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Collector's fair in Auburn on Friday and Saturday

Glass from the past

Bottle collectors to show their stuff
By: Gus Thomson, Journal Staff Writer
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Auburn’s Herb Yue is sharing his love for collecting bottles at this Saturday’s 49er Historical Bottle and Antique Show. Yue said he feels lucky to have been able to take part in digs in Old Town Auburn as far back as the 1960s and 1970s and has held on to many of those early finds. Over the years, he has concentrated on soda bottles but has unearthed all kinds of glassware during digs in his hometown of Auburn or surrounding areas. Yue will be showing about 30 “Lady’s Leg” bottles – so named because of the calf-like molding of the grip handle at the top – as part of a show at the Gold Country Fairgrounds in Auburn on Friday and Saturday. Living in a Gold Rush community and with family roots in the area that stretch back to the mid-19th century, Yue said that Old Town Auburn and its environs once stored a rich cache of bottles below the surface. But that buried treasure is pretty well dug out – particularly where outhouses and waste disposal areas are concerned, he said. “But every once in a while, you get lucky,” Yue said. “Something will open up.” In fact, the next big underground find in Auburn may have nothing to do with discovering gold and everything to do with finding Gold Rush trash. While trash dumps from the late 1900s and afterward have been identified and are either on state land or already sifted through, the main garbage dump for Auburn between the Gold Rush days of the 1840s and the 1870s has never been found, he said. Yue said that it wouldn’t take much to find the site. Tin cans and broken bottles resting near the surface would be a good clue. A long-metal probe into ground soaked soft by winter rains would determine if hardpan or a treasure trove of historical artifacts is below the surface, he said. And then the digging would begin. Yue said that he’s dug deep to find bottles – particularly at former outhouse sites where digging in decomposed remains 10 or 12 feet down can yield underground treasures. The privy locations are a favorite with bottle collectors. Typically, the outhouse would be located near a house and used for several years. Then it would be filled in, sometimes with garbage, bottles and other fill, before a new hole was dug. “Grandpa would have his bottle of schnapps and then throw it down the hole,” Yue said. Yue said that despite some substantial digging for bottles in Old Town starting in the 1970s, people are still attempting night-time digs in search of Gold Rush treasure. He’s had to run people off his own property in Old Town and an uncle once fell into a hole dug at night. “I was lucky to get in during the late 1960s and early 1970s and amassed quite a collection,” he said. “Today, it’s tough to find places and purchasing some bottles can be cost-prohibitive.” Yue’s fantasy bottle has long been a cobalt-blue “lady’s leg,” which originally likely held bitters. He never found one on a dig but received a flier one day from an auction house advertising an example of a find he previously thought was never going to turn up. “I bid on it but was way below the selling price,” Yue said. The bottle sold for $11,000. In general, the bottles sell for about $40 to $200 but prices can rise much higher based on scarcity, color, condition and features like rustic bubbles appearing in the glass, Yue said. Yue’s “lady’s leg” bottles will be the featured display at the Saturday show. It lasts from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. and admission is free. Dealers will set up starting at 2 p.m. Friday for early lookers. Admission for the early-bird viewing is $10. Show manager Steve Abbott said the annual event has evolved into the largest of its kind west of the Mississippi, with 147 tables of merchandise from dealers as far east as Pennsylvania, Tennessee and Ohio. As well as Yue’s Lady’s Leg bottle collection, there will be displays of California beer splits (beer bottles under a pint), California drug store objects, bottles collected in Eldorado and a collection of English transfer china. Newcastle’s Margie Williams, an authority on transfer china, will be displaying some of her prized pieces. As well as bottles, the show also features insulators, marbles, paper objects, crockery, photographs, advertising and other small antiques. The show contributes parts of its proceeds to local non-profits, with the Gold Country Fairgrounds, Auburn Fire Department Restoration Project and Sacramento Children’s Receiving Home among the past beneficiaries. Yue said there will be plenty of bottles to look at or purchase. He’s also interested in talking with people who might suspect they have some diggable earth in their back yards. The former co-owner of the now-closed Shanghai Bar and Restaurant in Old Town said he’s found bottles dating back to Auburn’s earliest days. And who knows what the next hole will yield? Perhaps a second cobalt-blue “lady’s leg” bottle? “I’m always willing to throw some dirt around,” Yue said. The Journal’s Gus Thomson can be reached at gust@goldcountrymedia.com. ----------------------- 49er Historical Bottle and Antique Show When: 2 p.m. to 7 p.m. Friday and 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday Where: Gold Country Fairgrounds, Auburn Admission: $10 Friday. Free on Saturday