Digging for Treasure: A Guide to Finding Valuable Victorian Rubbish Dumps

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Xlibris Corporation, 2012 - Antiques & Collectibles - 84 pages

Digging for Treasure could possibly have been titled "Memoirs of a Dump Digger," as although it is a practical book packed with know-how gained by the author over a number of years, all the information passed on through the book is from the author's own real-life experiences.

Digging into Victorian and Edwardian rubbish dumps may seem a crazy way to earn a living, but many thousands of people in Britain alone have been involved in such a hobby part-time since the 1970s. It all started in the U.S.A. in the 1950s when old frontier towns were searched for their throwaway bottles. The patent quack medicine bottles of the 19th century proved a fascinating subject of research. Dump- digging soon spread to Canada and the U.K. and is also particularly strong in Australia.

The finds in old refuse are not just bottles. In a century when local chemists made their own toothpaste in the back of the shop, it was sold in small ceramic pots with lids which had printed advertising on them under the glaze. Chemists could design their own advertising lids and the individuality and naivety of these is part of their charm. This was a time before the invention of the squeezable tube which we use today for toothpaste, creams and ointments. Ointments claiming to cure a wide variety of illnesses were sold in these pots, something which is illegal today. Ointments can alleviate or soothe problems, but they cannot claim to cure!

In Digging for Treasure the author points out that once a dump has been emptied of its finds by hordes of collector-diggers, they have to constantly be searching for other sites. This has become a problem today as gradually more and more old rubbish dumps disappear under the building of trading estates, car parks and housing estates. Whilst this is admittedly true, the author believes there are still some town dumps yet to be found, although fast disappearing. Also he advocates the re-digging of sites which were inefficiently dug by zealous collectors the first time around.

Victorian refuse dumps yield a wide variety of glass bottles, printed stoneware and ceramic pots and advertising lids, clay pipes with decorated bowls, china dolls' heads, brown salt-glazed stoneware bottles and jars. Some of the rarer bottles and pot-lids are now selling for several hundreds of pounds and the very rare up to 5,000. As sites become even more difficult to find, this trend for higher prices must continue.

The author points the way to the future in what he describes as the "forgotten dumps." In the book he describes the research he has done on the collection of refuse in the U.K. which is a subject most of us pay scant attention to. Many would believe that there has always been a collection of our waste, but this is not so. In many towns and villages, the collection of household waste was not organised until after 1900. The smaller the village, the later was collection introduced. Although in London and a few other large cities, refuse collection began from about the 1880s, some small villages did not have this facility until about 1920. As town dumps gradually disappear under buildings, the author points the way forward for dump-diggers of the future what he calls the forgotten dumps and he claims there are tens of thousands of them to be found.

The hobby of bottle-collecting also covers the collecting of pot-lids and other finds and in all English-speaking countries there are clubs, magazines and auctions to cater for collectors. Online auctions on e-bay for antique bottles and pot-lids receive bids from all over the world. Bottles and pot-lids are big business and for anyone wishing to dig up their own antiques, this book is indispensable.


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