2010-11-02

The Magazine Magazine: Old Bottle Magazine

Magazine, n. 
     A place where goods or supplies are stored.
     A periodical containing miscellaneous pieces (as articles, stories, poems), and often illustrated.

Magazine Magazine, n.
     A ridiculously huge collection of old periodicals, and often hilarious.

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Thirty years ago this month, this was the cover for Old Bottle Magazine, a publication for old bottle aficionados  the world over. Apparently the old advertising saw that sex sells is a recipe for success, even when what you are selling is old bottles.


Actually, the magazine is fascinating. That's why I pick up old publications like these when I run across them in antique stores and elsewhere. And that is also why I've decided to start sharing the fruits of my labors with you from time to time in a new semi-regular theme I'm calling simply "The Magazine Magazine." Or, not so simply, as befits this blog. In any case, I'd like to kick off this new feature with a promise: if you find the notion of Old Bottle Magazine unusual, you are in for a treat in coming months. This is the tame stuff.

As I was saying, though, I do sincerely love reading over these old magazines. As a social scientist, these artifacts not only provide data about a past era (and a past society) that is no longer directly observable, but most of them, as you will see, are organized around distinct subcultures. And what intriguing subcultures they are, in many cases.

Let's crack open the November 1970 issue of Old Bottle Magazine and have ourselves a taste, shall we? 

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To begin with, consider the name of this periodical. I think a better name could not be found. To be sure, there is competition in the antique bottle collector's trade publication sector. There is Antique Bottle Collector, Antique Bottle and Glass Collector, the oh-so stuffy British Bottle Review and just plain Bottle Magazine. All of which have monikers that are clearly inferior in their poetic qualities to Old Bottle Magazine. Bottles? Nay! Give me old bottles. And although my antique-dealer parents may disown me for saying it, "antique" is just a pretentious way of saying "old." Thus, Old Bottle Magazine really does sum it up. 

Lest you think that Old Bottle Magazine fails to deliver on its promise of being a magazine of old bottles in both senses of the word, let me put your fears to rest. It is 40 plus pages of old bottles every month! And not just bottles. Corks! Bottle brushes! Bottle openers! These there are in abundance as well. 

There is an article on bottle hunting, several histories of special and rare types of bottles, and a guest column on the story of barbed wire. And the ads are fantastic. I especially love the one below for a mysterious bottle cutter. The accompanying images alone has given me a dozen new craft ideas. Regular readers will recall that I take special pleasure in repurposing old junk.  Now if I could just figure out what their secret method is for cutting old bottles.


As one who spends as much time digging through old documents and antiques as your average historian or archaeologist, I find one of the most interesting aspect of changing technology is the question of what "makes the jump" and what does not. A few years ago, I found a box of old 7.5 in/s reel-to-reel tapes in my grandmother's garage. These were clearly a dead technology, but I was intrigued by what might be on them so, at great cost, I had their contents transferred to compact disc, which I later ripped to a digital format (I won't invite, or ignite, a technical debate by stating which one...). I was amazed to find, among other things, a number of recordings of live Polka bands recorded in the Chicago area in the 1940s or 50s. It is quite possible that, without my intervention, these particular recordings might have become lost to present generations. 

There is an example of such a transition in this issue as well. The book Truly American by Lynn Blumenstein is advertised as an "outhouse book guaranteed to stir a chuckle." I'm not actually sure from the accompanying text whether we are to interpret that to mean that it is a humorous book about outhouses, or that it is a book intended for use in or around outhouses. Thank goodness, we need not speculate for long, because this book is still available from several online booksellers. Not bad for a book that received only one printing prior to the internet era, though it looks like the Google Books monster may have nibbled it as well. 

But I digress. The Letters to the Editor section contains a letter that would warm Robert Putnam's heart. He's the sociologist who authored Bowling Alone: The Collapse and Revival of American Community, in which he describes the decline of  civil society organizations, including the archetypal American social group - the bowling league. In one letter to the editor, the writer proudly proclaims that his local bottle club had 88 members in attendance at its second meeting! Not to knock what might be a great time, but it would seem that November in Pennsylvania was fairly uneventful in the 1970s. 

The classified ads are a must-read for any poet. Just let the following syllables roll off your tongue:
Wilson's Cherry Balsam, Kendall's Spavin Cure, Woodbury's Horse Liniment, Bankenheym and Nolet, Burdock Blood Bitters, Amber Lightening, Case Gins, Walkers Vinegar Bitters, McDonald New Perfect Seal Blue, Samco Genuine, Atlas Strong Shoulder, Laxol rare and beautiful Turquoise, Skodos Nova Scotia Discovery Sarsaparilla, Ribbed Aqua Peppersauce
I could literally go on for pages, but I'll leave you wanting more. And more there is - eight pages! Another ad contains an especially tantalizing proposition for one like me - the prospect that someone, somewhere has a complete set of vintage Old Bottle Magazine issues, in mint condition, thanks to the custom binders that allow a person to "keep all your issues of OLD BOTTLE MAGAZINE together and in perfect condition for easy reference!" 

The crowning jewel is provided by cartoonist Paul Swan, aka "Bottles Bagwell" who livens up the issue with a number of humorous cartoons about...what else?


As I have often found in life, an open-minded and genuine spirit of curiosity about the world can transform cynicism into sincere admiration. Such a shift beautifully captures my feelings about this and many of the other eclectic magazines that I have acquired over the years. Often purchased on a whim, or for humorous effect, a more serious reading reveals that these publications were lovingly crafted by devoted fans of a subject about which I knew nothing. And in the end, one cannot help but get caught up in their enthusiasm for the subject. In this case, that's old bottles.

And so, to bring to a close this inaugural edition of the Magazine Magazine column, here is my new system for rating the old magazine issues that I will be reviewing in the coming months. Having devoted considerable thought to the proper metric, here is my system. For periodicals which clearly communicate the unique joie de vivre of their subject matter, I will award them with five of whatever they would love most. For those that are just plain terrible, but one. And middling entries, two, three, or four. 

Thus, as a result of my surprising, new appreciation of old bottles, I am proud to bestow the highest honor on this first entry in the Magazine Magazine feature. To Old Bottle Magazine, November 1970, I award five old bottles

Don't spend them all in one place.

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