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Manatee antique bottle buffs really dig their collection

ELLENTON

Bottles were neatly aligned everywhere around the Bill and Linda Buttstead household.

Bottles from four centuries ago called Dutch Onions, because they’re shaped like them.

Bottles bearing names of bygone pharmacies -- Miller’s Prescription Druggist, Braidentown, Fla. -- as well as dairies -- Premier Dairy, Ellenton, Ph: 34-903.

There was even a bottle once belonging to Robert Clive, a British soldier-statesman who helped annex India into the British Empire in the 1700s.

The bottles were in displays with backlighting behind sliding glass.

They lined shelves around the handsome kitchen.

There were more bottles, all handmade, than anyone can count.

That includes the Buttsteads, who’ve been collecting unique bottles for nearly 40 years, almost as long as they’ve been married.

To think it began when she was intrigued by an ink bottle in an antique store.

“His sister was collecting paperweights -- and look where it’s gotten us,” said Linda Buttstead, 64.

They’ll show some of their fascinating collection Friday and Saturday along with more than 150 collectors when the Suncoast Antique Bottle Collectors host the 43rd annual Antique Bottle and Tabletop Collectible Show & Sale at the Manatee Convention and Civic Center.

The Buttsteads, who moved here from East Hartford, Conn., in 1969, will keep their eyes out for interesting bottles.

Especially ones made for Manatee County pharmacies or dairies that are long gone.

“You learn more about the history of your area with a bottle,” said Bill Buttstead, 66.

They did, indeed, and in the most unusual ways.

Besides scouting antique shows or shopping online -- that’s how they got Clive’s bottle -- the Buttsteads literally dug up part of their collection.

Like the time they buried an elderly neighbor’s deceased feline.

“The cat got buried -- and we found some old bottles,” Linda Buttstead said.

“Back in the old days,” her husband said, “people had house dumps in behind their houses. There was no such thing as garbage pickup. So they’d dig a hole, fill it in, empty bottles included, and dig another.”

It also helps to know someone with a backhoe and a mutual interest.

“He was laying pipeline or something, and he found a trash dump with all kinds of old bottles from the late 1880s, early 1900s,” Bill Buttstead said. “He was a club member, so he called us.”

Not all the bottles in their collection were for dispensing various forms of firewater.

Some contained poison.

Unlike so many of the other bottles with smooth surfaces, these were made with bumps and ridges to distinguish them.

“That’s so if you went to reach for your medicine at night you knew not to grab that,” Linda Buttstead said.

Vin Mannix, local columnist, can be reached at 941-745-7055.

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