Collections featured at county museum

Unless you’re recycling or returning beverage containers for deposit, such items are often deemed disposable — even those made of glass.

But for David Cole of Bangs, one man’s trash is another man’s treasure. One aspect of the history of many communities can be traced through the bottles its drugstores, dairies and other businesses used to market their products.

Cole has assembled an impressive collection of historic bottles — many of them originating in the Brownwood area — and a representative group is on temporary display at the Brown County Museum of History Annex. The museum is open on Fridays and Saturdays.

“It’s been a 50-year endeavor,” Cole said as he described the various types of bottles lined up inside a glass showcase. “It’s a fun hobby.”

The oldest bottles date back to the 1870s, when “blob top” glass bottles with cork stoppers were common. The Hutchinson bottle, which was made with a wire stuck into a cork, was invented in 1879. It was used until the federal government banned the device around 1912, Cole said.

“It was expensive to make, more expensive than the product it held, so it had to be returned and refilled many times to make it profitable,” Cole said. In Atlanta, a competitor to buy empty Coca-Cola bottles from consumers at a price higher than the deposit Coca-Cola gave, Cole added. It was a ploy to make production costs excessive for the other product.

The noise the bottles made upon opening after holding back the pressure created by carbonated beverages is likely why the drinks came to be known as “pop,” Cole said.

Modern, automatic bottling techniques developed in the decades between 1910 and World War II made the older types of bottles obsolete, Cole said. Coca-Cola received a patent for its trademark Coke bottle in 1915.

A special bottle in Cole’s collection is one made by the Ice Factory Bottling Works.

“The Ice Factory was located where the Brown County Museum now stands,” Cole said, “and it was removed before 1903 to build the Brown County Jail. That building is now the Brown County Museum.”

The collection also includes “deco” soda bottles with ornate decorations, and a rare Dr Pepper embossed glass bottle. A local bottle included in the collection is from Lockwood Beverages.

Bottles with painted letters applied to them were common between 1932 and 1965.

One bottle is marked as being from the J.J. Martin Red Light Saloon. Martin opened a drug store in Cisco when saloons in Brownwood were forced to close.

Another bottle is from the “Tennessee Whiskey House.” It was owned by Charles Low, who later became the Coca-Cola bottler in Brownwood.

“Brownwood had 26 saloons in 1890,” Cole said. Some used small whiskey jugs as giveaways, and he has those in his collection too.

Drugstore bottles are marked with business names, like Hallum and Langtry’s, Camp-Bell and Camp-Shropshire.

Also on display are milk bottles from the collection of his wife, Martha Cole. Her collections include numerous quart and pint-sized dairy bottles from local producers. That display case has cans from the Walker-Smith Company of Brownwood, a large grocery wholesaler in the first part of the 20th century. Those held peanut butter, a Depression-era peanut butter substitute made from grain, coffee, and a substitute for coffee made from grain.

Like-new coffee full-color can labels for Pecan Valley Coffee, found in the building’s attic long after the business was sold around the middle of the last century, are available for sale at the museum.