How to Find Old Bottles

If you have an interest in finding old bottles, but don't know where to look, the best place is probably along the edge of a local river. Rivers are some of the most populated areas in the world, and have been throughout human history. Bottles may be only one of many interesting items you could potentially find near a river. If you find what you think is an artifact associated with pre-European contact (i.e. Native American, First Nations, etc.) please look into the protocol in your region for reporting and recording such items.


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    Find a section of river edge that is near a populated area, preferably one that has been inhabited for some number of years. Bottles, although glass, are often surprisingly tough and can last many years. Many very old bottles have been found intact along the edges of rivers.
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    Decide on a stretch in which to search. A length of river edge that is sandy/rocky has high potential, as the same geological processes that created that kind of river edge also tend toward depositing such things as bottles. For time's sake, you should consider how far you should go before turning back and stick to that plan. On the way back you can concentrate your search closer or further from the water. Give yourself plenty of daylight time and try not to get caught out at dusk. River edges can be dangerous places in the dark.
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    Begin slowly walking in a straight line along the edge of the water, scanning back and forth in front of you as you go. Bottle glass tends to stand out when you come across it, especially the valued bright colour ones.
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    When you find glass carefully, pull it out of the sand (if it is covered) with one or two fingers. Try not to pull too hard, as it may be fragile or broken. If necessary, gently dig around the bottle with your fingers or a stick.
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    More often than not, the bottle will be without a cap and full of dirt. Wash the dirty bottle in the river and put it in a soft bag, a big pocket or what-have-you. When you get home you can clean the bottle better with a mild detergent (like dish soap). Avoid harsh cleaners, and never put them in a dishwasher if you want to retain their collectible value.


  • When you find an unusual bottle, do some research on collectible bottles to see what you can learn about it. There are many great resources on the web, and there are published books you might find at your library or bookstore.
  • Choose a time when the water is lower, as this will give you more shoreline to inspect, and thus more potential to find stuff.
  • Choose a time when the sun is brightest.


  • In the USA, if something is on federally owned land and more than 50 years old, disturbing it is a federal offense as these resources are protected under the Archaeological Resource Protection Act. Other jurisdictions may have similar laws and there are also international treaties on the protection of heritage which many countries have agreed to, which may impact your obligations.
  • Become familiar with areas of private property so that you don't end up trespassing - and worse yet, being chased away by a big dog. That happens.
  • Although the "freshet line" is considered the edge of private property, many people with boats and such will consider the water's edge their property. This can lead to unwanted arguments.
  • Never grab a glass artifact without checking for broken edges.
  • And also if you are in a ditch which is where you can find the oldest bottles watch out for snakes
  • Watch for snapping turtles.

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Categories: Collecting