never saw action as Richmond was not attacked during the War of 1812.

On August 21, 1824, Foushee died in his home. You can see his grave at Shockoe Hill Cemetery on Shockoe Hill in Richmond.

In honor of all of his accomplishments… they named a street after him. In case you were curious where Foushee Street came from…

Historical Hobbies: Antique Bottle Collecting

Through my job at Restoration Builders of Virginia, I meet a lot of fellow history enthusiasts of all stripes. One day, a gentleman named Ty called the office to ask if we ever found old bottles and mentioned that he would to buy them.

My interest was piqued.

And while our lead carpenter wants to hold onto her treasures that she has found during our jobs, I decided to go check out the meeting of the Richmond Area Bottle Collector’s Association. It also gave me a chance to flirt with my passing interest in journalism that has surfaced since learning more about my Dad’s life as a newspaper man.

This post originally appeared on my blog over at my tour company website: Richmond Tour Guys:

One man’s trash from 100 years ago, is another man’s treasure today. Today’s topic is antique bottle collecting as a hobby.

Richmond has a deep history. This history is preserved and bequeathed by official entities such as university historians, museums, historic sites, and preservation organizations. Also filling this role are several layperson historians, antiquarians, bloggers, and (of course) tour guides. One of the most important but often overlooked players in this endeavor are the amateur archaeologists and antique collectors who recover, store, and track old rubbish. Refuse from 100 years ago can reveal much about the history of the City of Richmond.

A few nights ago I attended a meeting of the Richmond Area Bottle Collector’s Association. I learned a lot about bottles, the hobby of bottle collecting, and what this refuse can tell us about the history of Richmond.

What Bottles Reveal About the Past

Bottles come in all different shapes and sizes: cathedral, slug plate, whiskey flask, bitter bottles, medicine flasks, ink bottles, and many, many more. Some hold miracle tonics, elixirs, and medicine. One such product on display at the Association meeting was “Celery and Caffeine,” a potent elixir to fill the imbiber with vim and vigor, no doubt! One of the more famous quack medicines from Richmond was “Valentine’s Meat Juice” a Beef Extract that claimed to treat a range of ailments and was prescribed by doctors into the 1950s.

Rooney’s Malt Whiskey by Straus, Gunst, & Co.

Of course, many of these bottles contained alcohol. In many instances, these bottles are the remnants of Richmond distilleries that have long since disappeared. Most of these are such unexceptional aspects of Richmond history that many people have never heard of them. If not for these bottles, their names might be lost to history. One such distillery was Strauss, Gunst, & Co., a Richmond distillery that operated from 1866 until 1919 (Prohibition) that produced multiple whiskeys; including the Rooney’s Malt Whiskey pictured here.  Another distillery was the Phil G Kelly Company that operated in Richmond from 1905 to 1915 and sold many variations of whiskey using the label “Straight Whiskey” and was sold largely through mail order. The “straight” label was there to differentiate themselves from watered-down fake whiskeys that were passed off as real whiskey by unscrupulous distilleries that sought to con consumers.

Phil G. Kelly, Co. Straight Whiskey

Phil G. Kelly, Co. Straight Whiskey

Fun fact: some whiskey bottles look like medicine. That’s because during Prohibition, distillers often sold their whiskeys as “for medical use” and you could still obtain whiskey via a doctor’s prescription.

The Hobby

The hobby itself is like any other hobby. You like something and think it is neat, so you collect it. This creates a demand and thus a market of buyers and sellers. Collectors range in age from teenagers on up to retirees.

Most collectors that I asked started collecting any old bottles and then at one point narrowed it down to specific types of bottles that they especially fancied, so that their collection didn’t get out of hand. One gentleman I met specializes in collecting local Coke bottles. Another collects Pepsi bottles.

They don’t seem to have any sort of feud going.

One gentleman specializes in early 20th Century bottles for German bitters. The president of the club, Bruce, specializes in bottles featuring Cowboys and Native Americans. There are some folks that collect bottles of certain shapes. Bruce’s wife, who showed me around and explained a bit to me about the hobby, collects cathedral bottles. These are ornately shaped bottles made to hold pickles. The gentleman I contacted about the club initially, Ed, collects ink bottles. Some collectors specialize in bottles from a certain geographic area such as Baltimore, San Francisco, and of course, Richmond.

Christo, another Richmond, Va manufacturer

Christo, another Richmond, Va manufacturer

A few of these collectors may be experts on their bottle type and have written books on the subject. Ed Faulkner, the gentleman that I originally contacted, had written a book on antique ink bottles with his wife. One of the other gentlemen mentioned that they wrote a book on Coke Bottles.

Amateur Archaeology

The most compelling part of this hobby is the “treasure hunting” or amateur archaeology aspect. One gentleman, Tom, invited me to a privy dig. It is exactly what it sounds like… you find an old toilet hole and dig in the area where the excrement would have gone. These often doubled as trash cans. Everything organic (ie: the poop) has decomposed and turned into dirt while everything inorganic, such as metal and glass, are artifacts waiting to be discovered by the adventurous digger. Said diggers may keep them, turn them over to a museum, or sell them for profit. Often the digger will strike a deal with a property owner to split the booty in exchange for the right to dig.

Treasure hunting does not take place only in toilets. One teenage bottle collector shared what he found when he went digging down by a creek bed. Not only did he find bottles, but he found an old pipe and some arrow heads. Another way that treasure-hunters score booty is digging through people’s barns and sheds in rural areas. People often have junk lying around that they are happy to let people pick through. Some of these everyday items to the history enthusiast are treasures.

As evidenced above, bottle collecting also tends to cross over with other antiquing. A gentleman named Craig brought a giant iron skillet that he found while cleaning out under a ladies house for her to display at the meeting. Another collector brought a 1923 Shockoe Creek Sewer System bond that he purchased at an estate auction. I also saw some old soda and beer signs.

Richmond Area Bottle Collector's Association Meeting - Show & Tell

Richmond Area Bottle Collector’s Association Meeting – Show & Tell

Clubs

Most Geographic areas have a Bottle Collector’s Association. The one that I visited was the Richmond Area Bottle Collector’s Association which has been around since 1970.

People come from all over the region as far as Virginia Beach to come to this meeting every month. The meetings contain a show & tell where people show off recent finds, collectors put out bottles for sale, and of course: club business such as finances and newsletters and what not. At every meeting there is a different program. The particular night I was there, they were voting in a competition with categories such as “Best Find,” “Best Richmond Bottle,” “Best Dig Find,” and “Best Non-Bottle,” among others. It’s a place where like-minded treasure hunters can come together and share their findings.

Each club will usually host a show once per year and bring in vendors from around the country to buy and sell bottles. It’s also a good chance to have a bit camaraderie between collectors, a chance to find that one bottle that you need to add to a collection, and maybe make a bit of coin.

Table With Good For Sale

Goods for sale at the meeting


The Bottle Market Place

Apparently, bottle collecting can be a pretty lucrative or at least self- sustaining hobby. In the antique bottles marketplace, one can buy and sell at one of several aforementioned bottle shows and expos that are held around the U.S., on-line, or at auctions. Some bottles sell for thousands of dollars. If one digs something up under an old house, it may be worth $100 or so.

That’s a pretty good profit margin.

In my conversation with Bruce, the club President of several years, he mentioned that the hobby is self-sustaining for him, as it is with many others. He doesn’t pay bills with the hobby, but on the whole doesn’t have to spend any of his income to keep the hobby going. A revenue neutral hobby is not always easy to come by.

The value of the bottles depends on a myriad of factors. One is location. Years ago there may have been towns right next to each other that had their own bottling plants. For example, Coke and Pepsi were bottled in Richmond, Petersburg, Norfolk, and several other cities that were within a relatively close distance to each other. The location was stamped very prominently on the bottle. A Richmond bottle from 1903 may be worth more than a Petersburg bottle from 1903 because Petersburg produced less of them.

Color is also a factor in the value of the bottles

Color is also a factor in the value of the bottles

Another factor in the value of the bottles is when it was made. My biggest question was: “Without dates on the bottles, how can you tell the age?” I was informed by Cliff that it is quite easy to tell. Pre-1845, bottles were often made hand before complicated machining processes came about and you can tell by the rough nature of the bottle. Certain methods of producing bottles would come in and then out of fashion as new processes were invented. One could also figure out the age of bottles by who produced it. If you know that our old friend, the “Phil G. Kelly Company” only produced whiskey from 1905 to 1913, the bottles would be from that time frame.

Color is also a factor. A green 1904 Richmond Coke bottle might be worth more than a clear 1904 Richmond Coke Bottle.

Bottles may be valued as low as $2. At the meeting that I attended, one Petersburg Pepsi Bottle purchased for $10 at a flea market was appraised at $500-$600.

I was told that some bottles go for as much as $15,000… that’s not a typo. This is potentially big business for something that was dug out an old toilet.

As valuable as some of these bottles may be monetarily, the true value lies in the preservation of Richmond’s history through these every day treasure-hunters.