Monday, March 14, 2011

Historical Long Island bottles in the collections of George William Fisher

Photo by Ewa Rumprecht
George William Fisher - bird watcher, poet, historian, civil servant, volunteer, photographer, collector, music lover. The list is hardly complete, George is quite a Renaissance man. We have already written about George's involvement in the Nassau County Photo Archives. In this article we will concentrate on his activities revolving around collecting and cataloging historical Long Island bottles.

Throughout the years George built two distinct collections: one of Long Island medicine bottles dated c. 1830-1920 and another of Long Island beverage bottles dated 1840-1970.

George first started collecting Long Island bottles of any kind, but was always drawn to Art Deco soda bottles. Then his interests expanded to earlier years. Through trades, purchases (eBay opened new horizons for bottle collectors), or donations George managed to enlarge his collection and to focus it on the two areas listed above.

George's medicine bottle collection is a completely unique undertaking. It is worth mentioning here that George collects embossed medicine bottles as opposed to generic medicine bottles where only a (paper) label distinguished a product of one pharmacy from another. Of the 175 known Long Island medicine bottles roughly 80% are in George's possession, including nearly all known pontil bottles. George published a book 'Long Island Medicine Bottles: Patent Medicines, Bitters, Sarsaparillas, Hair Products & Citrates' on the subject.

Photo by George Fisher
George's beverage bottle collection is remarkable for its breadth. Most collectors were originally not interested in bottles past 1900. Since George started with Art Deco bottles he covered later years and then expanded the collection to include bottles from 1840 - 1970. The beverage collection contains about 1,000 objects which he successively donates to the Nassau County Museum Division. About half of his collection is now under the county's care.

George is not only a collector, he is also involved in the cataloging and dissemination of knowledge in the area. Together with Donald H. Weinhardt he is an author of the authoritative compendium 'A Historical Guide to Long Island: Soda, Beer & Mineral Water Bottles & Bottling Companies 1840-1970'. The 4th Edition of the guide was just released in an electronic version. With its 800 pages and 500 photographs it is a true font of information.

Tracing of bottles and their history frequently feels like a detective work, one has to ferret information in various historical sources. George cross references advertisements, newspaper articles, business directories and documents to narrow down the operating dates of the 806 geographic Long Island (including current Brooklyn and Queens) bottling companies which marketed nearly 3,000 various beverage bottles, and over the years employed thousand of Long Islanders. His goal is to collect bottles from all 130 or so Long Island communities as almost each one had at least one bottling facility. In addition, many large hotels bottled soda, beer, and mineral water for their guests to take on the road or to pack into a picnic basket.

The beverage collection reflects changes in tastes and technological advancements from first crude, low production hand blown pontiled bottles and bottles made in snap molds to standardized bottles mass produced using the Automatic Bottle Machine. The transformation of bottling was marked by changes to the shape of bottles, method of glass production, color and chemical contents of glass, type of enclosure, and marketing approach.

Let us present some of the bottles from George's collection. Please see the excerpts from 'A Historical Guide to Long Island: Soda, Beer & Mineral Water Bottles & Bottling Companies 1840-1970' with the catalog descriptions of the first two bottles listed below.

A beautiful Deer Park L.I. pontil bottle.

There are 17 recorded remaining bottles.
Did not appear in auctions in over 10 years.

Photo by George Fisher
L.S. Sammis, Hempstead L.I..

Scarce as teal color was not that frequently used at the times.

Photo by George Fisher
Hutchinson style bottle from L.O. Wilson, Oyster Bay.

Seal was kept wet by storing bottles upside down. Bottle was opened by pushing the top inside.
Outlawed as unhygienic by 1906 Pure Food and Drug Act.

Photo by George Fisher

George is available for lectures and appraisals. Please contact him directly at 516.375.9410 to make arrangements or to purchase any of his publications.


  1. I never thought bottles would be that interesting of a collector item. But those are some pretty neat looking bottles.

  2. Hello,

    I have an 86 y/o friend who's husband's family owned the Warns Beverage Company (and where he worked as a teenager). She recalls a product "Step Up" soda (sp?) and a bottle with steps. I was wondering if you know of any materials that might show a picture of a bottle or some advertising?

    With thanks,