They say one man’s trash is another man’s treasure…and that couldn’t be more of the truth for Birmingham-based bottle digger, Brandon Nicholas. Some of the bottles he searches for are worth thousands, but it’s not the money that keeps him hunting. Keep reading for more on the history he digs up with this unique hobby.
Digging into the past
If this is your first time hearing about bottle digging, you’re not alone. This fascinating hobby, which involves digging deep holes to uncover antique bottles, reveals rich Birmingham history and helps to keep our environment clean.
You may not know it, but Birmingham once had a society of bottle diggers, where over 100 people would gather in one place to dig deep and hunt for treasure. But why dig for something that seems worthless?
For one thing, the bottles can be extremely valuable—some are even worth $10,000. But for Brandon, the most exciting part is uncovering lost parts of history with each find.
“I don’t do it for the value, I do it for the history, because that’s the real treasure. For me it’s amateur urban archaeology. We’re literally uncovering pieces of the past. We’re uncovering stuff that people drank from during World War I, or even earlier. There’s a lot of history behind it. And to me, just thinking about who may have used that bottle at one point in time is a thrill in itself.”Brandon Nicholas
Since he was a young boy, Brandon was riding ATVs with his father, searching rural Alabama land for Native American artifacts. His father, Ricky Nicholas, was a treasure hunter long before he was born.
From metal detecting to arrowhead hunting, Brandon’s father showed him the ropes of taking on adventurous hobbies. For Brandon, one of them really stuck—bottle hunting.
“I was hooked from the very first day I found a bottle. It was from Birmingham, pre-1915. I don’t know why it was such a thrill to find, but it was. I started doing a little bit of research and I fell in love with the local history and how many bottlers were in the Birmingham area.”Brandon Nicholas
From there, the rest is history. Now, Brandon has a wife and a 5-year-old daughter who join him on digs and love it just as much as he does. His wife, Miranda Nicholas, was his original digging partner in 2010. When hunting for bottles in the creek, it turns into a family affair.
“It’s become our bread and butter as a family. My daughter can play in the water during the summertime, while me and my wife walk to pick up broken pieces of glass that she turns into jewelry, and we can find valuable antique bottles at the same time.”Brandon Nicholas
It’s all about the adventure
The process itself involves using maps and word-of-mouth to find a creek or digging spot with bottles. Then, they dig holes up to 15-feet deep in order to begin their search. Using a bottle digging probe and an expensive Ground Penetrating Radar tool, they get to work and sometimes find valuable treasure.
“Some of the most valuable bottles I’ve found were around $500 a piece, but when you dig a hole you’re going to find multiple bottles. Our best hole that we’ve dug had about $5,000 worth of bottles in it. Obviously, we kept most of them for our collection, but the biggest thing we found, we sold to buy better camera gear for our YouTube and Facebook channels.”Brandon Nicholas
Although the digs can be lucrative and fun, there are risks involved. If you’re looking to get digging yourself, Brandon encourages attending antique bottle shows to meet people and learn the ropes before starting.
“It’s not something that I recommend a novice person go out and do on their own without having somebody experienced with them. You have to slowly build your experience and learn safety along the way. Network at bottle shows, there’s older guys that are no longer able to dig—but have all the knowledge on how to do it.”Brandon Nicholas
Brandon’s goal is to keep the hobby of bottle digging alive for generations. He shows viewers an inside look at his fascinating adventures through his Youtube channel, Adventure Archaeology, which has amassed over 40,000 subscribers.
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