One man’s junk is another man’s treasure.
For Dean Steffen, 50 years of searching and collecting discarded bottles and flasks has turned into a lifetime of stories.
Steffen’s collection of old, distinctive bottles and flasks ia on display, until the end of September, at the Mitchell County Historical Museum, located in the Cedar River Complex, Osage.
Steffen, who lives in the Orchard area, began collecting in 1965 and has acquired over 200 items.
“I have collected the bottles out of old dump sites and found others at shows and sales,” Steffen said. “The bottles and flasks on display at the museum are dated from 1680 to 1930.”
One of Steffen’s rarer bottles is an English Codd Bottle manufactured in England around 1880. The clear glass bottle, which was designed to hold soda, has a marble located in its neck and a rubber seal at the very top.
“When you put soda in the bottle, the soda produces pressure and forces the marble against the seal so the gas can’t release,” Steffen said. “Then when you are ready to drink from the bottle, the marble is pushed down the throat and will catch in two glass indentations so the soda can flow and be drank.”
The oldest bottle on display is a dark, olive green Dutch Onion container. “If you see any pirate shows on television or at the movies, you will see someone drinking from one of these,” Steffen said. “These bottles were made so when on ships they wouldn’t turn over.”
Many of Steffen’s flasks and bottles are colored and have embossed images on them. An 1830 brown Gin bottle clearly holds the image of an old Dutchman holding his walking stick. A sky blue Cathedral Masters Ink bottle is also on display. The large, blue bottle was originally used to fill smaller ink bottles.
Old bitter bottles and medicine bottles, which still display their original labels, provide some amazing promise of cures.
Among Steffen’s collection is The Great Doctor Gilomer’s Swamp Root Kidney and Liver Cure, Dr. Mill’s Heart Cure, Dr. Warren’s Sure Kidney and Liver Cure and Hunt’s Lightning, which was advertised to be good for bruises and rheumatism. Many of the proclaimed cures contained 100-proof alcohol. “If you took a sip, then another sip, over time you probably would get to feeling better,” Steffen said.
Among his collection is also a glass baby bottle that allowed an infant to suck milk through a rubber tube. The 1880 bottle had a rubber cork and a nipple on the end of the tube. “Unfortunately a lot of babies died because they failed to clean the rubber tube,” Steffen said.
Along with the bottles, Steffen also has several commemorative flasks on display. There is a flask commemorating the Gold Rush and another commemorating the founding of our country.