Thousands of bottles + pictures of the past—Meet 2 Birminghamians and their impressive collections

Screen Shot 2022 03 23 at 2.21.32 PM Thousands of bottles + pictures of the past—Meet 2 Birminghamians and their impressive collections
An inside look at Steve DeMedecis’ antique bottle collection. (Steve Demedecis)

From baseball cards to beanie babies and everything in between, we all know someone who collects things. We decided to scope out some collectors in Birmingham and see what treasures their collection had in store. Keep reading for a sneak peek at the collections of Adamantia Evangeline and Steve DeMedecis.

History in a bottle

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Hutchinson Coke Bottles—a rare find. (Steve DeMedicis)

“When I was a kid I was always a collector. Marbles, baseball cards, matchbook covers. Putting stuff in my pockets, filling my pockets full of stones and rocks. It’s kind of a genetic thing that collectors have. Some people have it and some people don’t.”

Steve DeMedecis

You may recognize Steve DeMedecis as the owner of popular downtown venue, Iron City. What you may not know about is his collection of antiquities, ranging from Coke bottles to soft drink signs that he keeps in his own home.

His basement is filled wall to wall with the collection. He estimated that he has thousands of bottles, each one filled with a little bit of history.

One of the most interesting things I found out about the collection is the medicine bottles. Most of them pre-date the Food and Drugs Act of 1906, which prohibited false advertising and harmful ingredients in medicine. Because of this, the bottles in his collection claim to cure crazy ailments or include dangerous ingredients like morphine and even wine, embossed right on the bottle.

A vast collection like that takes years to build, and I was wondering where it all started. Well, apart from his childhood hobby of collecting trinkets, his interest in bottles began at his alma mater.

“When I got to college, I had a girlfriend, and her father, Glenn, was a professor at The University of Alabama. He was an avid bottle collector and he introduced me to it. Glenn was actually introduced to bottle collecting by his mother. She had subscribed to some treasure hunting magazines and read about people out west who were digging bottles up in ghost towns.

So she brought her sons bottle digging. They dug in Tuscaloosa and they dug in Gainesville, Alabama, which was a big city at one time that became kind of a ghost town. They were kind of like the first bottle collectors in Alabama. I learned about bottle collecting from her son.”

Steve DeMedecis

Since then, he was hooked on the thrill of bottle digging. He told me from his 20s, through his 30s and even into his 40s he was an avid bottle digger in Birmingham and around the southeast.

His weekend plans always included searching for antique bottles. He and his friends, who he affectionately called “bottle buddies” would dig from after work on Friday to early Sunday morning, then they would fill the hole back up with dirt and do it all over again the following weekend.

So, what exactly do you find along the way? According to Steve, each digging location was a place where trash was dumped over the years, so dolls, newspapers, broken plates, marbles and more were scattered among the bottles. Apparently, Birmingham has always been a big fan of oysters, because he found oyster shells very often, too.

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Steve with vintage whiskey bottles from his collection. (Steve DeMedecis)

Although he doesn’t do much bottle digging these days, he leisurely attends bottle shows and looks for more pieces for his collection. Along with vintage bottles of all sorts, he houses Alabama-made furniture and other unique pieces he deems fit.

“It’s one of the most rewarding things, and it doesn’t hurt that the value of the collection increases over time. It’s been a really fun hobby.”

Steve DeMedecis

History in a snapshot

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“Lonesome Liz”, from around 1920. (Adamantia Evangeline)

They say a picture is worth a thousand words, and that couldn’t be more true for Adamantia Evangeline, who collects vintage photographs.

Her love for collecting these glimpses of the past began while she was perusing What’s On Second, an eclectic local shop in Birmingham.

“When I was there, I stumbled upon a few pictures that I really liked. It just snowballed from there. I’ve always loved history and these beauties give me a chance to peek into the past.”

Adamantia Evangeline

With each picture comes the mystery of finding out who/what the subject is, especially if you’re finding these pictures out of the blue. According to Adamantia, it’s no easy feat. But piecing the puzzle together is all part of the fun, and she’s found some fascinating pictures along the way.

“It’s really rare to find out anything about the subjects. Sometimes, you get lucky and there is a name written on the photo. If that’s the case, then I just go to Google and try to find census records or newspaper clippings or anything like that.

I have several beauties in my collection that are of performers in ‘freak shows’, another area of history I really love, and those have the names on them. With that you can find out a bit more information about them, but even then it’s just luck.”

Adamantia Evangeline
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Maxine Rowson. (Adamantia Evangeline)

Pictured above is one of the aforementioned cards from “freak shows”, with the actual autograph of Maxine Rowson. Apparently, these cards were sold at the end of each show as a way for the performers to make more money.

As for where she finds these treasures, of course, What’s On Second was one of her recommendations. She also mentioned Etsy shops, Facebook groups and Dirty Jane’s, an antique mall in Chattanooga—but her favorite part is just finding them on a whim.

“I love finding them out in the wild, it gives me such a rush and I always get way too excited when I see them.”

Adamantia Evangeline

Naturally, I had to ask her to share a few details of some of her personal favorite pictures in her collection. Here’s what she shared:

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The Paper Moon postcard is one of my most treasured. It dates back to 1912. It’s so rare that you actually know who the people are in the photo, let alone the exact date, plus I get a little chuckle out of the ‘ha ha’ written at the end.

The whole Paper Moon history is just so fascinating, our obsession and love of the moon pre-space age is one of my favorite bits to study. I even have a ‘Paper Moon’ tattooed on my forearm because I love it so much.

Adamantia Evangeline
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The baby in the washtub is a photo that I will always hold close to my heart. It is of Arthur Earl Robertson who was born in 1910 in Flat Top, Alabama. It was given to me by his sweet daughter, Judith Robertson Watson, who is an incredibly dear friend. She’s shared so many stories about him with me, so many memories she has passed to me. I am so honored that she gave me that photo.

Adamantia Evangeline
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I love this photo taken from the Hollywood Country Club, a local club in Birmingham. It’s definitely one of the youngest in my collection. They just all look like they’re having such a great time!

The guy on the far left is totally groping the woman next to him, there’s empty bottles all over the table, but the best part has to be the woman in the back on the left who is photobombing! I don’t know who these people are but I would love to hang out with them.

Adamantia Evangeline

And that’s just scratching the surface of her magnificent collection. She dedicates time to learning as much as she can about each and every photo, and the result is a rich collection of history from all over.

Collecting these beauties just gives me so much joy and excitement, I really can’t explain it. Being able to see how fashions have changed, how photographic technology has changed, how life in general has changed, it’s really incredible. I love having these pieces of history.

Adamantia Evangeline

Do you know of any cool collectors in Alabama? We want to hear about it! Email us hello@bhamnow.com.

Gabby Gervais
Gabby Gervais
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