Article by Antique Trader Staff
Remember that urge to dig you had as a child? Some people never grow out of it. I don't blame them because there's treasure buried under the dirt and ash that fill 17th and 18th century privy and cistern holes.
Back in 2009 I had a chance to talk in depth with privy digger Rick Weiner of Allentown, Pa.
He gave me all the ins and outs of digging and shared some of the phenomenal finds he's uncovered.
Today I opened my email to get an exciting update.
Rick was digging an old 1870s cistern and uncovered some great items. He says he usually stays away from cisterns (underground storage tanks for rainwater): "Digging cisterns are a gamble, but this one payed off for us."
Rick sent these photos of the items he found in the 1870s cistern: (Note they are in perfect, undamaged condition.) A salt-glazed jug, a very old beer mug, and a stoneware beer bottle ... all supporting evidence: the cistern belonged to a tavern. Another exciting find he shares is from a privy: a trio of carved pipe heads.
Here part of the story of Rick Weiner:
Rick Weiner is a digger. He started digging bottles at the age of 15, when his grandmother got him hooked by having him help her dig for store stock in a 1920s milk bottle dump. She was co-owner of the Barn Store, an antique store in the Pocono Mountains.
His primary choice of digging sites has changed since the early digs with his grandmother. Now, he prefers to excavate old outhouse pits that were in use from the 1850s to the turn of the 20th century. Anything after 1900 is “too new” for his collecting interest. In his opinion, the coolest bottles are from before 1903, which was when the automatic bottle machine came into service and pushed hand-made bottles out of production.
It’s finding these old 19th century bottles that makes his collecting world go round; he says, “The more good stuff you find, the more you want to dig and find better stuff.”
When he’s lining up digs, he finds houses that were built from the 1850s-1870s and asks the homeowners’ permission to dig. After getting permission, he checks the property lines and starts to look for the privy sites. It may be as simple as looking for a depression where the ground has settled unevenly, or it may take careful and patient probing to find the sites. He says sometimes when you’re probing and can’t find the pit perimeter, you just have to rest, clear your mind, and try again.
Patience pays off. On one digging occasion, they found 14 privies in three yards, which kept them busy digging for two years.
In his digs, he has found everything from 1850s druggist bottles to the quack medicine bottles so popular in the 1800s to poison and eight-sided soda bottles. Of course he’s found items other than bottles as well. After all, anything that was carried along on the trip to the outhouse was potential privy fodder.
Rick has had several articles published in Antique Bottle & Glass Collector magazine. He has also recorded his most memorable digs and posted many of his most memorable finds on his Web site, www.19thcenturybottlediggers.com.
Also watch this utube video of him at work and some finds.