Yesterday’s miners tossed these bottles of rotgut whiskey or alehouse swill into the dump without a second thought, but an enterprising Butte teen turned the trash into a virtual fortune nearly a century later.
Jim Yakawich was literally rolling in money back in the ’60s on the profits he made from selling historic bottles he dug up from old Butte dumping grounds.
“I bought several cars from the money I made on these bottles,” Yakawich told The Montana Standard recently.
Yakawich says he made about $20,000 selling antique bottles he and his father, Joe, found discarded around Butte in the late ’60s. He managed to save half the money; the other half he spent on cars.
They would place ads in national magazines advertising old bottles for sale. The response was strong. At that time, there was a craze of people wanting to own historic bottles from the “Old West,” Yakawich recalled.
“We were making good money just shipping out old bottles,” he said.
The pair was mailing out 20 to 30 bottles a day around the country at one point.
Scavenging for old bottles was a popular thing in Butte at that time. Yakawich said there were hundreds of people digging through the old Mining City dumps. Back at the turn of the century, most people in Butte lived “on the Hill,” and the trash was hauled down to dumps on the flat.
Yakawich, who now runs the Front Street Market, found many of his bottles behind the old dump behind the National Guard armory, where the par 3 golf course is now at Stodden Park. There was a bountiful old dump near the It Club in Rocker that produced many old bottles.
He still remembers finding a rare white bottle when he was 16 years old. The bottle was completely intact and sold for $3,000.
Yakawich still has gunnysacks full of old bottles. Some of the bottles he keeps in his Butte home. His days of selling them are long gone.
Yakawich believes bottle collecting has lost much of its allure. He goes to bottle shows and collector events, and its obvious there isn’t as much interest in the hobby as there once was.
“Its day is coming to an end; there’s just not as much interest,” he said.
He plans to donate some of his bottle collection to the Butte Public Archives.
If anyone wanted to root around for old bottles, Yakawich says, there are probably many historic bottles still hidden under decades of dirt. He says there are many old locations in Butte that haven’t been covered over by new buildings or parking lots.
“I think there’s a lot left out here,” he said.
Reporter John Grant Emeigh may be reached via email at john.emeigh@ lee.net or phone at 496-5511. Follow him at Twitter.com/@johnemeigh.