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TOPIC: Bottle hunters search for lost treasure

Bottle hunters search for lost treasure 8 years 2 months ago #7186

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Bottle hunters search for lost treasure
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Jeff Clark

bottle_huntersThe search for a wide variety of elusive antiquities has become a hot trend for cable television programmers. "American Pickers" and "Dirty Money" are two of several titles showing how discarded items can become valuable commodities. Although cable network cameras weren't rolling in Columbus Saturday, a small band of treasure hunters were digging.

Mike Cothern of Horn Lake began "treasure hunting" in 1987. About 12 years ago, he changed his focus to digging for bottles. He and his crew descended upon Columbus with hopes of finding some bottles discarded as far back as the 1850s.

"We think we are going to find some things dating back to the late 1850s because of the age of the home," Cothern said. "We find druggist bottles, pharmacist bottles -- even old whiskey bottles."

The hunt for antiquated bottles requires more than merely wandering around someone's backyard and throwing the bottles in a trash bag. The prep work for a bottle-dig can be labor-intensive.

"Before we dig, we use a six-foot probe rod," Cothern said. "We use the rod to find dips in the yard. If you find a dip, you know you have found something. Then we start digging. We have already dug a hole about seven feet deep -- all by hand."

The group uses old Sandborn maps for clues on where to probe. Sandborn maps were originally used by insurance companies for calculating fire risks in the late 19th century. The large-format maps are frequently used for historical and genealogical research as they show all structures on the property.

Cothern said he came to Columbus on the recommendation of local antique bottle enthusiast Perry Hendrix.

"I've been digging for bottles myself for a while," Hendrix said. "I met these guys at an antique shack and we've communicated and become friends. I brought them to Columbus because of the large number of antebellum homes. This is the equivalent of having a specialist on site with you."

After spending Friday scouting homes, Cothern, Hendrix and two others decided on 419 Third St. N, which is rented by Melanie McGee Denny.

"I chose to talk with (Perry Hendrix) and I thought this would be something interesting to do," Denny said. "I hope it will help preserve the heritage of the community."

Hendrix said the house was chosen because of the location of the property's former outhouse.

"When you are digging, you are trying to find the privy or old outhouse," Hendrix said. "This is where you find the bottles -- in the old privies. People in the 1800s would throw trash in the privy. You also find whiskey bottles, because people would sneak off to the outhouse for a drink. But finding a privy is not easy."

Although the crew had only uncovered a layer of pre-Civil War bricks by Saturday afternoon, Cothern was optimistic about his possible haul.

"This was a convalescent home, and then it was a funeral home, so I think we will find some good pieces," he said. "On a good day and on a hole dating 1850-1860s, we can find several hundred bottles."

Courtesy The Dispatch
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“Treasure – If it’s out there, we’re going to find it!” (Tommy Vawter)
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