I am about to post a long story about diving for bottles. Fair warning if you've never seen my stories. They are long and rambling and wander off into seeing fish and the like. I will include some drawings and pictures. Also, this is going to take me awhile to get everything loaded up.
Another little warning, rarely do I see the bottles that I find. So, I will often guess what a bottle is before I see it. Then I compare what I thought it was to what it actually is. It is one of the things I enjoy most.
So, here I go ....
In October of 2014, my scuba buddy Tom and I decided to dive one more time before hanging up our gear for the season. We typically dive two tanks on a trip. On our previous outing, I found no bottles. In fact, I touched no glass at all. Not a Corona or a Budweiser that some idiot tossed in a week earlier. Zip. Zero. Nada. Nothing.
So, I was looking forward to better luck. On our first tank we chose to go in a weedy area. I did not put my hands on any glass again. This was now officially a slump. I did, however, see a medium sized largemouth bass. Since I wasn't finding anything, I decided to mess with him. He seemed to be holding his ground and watching me. I tried to see how close I could come to touching him before he swam off. As my hand approached, he didn't back away. I got closer and closer until I was an inch from touching his nose. He wasn't backing down. I decided that it wasn't doing the fish any good if I touched it, so I respectfully pulled my arm back and swam a wide arc around him. He was having none of it. As I was leaving, he closed in on my leg and tapped my thigh. It didn’t hurt it was just a little bump. I thought that was pretty funny. He showed me who was touching who.
So, after my third consecutive skunked tank, we met back at the boat to discuss our last dive. Tom wanted a nearby shoreline that we dove dozens and dozens of times. I thought that it was too picked over and I didn’t much want to go there. I suggested another section of shoreline where we had found a lot of bottles. Tom didn’t much like that idea. Then, almost simultaneously, we thought of a tiny sliver of a section we hadn’t worked much. It was worth a try. We moved over, anchored the boat, geared up, and sank down. As I descended into a soft muddy bottom, I bumped something hard. I reached down to find a little green crown (like a 7 UP). It was nothing good, nothing that I wanted, but at least I had a feeling that my luck was about to change. I was touching glass again.
As I started off away from the boat, I saw a musky swimming towards me. He was thin, maybe twenty four to thirty inches long shaped like a missile and a little bleached from the scant light at the bottom. When I see a musky, I almost always stop to watch them because they are beautiful and graceful and I rarely see them. Before long, I was back to searching. A short distance from the boat, I could see something sticking out of the bottom. It looked like a small suitcase. There was a bottle leaning up against it as if it had been set there. The bottle was a quart milk and I could make out the embossing. It was not a rare bottle but at least it was something.
I picked up the milk and then the large tackle box. My hands were full, so I took my surface line up. There is a float above me that allows me to store items that I find. It has a dive flag showing to alert boaters that a diver is below. Inside, I have a plastic bin with dividers to store bottles without them damaging each other. I carefully placed the milk in one of the slots and then began to stow the tackle box. It was waterlogged and heavier than I thought as I pulled it out. I flung it up on top of my float. It landed heavily and unevenly on the edge and flipped the whole thing over. My flag was pointing at the bottom underwater and the milk bottle fell out and sank. Lost it. I didn’t lose the tackle box because the handle was still in my hand. I flipped the float upright and attempted to balance the tackle box on top. It wasn’t working very well. I looked back over at my boat and realized it was only fifteen or twenty feet away. I decided my life would be easier without lugging that thing around. I swam towards the boat and then flung the box over the side.
Next, I set a mental heading to recover the milk bottle sinking right next to the boat. Just a few feet away, I grabbed a bottle by the bottom. I was looking for a milk bottle. I had a milk bottle on my mind but this bottle was pint in size. The bottle I lost was a quart. As I slid my hand upward (still not having seen it), I felt an external wire stopper. Really really weird. Milks typically were sealed by a paper or cardstock disk that sat on a little ridge inside the mouth. Part of the paper lifted up to remove the seal (something like what an ice cream cup might have). Even the earliest milks didn’t have an outside wire stopper. I looked at it. As soon as I saw some of the side of the bottle, I recognized that it was stoneware. It was a clay bottle. That made sense in terms of that outside wire closure. I should have known it. I spun it around to look for the stamping (or debossing) of the company name. The bottle read GRISBAUM & KEHREIN. I recognized it as an 1880s brewery bottle from Milwaukee. A very nice bottle! I don’t find them very often. In hundreds upon hundreds of tanks, I had less than a half dozen total with years and years between finding each.
This particular brand is not super rare by clay beer standards. In fact, it may be one of the more common examples. But then again, any clay is hard to find and they are old and crude. I was excited. I spent the rest of the tank searching for more. I found some other bottles but oddly, not the milk that I had lost early on. I thought that dive was a great way to end the season. I dropped off my boat at my parent’s lake house to winterize it and to store it for the following spring.
The next weekend, around Halloween, it was in the 70s degree-wise. Tom called me and said that we have to go again. “How often to you find clays?,” he argued. I told him that I had parked the boat for the year. He said that I should go get it. So, I did.
We returned to the same general area. Since I had spent almost the entire tank searching after I had found the clay, I shifted my search a bit. I began scouring in a zig-zagging pattern. Once again, I found a bottle by the bottom. This time, in my mind’s eye, my initial impression was that it was a quart crown beer. As I was felling up the side of the bottle where the neck was, it ended abruptly. So, maybe is was a broken crown bottle. I felt the highest point on the neck to see if it was jagged or sharp. It wasn't. As I pondered the shape, it suddenly occurred to me that this was very similar to an oddball bottle style used in the 1870s called a spiral spring stopper. That seemed very unlikely. The bottle is almost never seen. Still, that's what it felt like.
The spiral spring was a clever invention designed early on to make soda water bottles seal well to preserve the contents and cabonization. Amazingly, this pre-htchinson style of closure was resealable. The spring could be depressed with a finger to open the bottle. However, when you took your finger off, the spring would automatically reclose it. The bottle had a large bulb-like blob that contained the sprialing spring inside. One reason that this bottle style didn't catch on is that to drink the contents, your finger had to continuously press the sping down. So, it you put the rim to your mouth, your finger was up against your face.
I decided to take a look at the bottle. In an instant, I saw a yellowish clay body. Man am I dumb! That made perfect sense. It was a stoneware beer bottle. You'd think I would have realized after I had just found one the week before. This bottle was made by the HENRY SCHINZ company out of Milwaukee, Wis. It is not one of the relatively rare examples, either, but any clay beer is hard to find. After that day, we hung up our gear. The water gets pretty cold in November. The bottles would wait until the next year.