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With a little pre-planning, proper precautions and permission, bottle collectors can find treasure beneath modern-day feet. It’s called “privy digging” and it involves figuring out the locations of privies of the 18th and 19th century. Why privies? They could be filled with treasure.

Before city sewer systems, there city privies. Nearly all were pits lined with stone, brick, wood boards or a bottomless barrel. Urban privy owners used professional “soil men” to cart away the waste at least once a year, usually in the dead of night.

Fast-forward to today. The privy waste has deteriorated into dirt. The pits are filled with life’s leftovers, including old bottles (taking a nip of liquor while in the privy?), marbles, coins and even collectibles such as jewelry that were accidentally dropped in the depths.

So how does one become a privy digger and find these long-ago collectibles? Follow a few rules, according to Terry Kovel:

1.    Do your research and look at old maps. Locate the logical spots for the old city privies.

2.    Go out and see the spot. Many times, it is now an open field.

3.    Find out who owns the land and get permission.

4.    Look for areas where the soil might be a different color. Does it coincide with old maps that indicate a privy location?

5.    Dig in groups. Never do it alone in case there are collapsing walls or other dangers.

Good luck and enjoy your privy digging!

And don't forget -- Terry Kovel will be guest speaker at the Federation of Historical Bottle Collectors (FOHBC) 2018 National Antique Bottle Convention & Expo. It's in Cleveland the weekend of August 2 through 5. The annual convention is the largest (and most exciting!) antique bottle and glass event of the year. The convention will take place at Cleveland’s downtown Huntington Convention Center and the nearby Marriott Key Center Hotel. For information about the event, visit the Federation of Historical Bottle Collectors website, fohbc.org. And if you are attending the convention or some of the events, be sure to stop and say hello to Terry!





#4 MrsEllinore 2018-08-02 16:13
We found a bottle from early 1920’s with the pharmacy label, when we cleaned the ash bin at the bottom of the chimney to our fireplace. (It was in the basement.) The house was built in the1920’s. We also found part of a whiskey still in the attic..
#3 RE: Finding Treasures: ‘Privy Digging’ is not-so-secret Trick of the TradeDZY 2018-07-31 14:22
My cousin threw my favorite pair of high heels , I used for dress up play down ours. I would love to see those heels again. On second thought,maybe not.
#2 Privy Diggingtopaz342 2018-07-26 02:11
I you're looking for privy's one very good source are Sanborn Fire Insurance Maps. Many university map collection will have these maps that show towns on a building by building level of detail including privy's. Good sources of information.
#1 privy bottlespowerbus 2018-07-25 19:01
The role of bottles in the privy was more than just sneaking a nip. They in fact served to provide pockets of air for the aerobic bacteria needed to break down and liquify solid waste. Handfuls of hay, grass, and even corn cobs helped the air circulation, but a bottle would not compress under heavy use. With the right balance, there was no need for off hauling of waste because there was no solid build-up.

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