Vintage Vignette - Feb/March 2018
- story and photos by Grace Wilson
“Life is an empty bottle filled with love.” Santosh Kalwar
After Christmas, we hosted an impromptu dinner party to make a dent in the leftovers. I was over turkey, dressing and holiday decor.
The night before as we were planning the menu, I was flipping through a vintage coffee table book. “Simple Decor,” picked up at one of the shops of Old Town, offered lots of inspiration, and in the “Glass” chapter I found the perfect solution for a tablescape.
It recommended finding about a dozen vintage bottles, all different shapes and sizes, and putting candles in them to make a unique, beautiful centerpiece for the table.
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.
“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.”
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.”