RENO — Walking into the National Antique Bottle Show, visitors were struck by the overwhelming collections that filled the Grand Sierra ballroom Friday.
“This is a big show,” remarked Jeanne Briel, who manned her and her husband’s collection of glass insulators they’ve picked up through other shows or online throughout the decades. “This is the first time we’ve been to Reno show.”
Her husband first became interested in the oddly shaped glass caps that protected thousands of power polls, telephone polls, telegraphs, railroads, power distribution lines and lightning protection devices. He’s now written a price guide for the objects that collectors first became interested in, in the 1850s.
The event showcased bottles of every color, shape, size and use; plates, toys, moccasins; jewelry, oil lamps worn by miners in the 1800s, tiny pill boxes and other assortments of antique items used by folks for ages.
Buyers and sellers travel the from coast to coast every year selling their bottles and antiques throughout the country.
Colleen Stuart traveled from Arizona to visit the three-day event. Her main interest is in sewing items, including thimbles, knitting, crochet needles, sewing kits and quilts.
“I love going to antique shows,” Stuart said. “When I was young, I used to go all the time with my mother. Now I get to touch stuff!”
One dealer, Chuck Erickson from Rocklin, Calif., stood behind tables that he and his brother had filled with bit and pieces of history from miners’ gear, including oil-lit helmets and brass candles meant for sticking into cave walls, to mini pill boxes, bottles, jewelry, and much more. There were trade tokens, gigantic jailers keys, hotel keys, cups, identification tags, tiny salt spoons and a variety of items that took onlookers back through the centuries.
“My parent used to take us as kids to ghost towns all the time,” he said. “Back then, we could drive up to Reno. We’d always go to Virginia City. Back then, back in the ‘60s, we could drip right up and start digging.”
The family would look for old bottles, artifacts in old Chinatown and other places, he said.
“It was a family hobby all our lives,” Erickson said. “It was great fun. It’s still a hobby I enjoy.”
The hundreds of pieces Erickson had on display indicated how passionate he and his brother were about history and artifacts. The pieces weren’t exactly cheap, but they were authentic.
Although the room was filled with antiques such as a gigantic alligator head, plates, toys and various items, that included a “Hangover Kit” complete with tomato juice, aspirins, mints, a “hangover” handkerchief, an ice bag, Alka Seltzer and chewing gum — the main party centered around the amazing collection of rare bottles on display and for sale.
When attendees first entered the ballroom, after paying the $5 entry fee, light boxes of all types of bottles, big and small made of all types of shapes and sizes, colors of aqua, brown purple and green, mini jugs and the like greeted them.
One display presented shelves of numerous milk bottles from 1897 to 1915. According to the display, the 1906 San Francisco earthquake forced competing milk companies to form an alliance, replacing the “tin top” cap and gave rise to the Dairy Delivery Company.
Thousands of collectors and hundreds of dealers from all over America and as far away as Australia are expected to attend the show that runs until Sunday.
The national show, hosted by the Federation of Historical Bottle Collectors and the Reno-Sparks Antique Bottle Club, hasn’t been west in more than 30 years.
Displays of colorful antique bottles valued at up to $1 million will show off the collectors’ prizes. The best showpiece may be the “gazebo” of some of America’s rarest and most expensive bottles, topping the $1 million mark just for this display alone.
Other displays include western food bottles dating from the 1850s made in San Francisco; a display of unique San Francisco bitters bottles; colored IXL bitters bottles, which were among the most widely distributed bitters in Nevada mining camps; and a display of unique and rare Nevada embossed bottles.
The show features a series of lectures about historical bottles that began Friday morning.
Show hours in the Grand Ball Room are 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday and Sunday. Admission is $5 for adults. The Reno-Sparks club is providing free appraisals for those interested.
The new book Nevada History Through Glass by Fred Holabird will be available from the author, who will be there to sign books, answer questions about rare bottles, auctions and Nevada history.
A Glass Works Auction called the Auction No 95, The “Dog Days of August” Absentee Auction will be held Aug. 6 in Pennsylvania. A full-color catalog is available for $15 from Glass Works Auctions, P.O. Box 180, East Greenville, Penn. Call 212-679-5849 for information or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Briels’s new price guide can be purchased for glass insulators at a price of $49 with postage paid. Call or email for shipping rates outside of the country to Donald R. Briel, P.O. Box 188, Dept. B, Providence, UT 84332, or visit www.insulatorpriceguide.com.