Celebrating my Adirondack Bottle Diving adventure forward into 2022
This past year brought what appeared to be an exciting culmination point in my three-year Adirondack bottle diving adventure.
First, I discovered a one- of- a- kind vintage Saranac Lake “F.M. Bull” glass & wood stopper pharmacy bottle. Then, Historic Saranac Lake Museum’s Archivist/Curator, Chessie Monks-Kelly, and I joined forces in an endeavor that culminated not only in that F.M. Bull bottle being on display in their pharmacy bottle collection, but also in twenty-five more of my antique Saranac Lake “Collins Brothers” bottles being made available in a very successful fundraising effort through Historic Saranac Lake’s museum store.
Individual bottles were put up for sale for $100 apiece. In her last email just prior to Christmas, Chessie commented that they had “only three or four left.” If my highly questionable SLHS math skills serve me right, that means that to date, Adirondack Bottle Diving has raised nearly two thousand dollars to support Historic Saranac Lake’s museum. As far as I am concerned, my questionable SLHS math skills notwithstanding, that’s pretty awesome.
Never in my wildest dreams would I have ever guessed any of that while I was studying, mapping, plotting, diving and rescuing my collection of century old vintage “Adirondack Bottling Works” & “Collins Brothers” Saranac Lake bottles from various lake bottoms and river bed muck.
I considered that a very successful adventure. All documented posted and on-line published in “Message In a Bottle.” One of my most widely read 2021 stories.
As 2021’s bottle diving season ended and winter approached, the whole experience left me not only with a sense of pride and accomplishment, but also with a suddenly wistful bit of a void, and a question: “Okay, what’s next?”
Even after donating and gifting nearly three dozen of these rustically elegant antique Adirondack Bottling Works and Collins Brothers Saranac Lake bottles, and building my own personal collection of nearly three dozen more, I still found myself with another four dozen, stored in milk crates in my basement, along with a wide assortment of other antique glass Adirondack soda, seltzer, wine and beer label bottles, and no map agenda or plan going forward.
I asked myself, “What in the world am I going to do with all of those bottles?!” Then an idea struck me. Maybe I can cut some of them into cocktail/beer glasses! I studied my array of overflow bottles and ran the idea past my wife Robin. Several weeks later, a package arrived. My wife had gone online and bought me a bottle cutting kit for my shop.
I opened the kit, studied the device, read the directions. It seemed fairly straight forward; lay the bottle on the cutter, rotate it to score it, then dip it alternately in pots of hot and cold water to finish the cut.
I decided to practice. I picked out several unremarkable bottles. My first few attempts badly chipped, cracked or shattered. Undeterred, I discarded them, and selected some others. Half a dozen or failures later, I began getting the hang of it. After the first week or so I had successfully cut, sanded, and buffed out two nice sets of four glasses. I showed the results my work to one of my life’s harshest critics, my mother. She said “Oh! I love them! I want a set!”
I posted some pictures and a brief synopsis on the “History & Legends of the Adirondacks” Facebook group page and got the same enthusiastic response. That gave me the reassurance I needed to know that I was on the right track. I immediately made plans to make more.
The first two sets that I made were plain glass bottles of various colors, green, aqua, and amber. The amber beer bottles have thus far proven for some reason the most difficult to cut. The glass shatters easily, but I persevered, and finally managed to successfully manufacture an amber beer bottle glass for each set.
With nearly two dozen attempts at that point under my belt, I decided to try cutting a couple of my various “Saranac Lake” labeled bottles into glasses for my next set.
I measured and studied. Not all labels would work. The “Collins Brothers” labels went up to close to the neck, as did some of the others. I could not cut those bottles without cutting into the label, which I thought would look odd. It appeared I would have to use some of the earliest bottles, either “Starks”, “Curran”, or “Merkel.” If I wanted to add a few elegantly antique “Saranac Lake” glasses to my new project, some of my rarest and most treasured bottles would have to be sacrificed.
Those bottles are amongst the hardest to find. I did really not want to cut a fully intact one. So, I chose instead a pair of broken top “Merkel” bottles from my basement stash for my first “Adirondack Bottling Works” cuts.
The glass on those old Merkel bottles is uneven, full of bubbles, but quite thick. To my surprise and relief, the two broken top bottles I chose cut quite smoothly and easily. I went to work finishing them; cleaning, sanding and buffing them out.
One was clear glass, the other a beautiful aqua. As I worked cleaning the aqua bottle, I noticed something on the bottom that somehow, to that point, had escaped my attention; raised glass writing. That Merkel bottle that I had just cut into a glass had a bottom label!
I cleaned it off. It read: “Made By Dean Foster & Co. Boston”. In a bit of a panic, I immediately checked all of my other Saranac Lake labeled bottles. Just as I thought, not a single one of them had a bottom label of any kind. The one I had just cut into a glass was a stand-alone bottle. I must not have checked the bottoms as I went because no others had bottom labels and, because it had a broken top to begin with, it escaped my attention until right then.
“Well,” I thought to myself, “You’re a complete moron. That was dumb. Can’t uncut it now. Good thing it was broken.” Instead of moping. I did some more research. According to Historic Saranac Lake Wiki:
“Isaac Merkel came to Plattsburgh from Germany c. 1866 and founded I. Merkel & Sons, a retail and wholesale tobacco and alcohol business on Margaret Street, later moved to Bridge Street…where he also conducted a large rectifying plant and bottling establishment…The business appears to have owned Adirondack Bottling Works in 1896.”
So, I knew that by 1896, Isaac Merkel was manufacturing his own Saranac Lake bottles, via “Adirondack Bottling Works”. But where had this bottle come from? I did more research.
After scouring the internet, I stumbled across a paper titled “The Dean and Foster Companies”, by Lockhart/Schriever/Lindsay & Serr. According to their research:
“The Dean and Foster Company, Boston”, was founded in approximately 1874. They had offices in Boston and Chicago, but made most of their bottles in Connecticut. Most bottles marked with “Dean, Foster & Co.” are very early (1870’s -1890’s).”
I perused several antique bottle auction sites. There I spotted an example of another Dean Foster & Co bottle that looked exactly like the one I had just cut. That bottle was made for a beverage company in Wisconsin, pre-dating Merkel’s Adirondack Bottling Works operation by a decade.
From this I deduced, quite logically I think, that the bottle I had just cut was earlier than any of the other Saranac Lake label bottles in my collection. Except now it was a one-of-a-kind antique cocktail glass!
*Note to self: 2022 agenda item #1: Return to my bottle diving haunts in search of some more early Saranac Lake bottles with that same bottom bottle label.
I emailed a quick a note and some photos of my project to Historic Saranac Lake’s curator. I then set about finishing making myself a set of four cocktail glasses. I now had a sum total of twelve. I gave a set of four to my mother for her wedding anniversary.
Shortly thereafter, three things happened:
First, Historic Saranac Lake’s curator contacted me. She confirmed my findings, and advised me that to the best of her recollection, she had never seen that bottom label on any of the Saranac Lake bottles in the museum’s collection.
The second occurrence to me was actually a bit of a relief. I had half expected Historic Saranac Lake’s curator to be disappointed that I had cut such a bottle. She was not. Instead, she expressed great interest in my endeavor, and raised the prospect of making some of them available for sale through their shop.
I was “all in” on that idea. I’m always up for a new adventure or endeavor. One problem though; I was all out of “cut worthy” bottles.
Then, thanks once again to my best friend from High School, the one who’s story of finding old bottles while jumping off a rope swing on an island as a kid on Middle Saranac Lake had gotten me started on the whole bottle diving adventure in the first place, a solution arose. His father had an “Isaac Merkel, Saranac Lake” bottle sitting on his fireplace mantel. He remembered where he had found it. A location I had never considered before, but one that remains accessible to my bottle diving efforts, and makes perfect sense.
So, I now have a new 2021 bottle diving adventure mapped out going forward. I gave the third set of four elegantly antique “Saranac Lake” glasses to my younger brother for Christmas. I’ve got the rest of the winter to study my maps, plan a new series of dives, and practice turning antique Adirondack bottles into cocktail glasses.
Here’s to 2022 and Life’s Adventures Before Us
An Adirondack Outlaw’s Antique Bottling Works Toast
Raise a Glass!
All photos provided by Richard Monroe
What a fun article! Scuba diving, antique bottles, and historic research that all generates local history museum donations! Nice going!
Thank you, Jim. I will say, this entire adventure has been unexpectedly rewarding. All started by a memory shared by my high school best friend, and something glistening up at me one day as I canoed past an island on Middle Saranac Lake’s waters. I guess what I’d have to say to summarize the whole experience: “If something catches the sun’s rays from beneath curiosity’s waters, don’t hesitate. Dive in and find it!” Wishing you & the entire Adirondack Almanack community a great year ahead. Thanks for reading & commenting. Cheers!
Antique bottles are great and all, but it’s your love for life and adventures that shines through and makes this, and your other articles, precious. Thanks.
Thanks, ADKR2! One of these days I’m gonna dive down & discover that “Oak Island” treasure. When I do, I’m going to invite everyone and celebrate with a Bull Rush Bay bear dance! (Those guys on TV don’t realize it, but they’ve all been lookin’ in the wrong place!) Looking forward to sharing a great year ahead. Thanks for reading and commenting. Here’s to 2022.
I love this creative idea, Richard and love your glasses! I would buy a set in a heartbeat, or even just 1, just to own and pass down to the next generation.
Thanks! Hopefully coming soon to a Historic Saranac Lake Museum Store near you!
Isn’t it great that the water is so clear and clean that you can see the bottom?
When I tell people here in Maryland that the water is that clear they can’t believe it. Here, they are lucky to see inches into the local waters.
Mark; Yes, absolutely! In fact, on days when the winds are calm and the sun is out, I can cover a lot of ground scanning lake bottoms while paddling my canoe! I can often see 8-10 or more feet down. Even more on certain bodies of water, and once IN the water, visibility is most generally great. The other thing that surprises me is how free of trash and debris the lake beds are. Middle Saranac Lake in particular, for all intents and purposes, clean as a whistle. The one major exception I’ve run into so far: The Saranac River! I DO NOT recommend braving those waters for anyone unfamiliar. Filled with sandy silt, limb debris, broken glass, rusted metal, currents…that water is both nasty & treacherous. I grew up on that river, watching village dump trucks dump load after load of sand salted plow snow into it. Trust me, diving there is not for the faint hearted. Quite a shame. Thanks for reading and commenting, Mark. My family LOVES Ocean City! Great place for parasailing. Glad to hear folks are reading The Almanack all the way down in Maryland.