It was the junk that others discard — Coca-Cola bottles older than the collectors, Mason jars found in junk piles and even milk bottles of all shapes and sizes once delivered and left out on doorsteps — that interested people like Paul Irby.
“Most of this stuff was meant to be recycled, not collected,” said Irby, of Flowery Branch. “We’re basically collecting trash. But beauty is in the eye of the beholder.”
Beauty such as the variety and style of Coca-Cola bottles on display. A different shape and size from each individual bottler in the early days of the soda company shows just how far glass technology has come.
In earlier days, Irby and other collectors at Saturday’s show saved bottles they found on roadsides to turn in for the nickel they received for recycling. And they kept the ones they thought were special, said Jasper resident Steve Pitts and Chattanooga resident Randy Bonner.
“Most of the time, those bottles I found on the side of the road were washed and re-used over and over again by the bottlers. Then they were destroyed when they couldn’t be used again,” said Bonner. “These days they use plastic, which is porous and changes the flavor of the soda.”
But, Irby chimed in, “you can’t buy a 6-pack of glass-bottle Coca-Cola for under $4, where you can buy a 6-pack in cans for $1.99.”
They both agreed that they weren’t into bottle collecting for the money.
“We’re not going to get rich off of what we do,” said Irby. “But we can pay for our hobby.”
Most of all, they like to collect bottles for the nostalgic feeling they get from finding a new-to-them, rare bottle or jar in a trash pile or on the side of the road.
“This is American history we have on display,” Bonner said. “We can literally see the evolution of the bottles we use every day right in front of us, and no one ever thinks about it because we just throw everything away. That’s good for us, because it gives us something to find. It’s like a treasure hunt.”
The annual bottle show wrapped up Saturday but will be back again next February.