|By CONNIE SWAIM
AntiqueWeek Managing Editor
GREENTOWN, Ind. — Mike Heckaman poured more than 480 gallons of milk into just one quart bottle. He isn’t a magician, just a dairy farmer who was buying back a bit of his family’s past.
On Sept. 5, Heckaman and his wife, Jan, of Argos, attended their first ever auction of dairy bottles after a relative told them there was a Heckaman bottle in the auction. Prior to the auction the Heckamans did not have a collection of vintage dairy items gracing their walls.
After the auction they appeared to be well on their way to being full-fledged milk bottle collectors.
It cost them $625 to bring this bottle into the family. Mike said he is currently getting about $1.30 per gallon for the milk produced on his 525-head dairy farm made up of Holsteins and Jerseys, which means his cows had to produce about 480 gallons of milk to pay for the bottle. The cows could have had it worse; milk bottle prices are slightly soft right now according to some collectors. Two people at the auction said the Heckaman bottle had topped $1,000 and there had been reports of it selling for as much as $1,400 several years ago.
Mike said the bottle would have belonged to a dairy owned by second cousins of his father. The dairy was located in Nappannee.
The Heckamans did not stop with their purchase of the family bottle. They also purchased several bottles that said “Jersey” to give to their daughter and son-in-law who farm with them, as well as a bottle from the City Dairy, which was once located in Argos.
The Heckaman bottle brought the highest price for a single bottle at a three-day all-dairy-bottle auction conducted by the father-son auction team of Lester and Allan Miller. They were selling the collection of Daryl Beachy, which was made up mostly of bottles from Indiana dairies.
Another high-priced bottle at the auction also went to a couple who had family connections with the name on the piece. A pint, embossed, Boltes bottle from Seymour, Ind., sold for $525 and the woman carefully cradling the bottle on her way out the door said the bottle had been part of her husband’s family’s dairy.
While there were certainly others in the auction crowd who had ties to some of the dairies listed on the hundreds of bottles offered, the majority of bidders were bottle collectors hoping to fill holes in their collections. Most of the people in the crowd knew each other and most rivalries appeared friendly. One man who was in line to pay at the end of the auction said he had brought $3,000 in cash thinking that would be more than enough. His bill turned out to be more than that and he went to a fellow collector who loaned him the amount needed to pay off his bill.
Before you run out to the barn to grab an old milk bottle with dollar signs gleaming in your eyes, many of the bottles in the collection sold for less than $20. For example, a quart, embossed bottle from the Linder Bros. Dairy in Indianapolis sold for $5, while a pint-sized bottle from the Bedford Dairy of Bedford sold for $10. Price is often determined by the rarity of the bottle.
The first milk bottle patent was granted in the 1880s, according to Kovels’ Bottle Price List, 12th edition, by Ralph and Terry Kovel (2002 Crown Publishers). Round bottles were popular until the mid 1930s. Starting in the 1940s, square bottles became the preferred shape according to the Kovels. In the 1930s an enameled lettering referred to as pyroglazing was used on the bottles, before that names were embossed on the bottle. Glass bottles began to be replaced by cartons in the 1960s.
While the Heckaman bottle was the star of the bottles, two dairy-related items brought higher prices at the auction. A set of five Med-O-Bloom baby bottles in their original box took the highest bid at the auction reaching $750, while a Med-O-Bloom Dairy Products neon on porcelain sign, made by Kolux, sold for $650. Med-O-Bloom was located in Kokomo and was a brand popular with bidders. A Med-O-Bloom Dairy Milk lighted sign sold for $325, while a quart, pyroglazed bottle from the dairy sold for $100.
Bottles with interesting place names were the cream of the crop for many buyers. A half-pint embossed bottle from the Culver Military Academy, Culver, Ind., sold for $330, while one from the Soldiers & Sailors Children’s Home, Knightstown, Ind., sold for $130. A half-pint, embossed bottle from the Turkey Run Dairy of Marshall, Ind., made $190, while a one-third-quart pyroglazed bottle reading French Lick Springs Hotel Co., French Lick, Ind., sold for $110.
For more information on the auction contact Lester Miller, 765-395-7556, www.lesterauction.com
Published in the September 14, 2005 issue of Farm World.