Soda Bottle Collecting

I have a dirty little secret. Very dirty and very secret. It has been going on since I was about 10 years old. As a child growing up in what was once the farming area Dranesville (now Great Falls, VA), my buddies and I would go to old farm dump sites and dig for hidden treasures. What could possibly be better than rummaging through 60-year-old trash, finding all sorts of curious and unidentifiable tractor parts, old leather shoes, and used cans of Spam. Without a doubt, I would end up going to the medical center for a tetanus shot as a result of some piercing metal object. Man, do I miss doing that stuff.

The result was my interest in soda bottle collecting. Specifically, I collect painted label, or ACL (applied color label) soda bottles. A lot of them date from the 40’s through the 70’s, back in the day when you would get a refund for the bottle, and it was used over and over again. The ACL was a technique that allowed for multiple cleanings and case wear.


I like the period look the bottle labels and shapes that were created, all in an effort to invoke a response from the consumer. I like the weird marketing they were trying to create. It takes on a very Mad Men sort of feeling. It’s just cool to me.

I have been buying additional bottles on eBay in recent years. While I have enjoyed this to a point, it really is not the same as digging for them yourself. Half the fun of collecting the bottles is the stories and scrapes and bruises that go along with the collection. A collection is not about what you own, but rather about the experience of acquiring, sort of like the process of collecting fine furniture. I think a lot of people come back because of the positive, engaging experience they have with us. Well, I would like to think that, but it probably has more to do with the fine furniture part.

One of my favorite bottles, and the one I paid the most for, is a 1939 7-Up bottle. It is brown, squat, and the product claimed it had medicinal values. It is very cool, and one of the earliest ACL’s known to exist. It is simply glorious, well, to a nerd like me anyway. Memories of Bucks Country Store in Great Falls, collecting discarded bottles off the side of the road for refund (and subsequently candy), hiking through the woods on some strange adventure in search of something old, something nostalgic, are all a part of me, and my bottle collection is merely an extension of that memory.


I have decided that I want to spend the time to go treasure hunting on my own. I have been doing some other research, and there have been a lot of talks and YouTube videos on privy digging, you know, like digging up old outhouse locations. Lots of bottles found their way to the bottom of those holes, nestled in a soft blanket of ……well….. Like I said, I have a very dirty secret.


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