Old bottles have bridged the gap between collectibles and chic home decor. Check out the offerings in three Old Town antique shops and create some romance of your own.
- story and photos by Grace Wilson
My husband and I had recently read “The Little Book of Hygge: Danish Secrets to Happy Living,” and candlelight is a very important part of the Danish philosophy of comfort, togetherness, and well-being. Usually he doesn’t go for my design ideas (which usually involve hundreds of throw pillows) but his eyes lit up when he saw my idea.
We hopped in the golf cart and zoomed down to Magnolia Antiques (200 Main Street, Bay St. Louis). There were two main displays of bottles, and many treasures sprinkled throughout the store. In front of each bottle display were collectors carefully inspecting beautiful bottles one by one. I was eager to start my own collection, but took a moment to enjoy these passionate collectors rolling the bottles in their hands, reading the print on the bottom and holding them up to the light.
It dawned on me that every old bottle has a story as unique as the shape, feel and color of each one.
“It’s different for all people,” said Glenda Schornick, owner of Magnolia Antiques. “For some people it’s the history of the bottle itself or for causal collectors who display the bottles for decoration, it’s more about the shapes and colors.”
Some collectors are looking for bottles from Bay St. Louis Bottling Works, others are interested in old bottles from New Orleans. Others seek big brand names like Barq’s and Coca-Cola.
Colored bottles can easily bring life to an open shelf or window.
“My brother has three or four shelves in his kitchen windows with different colored miniature bottles on each shelf and it’s the most beautiful thing you’ve ever seen,” Schornick said.
As I got my turn to pick through the shelf, I admired the color spectrum. Even in the clear glass there was a wild variation of cloudy glass, bluish glass, bottles with a rainbow sheen or some with patina inside them.
Since the Bay is near the Gulf, there are bottles with barnacles on them. No telling how many miles these ocean-going bottles had traveled. There are also many bottles underground because people used to bury them to dispose of them.
“We have a guy that I’ve known for years and years that’s a bottle digger. He’s not alone, there are lots of them. He’s always been one of our really good suppliers,” said Schornick.
After picking our favorites from Magnolia Antiques we padded down to the French Potager (213 Main Street) to see what Martha Whitney Butler and her vendors had to offer. She, too, said that most of her most prized bottles came from the dirt.
“Bottles last because they are glass,” Butler said. “Everything else will rust, but glass will never break down.”
The French Potager had a mix of old and new, glass and even clay bottles. In Patti Fullilov’s booth, there were repurposed bottles - a lamp made from a new liquor bottle crying out for a bar and a mini bottle with a shell stopper that would be a finishing touch to any beach decor.
Butler said the most popular were blue bottles for bottle trees.
“I love graduated bottles with the measurements on the side and other medicine bottles,” said Butler. “I want bottles with famous labels on them or obscure labels, like Mr. Whatever Cure-All — I can just imagine the characters that were those peddlers.”
For those name-brand collectors looking for Barq’s and Coca- Cola, Antique Maison (111 North Second Street) may be the best bet. Not only do they have a large booth at the front of the store, but there is a treasure trove of old bottles in the back by seller Curry Beatty.
Luckily, my last-minute idea came to life in just an hour as the antique shops of Bay St. Louis have many interesting bottles in stock.
From casual decor to a big occasion, bottles can make a big impact on decorating.
“My niece got married in New Orleans at the Pharmacy Museum and she went to town on the decor using bottles,” Schornick said.
As I enjoyed the conversation of the dinner guests and the atmosphere of the warm candlelight, I listened to the stories and wondered about the stories of the bottles in front of us.
I was brought back to the moment as a friend beside me asked, “Where did you find all these cool old bottles?”
As Schornick said, smiling, “In a lot of other things, people have a lot of particular taste and desires, but with bottles there’s always one that appeals to someone.”