Bottles The Other Treasure of Padre Island

Werner’s Safe Cure

© 2012 Steve Hathcock

Bullion, jewels, coins and artifacts: These words conjure up images of gold doubloons and tankards full of sparkling colored stones. Aye, the lot of them, undoubtedly stolen from blood stained alters dedicated to some insatiable jungle god.

One can almost decipher the complex secrets of a now extinct civilization; Well, I hate to disillusion you, but these are not the treasures found while metal detecting on South Padre Island. No, your chances of unearthing a Spanish galleon are slim, indeed.

But wait! Don’t give up hope. There is still plenty of lesser treasure to be found, if you just know where to look. And believe me when I say, there are those of us who do know where and more importantly; when to look.

We are in the middle of bottle hunting season. The wave action created by the winds of the past month, combined with some rather spectacular high tides, have uncovered otherwise hidden dumps that are waiting for the knowledgeable hunter. Now, before you laugh, let me tell you a bit about collectible bottles.

Bradham’s Drug Medicine Bottle-Inventor of Pepsi Cola

Coca-Cola bottles, those produced before 1910, can be worth hundreds of dollars to collectors. I saw a rather interesting bottle on the internet the other night. The front was embossed, “Coca-

Hutchinson Style Coca Cola Bottle circa 1899

Cola“, while the back read, Fayetteville N.C.The seller is asking $185 for it. Another bottle had been produced in New Orleans, again, right around the turn of the century. The condition of this bottle was superb, no mineral deposits, chips or other blemishes so common with one-hundred-year-old bottles. This one was priced at $255.

Your chances of finding such bottles in this area are quite good.

For years, ships would unload cargo directly into boxcars backed along piers that reached out over the waters of the Laguna Madre. It’s not unreasonable to assume that the crews of those vessels would have brought beverages with them from whatever port they last vacated. It could also be assumed, that once the contents had been consumed, the bottle would hold no value to its owner. A target, such as a piling on an adjoining pier would be chosen and a bit of fun could be had by several shipmates contesting each other’s skills in bottle throwing! In fact, the water around the base of some of the old pilings still relinquish beer, soft drink and bitters bottles from all over the world. One of the many bottles on display at Beachcomber’s Museum reads, “Benjamin’s Jamaican Healing Oil Port Maria Jamaica.” Was the healing oil some magic balm? Perhaps it was conjured up by the high priestess of a group of snake worshippers living above the clouds, in some remote jungle village on that fabled Island?

A better question would be, “Did a man’s aim improve after chugging an 8 ounce bottle of, “Healing Oil?”

In addition, the shape and condition of a bottle are important as well. Unusual colors or figural shapes, such as an ear of corn, a log cabin or an animal, greatly enhance the value of some bottles.

The ferry to the Island was also situated at the end of one of these long wooden trestles and tourists would make the quarter-mile trek, often times carrying a week’s worth of goods to a remote fishing camp situated a few miles north on the broad beaches of Padre Island. Again, it is safe to assume that more than one empty beverage bottle ended up in the cool green waters of the Laguna Madre.

It’s easy to discern the whereabouts of these long forgotten structures if one just takes the time to seek out and study old photos.

Editor’s note: The Port Isabel Public Library has a nice collection of books about the area. Rod Bates is one of the area’s most prolific bottle hunters and collectors can find many local bottles for sale at (his) Rio Bravo Gallery located near the front entrance of the Port Isabel Library. My own books, Behind the Third Dune and Old Indio Last of the Karankawa Indians of Padre Island and other short stories can be found at Rio Bravo Gallery across from the public library in Port Isabel and at Paragraphs on The Blvd. Bookstore on South Padre Island.

Good hunting


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