CHRISTINE MACHADO | NT BUZZ
Photographer Aslesh Kamat has always had a penchant for collecting. Coins, antique cameras, stamps, Hot Wheels, tape recorders and record players, all find their way to his house. His tryst with bottle collecting however began about seven years ago.
“Someone happened to give a book about collecting antique bottles to the manager at my dad’s firm. who decided to start collecting. He told us about it and as we had some old bottles as well, I began a collection too,” recounts Kamat. Owing to his other collections, Kamat was quickly able to get in touch with people who could help him acquire more.
“I pick up these bottles from antique dealers and collectors, both from Goa and outside. I have even picked up bottles from scrap yards, backyards of old abandoned houses and sometimes even from the garbage,” says Kamat. Today, he has around 300-400 bottles with some dating back to the early 1800s or late 1700s. These range from as small as 2-3 centimetres tall to around 2 to 2 and half metres tall.
The kind of bottles found differ from region to region, he says. In India, some of the best alcohol bottles are found in Goa owing to its previous Portuguese occupation. These also include huge transport bottles of 10 or 20 litres. Bottles originating from Britain are also found in Goa. Some good bottles are also found in cities like Kolkata and Mumbai which were under British rule, says Kamat.
Some of the other bottles in his collection include the codd-neck soda bottles with a marble on top that you had to push down to drink from. He also has in his possession mouth-blown bottles. As the name suggests these were bottles made by gathering hot glass in a pipe which were then blown and rolled around using moulds till the desired shape was achieved. “These were very rough and had a lot of air bubbles. The shape was usually crooked and the neck didn’t have a seam. When two pieces of glass are joined together, it always leaves a joint mark which is called a seam. In fact we read and study bottles based on this seam and can figure out where the bottle came from and how old it is,” explains Kamat.
The colour of the bottle can also give a hint to its original use. “Items which needed to be stored away from sunlight to avoid getting spoilt were usually stored in dark coloured glasses. Medicine bottles were usually in blue coloured bottles or jars. Poison bottles on the other hand had a lot of embossing on it. In this way even if you stumbled upon these in the dark, you could identify these,” he states.
Some vintage jars or bottles have dates stamped on them like 1800 for instance. However it does not mean that the bottle was made in 1800, says Kamat. “The bottle may have been made about 50 years ago but it was probably used for storing an alcohol which may have first been made in 1800,” he explains, adding that earlier there was no such thing as brands. “Even medicines earlier were known by their inventors. The codd bottle too got its name from the inventor Hiram Codd,” he says.
Among the jars in his collection are the porcelain yellow and white ones which were and are still used to store vinegar, salt, pickle etc. He also has the Bellarmine jars which were also known as the witch hunter bottles. “These had the face of a king on it but people used to think that it was the face of Jesus and it was used to trap witches and evil spirits in it,” he says. Other interesting bottles in his collection are those shaped like torpedos.
And although vintage bottle collecting is not known much in Goa, being more popular in countries like New Zealand and US, the scene may be changing slowly. “There are some companies today which are adapting the old style of bottles. These look the same but one can usually make out the difference from the seam. Now the neck of the bottle is attached later. Earlier this was not so.,” he says.
Also, while people usually used to hand over their old bottles to him, today they know that these are valuable and instead keep them, he says.
And we need more bottle collectors, says Kamat. “It is fun to find a bottle and then figuring out where it came from, what it had, and who drank from it. Some bottles may have come from a particular house or used by a particular person of value in those times. There is a lot of history behind each and every bottle,” he says.
In fact in the hope of creating an interest in collecting vintage bottles and also to get other people who enjoy collecting bottles and stoneware together ( he knows 5- 6 other people), Kamat decided to start the Goa Vintage Bottle Collectors Club on social media two years ago. “However usually I get more enquiries of people who are interested in buying rather than asking to join the club,” he says.
The thought of converting this and his other collections, including that of his dads (who collects wrist watches) into a museum has crossed his mind, butthis is still a distant possibility.