Bottle Digging

By Daniel Bernzweig

Antique bottle digging and collecting is gaining widespread popularity-probably because of the high likelihood of locating bottles with an understanding of where to dig. Since there has been so much urban development over the past centuries, there are endless masked digging sites to unearth. There is a big market for old bottles and jars in good condition-collectors are known to pay hundreds or even thousands of dollars for rare specimens. What makes an old bottle worth money? Unusual shapes, colors, or artistic designs are the most sought after. Embossing makes a bottle particularly attractive. In this process, raised letters or designs were manufactured into the glass to advertise the product. Until paper labeling began in the 1890s, embossing was used to signify bottle contents.

What Type of Metal Detector is Best for Bottle Digging?

While metal detectors will not locate bottles directly, they will lead you to the best place to start digging on a site. A metal detector will help you locate the bits and pieces of metal trash and relics that are common on old dump sites that you are hunting. Your trail of recoveries will assist you in quickly mapping out your site. A deep-penetrating metal detector with a large search coil is your best bet for uncovering a dumpsite. Large search coils can detect larger objects and detect them at greater depths. In many parts of the country with high ground mineralization, you will want to select a metal detector with ground balance control.

Finding Antique Bottles

You will want to select a metal detector that operates at a lower frequency for locating privy pits and dumpsites. Many metal relics are produced from iron, brass, and steel. A lower frequency will be the most sensitive to locating these types of targets. Here's a detailed list of the best relic metal detectors to use in your quest to find old bottles and relics.

Top Deep Seeking Relic Metal Detectors for Bottle Diggers:

For the first time ever, the idea of seeing underground image scans of the target has become a reality! The engineering team at Groundtech has brought to life the Discovery SM and SMR models. These devices will show real-time image scans right before your eyes. Gold, Silver, and other valuable metals are shown in full color on a full-color display. Junk metals like Iron are also clearly displayed. The Discovery series allow you to save target signals for later review and offers menus in multiple languages.

What are the Best Antique Bottles to Find?

Bottles that are the most desirable are early American pieces from the 1700s into the early 1900s. This is because of the history behind these souvenirs and the fact that they were hand-made. As mass transportation systems become popular, such as the invention of the steamboat in 1807, a need evolved for durable containers. Hence, the creation of countless bottles for beverages, food, medicine, poisons, cosmetics, and inkwells. The neat thing about locating a productive bottle site is that where there is one to be found, there are usually many more waiting to be uncovered. So, when one bottle turns up, you can be confident that others are nearby.

Where can you Find Old Bottles?

Most bottles are found in places that are associated with finding old glass. This includes former trash dumps, old privies (or outhouses), construction sites, and waterfront areas. Any area that served as a dump site for a long period of time is a bottle digger's paradise. Long-past American generations disposed of their garbage in their own backyard, the privy pit, or town dump. You can research these types of locations on the internet, at the library, or by reviewing old city maps. There are also several speakeasies from the Prohibition era (1919 to 1933), which are being discovered by bottle diggers; many are hidden in remote areas on the outskirts of town. Aside from old bottles, speakeasy sites offer a good chance to recover coins and jewelry. You will need a metal detector to help locate old dump areas. A metal detector will pick up rusty metal remnants such as barrel hoops, old farm equipment, tin cans, and lids.

The Hobby of Bottle Digging and Collecting 

Bottle collectors are a passionate bunch. Those who enjoy the hobby love the thrill of the hunt, and the feeling of finding the perfect bottle is what they enjoy most. They are always on the lookout for a good spot to dig and are always hoping to find that one rare bottle that will make their collection complete.

Bottle digging can be done anywhere there is dirt, sand, or water. The most common places to dig are old rubbish dump sites and construction sites. Anywhere there is a possibility of finding an old bottle, there will likely be a bottle collector there with a shovel in hand, ready to dig.

Treasure Hunting for Old Bottles

The hobby of bottle digging can be traced back to the early 1800s when people started collecting bottles that they found in the trash. These early collectors were mostly interested in finding rare and valuable bottles, such as those made of glass or ceramic. They would often clean and polish the bottles before displaying them in their homes.

People have increasingly begun to collect bottles as a hobby as the years passed. They began to specialize in collecting certain types of bottles, such as medicine bottles, fancy water bottles,s or soda bottles. And instead of just collecting any old bottles they found, they focused on finding rare and unusual bottles. As a treasure hunter, you may find yourself attracted to various kinds of bottles, from glass bottles to ceramic and other rare bottles. From finding the latest old dump site to expanding your collection, there is a lot to like about this unusual pastime. Old rubbish dumps are prime territory for finding everything from old coins to marbles and bottles. Old home foundations, wood porches, and drainage systems with original clay pipes can be the best spots for digging.

Some of the most common bottles that can be found include:

  • Water bottles
  • Antique ink bottles
  • Valuable glass bottle
  • Old whiskey bottle
  • Pottery and brick
  • Aqua bottles

Treasure hunters looking for old bottles may come across shards of broken glass from broken bottles, so it is essential to wear gloves and eye protection when digging for old bottles. It is also important that you have a permit to dig on the land where you intend to search for bottles.

There are many ways to find old bottles. The most common way is to go out and start digging simply. You can also look for old bottles at garage sales, flea markets, and antique stores. You can also try your luck at bottle-digging contests. These contests are usually held at bottle shows, which are events where collectors get together to buy, sell, and trade bottles.

Keeping an eye on valuable finds in the local news can also lead you to where old bottles might be found. For example, if a construction site is being demolished, it might be worth your while to go and search through the rubble for old bottles.

Privy digging is another way to find old bottles. A privy is an outhouse made by digging a large hole. Throughout history, people have used privies as a place to relieve themselves but also to dispose of trash. Because of this, privies often contain a lot of old bottles and other interesting artifacts. Today, bottle collectors will sometimes dig up old privies in search of rare or valuable bottles to add to their collection.

Salvaging & Cleaning Old Bottles When Bottle Hunting

When you find an old bottle, it is important to clean it before adding it to your collection. Bottles that are covered in dirt and grime can be cleaned with a toothbrush or bottle brushes and warm water. If the bottle is very dirty, you might need to use a little bit of soap. Be sure to rinse the bottle well after cleaning it.

You should also inspect the bottle for any chips or cracks. Bottles that are chipped or cracked are not worth as much as good bottles that are in great condition. If you find a cracked or chipped bottle, you can try to repair it yourself with super glue or epoxy. Bottle collectors should always be careful and inspect for damage or broken glass. It may be possible to sell the bottle to a collector or an antique dealer if the bottle's condition is good. You can also add it to your own collection.

Digging up the Privy Pit

Some of the best places for metal detectorists to find stashes of antique bottles are long-forgotten privy pits. Privies were also utilized for household waste disposal. Privies from the Civil War period to the late nineteenth century clearly reflect the lifestyle of the time, with many types of medicine bottles found within them. This was the era of the infamous "snake oil" medicine salesman who traveled from door to door, peddling assorted bottled remedies.

Finding an old privy pit takes some detective work, so it becomes a very adventurous dig. In many cases, privies were located on the property line in a straight line downwind from the rear door. They would be used for ten to twenty years, then abandoned and filled with bricks, sand, rocks, or soil. Some privies went down very deep (to about 20 feet), with the average being about 10 feet deep. The bottom is the sought-after trash layer. Depressions in the ground can signal a privy pit; that's when your metal detector and probe are necessary. If your metal detector reads at high metal levels, you may have hit the jackpot.

Pinpointing your Targets

According to bottle digging pros, one must-have tool is the Garrett Pro-Pointer pinpointer. Instead of probing around for hours and coming up empty-handed, this handheld metal detector pinpoints targets quickly. It features audio and vibration alerts that will signal when your target is located. Both the tip and sides are sensitive to metal. You will also need some quality digging equipment as you get started. We highly recommend selecting one of the Lesche digging tools. You can choose from a wide range of options, from hand-held trowels to larger shovels. These products are handcrafted from the highest quality components and made right here in the United States.

Top Pinpointers for Locating Targets:

Adding bottle digging to your metal detecting adventures can help you discover an entirely new and potentially lucrative hobby. Just like coin collecting and relic collecting, once you get involved in antique bottle collecting, you will quickly appreciate this new and related hobby. If like many detectorists, you find that you are fascinated by the hobby, you can get involved in a local bottle collecting club. In many areas, there is quite a bit of overlap with the activities of the local metal detecting club. Check the club websites for the latest news and events. There are many resources to help you get started with bottle digging. With some luck and detective work, a hoard of treasured antique bottles can be yours!

© 2012 Detector Electronics Corp. - Revised September 2022