So You Think You Want to be a Bottle Digger

It all started years ago when I was a child, looking at shelves full of bottles that my dad had collected or dug from before I was born. See, my dad was a bottle digger, metal detectorist and arrowhead hunter long before I was even a twinkle in his eye. As I was growing up, I saw the bottles and relics he had collected and truthfully thought he was a little crazy for keeping all of this “garbage”…….. little did I know that one day this “garbage” would become my passion too!

Brandon's dad Ricky Nicholas early 1980's                          Ricky is still digging bottles and treasure hunting today                  Brandon displaying a freshly dug turn of the century soda bottle

My drive to dig bottles didn’t arrive until one day my dad said he heard about a new bottle dump and he wanted to take me to dig bottles. The funny part is, he waited until I was in my early twenties before taking me digging because of the danger - which I will get into a little later. So one day after completing a small job that my dad and I had been working on together, we set out to find this new bottle dump. We found it almost immediately as there were already several groups out in the field digging. It was really a sight for someone who had never seen anything like it. There were holes in every direction, 5 to 6 feet deep and every so often, you would see a head pop up or shovels of dirt flying out. Instantly my dad was in his element that he had been out of for years. We picked out a spot and starting digging. After about an hour of hard work, I dug my very first bottle which just so happened to be a Hutchinson style soda bottle. That was it, I was hooked! We spent the rest of the day digging and I returned home and told my wife and to my surprise, she wanted me to take her the following weekend. That’s exactly what I did and we had a blast! We soon became one of the only husband and wife digging teams in Alabama and well, the rest is kind of history!

Miranda Nicholas with a Hutchinson and blob-top bottle

Now that I have been digging for a little over a decade, I feel like I can accurately share what it’s like to live the life of a bottle digger. The rush and excitement is unmatched! The thrill of the find is definitely the drive of digging the massive holes required to find our hidden treasure. You truthfully never know what you will find. We’ve found everything from silver coins to porcelain signs in the bottle dumps over the years. Alabama has a very rich history when it comes to antique bottles. Some of the rarest bottles in the world come from right down the road from where I live. The Bessemer Alabama Coca Cola Hutchinson style bottle can fetch up to $7,000 at auction! Though I have never even dug a piece of one, the “what if” factor is enough to keep me going! The rarest bottle that I have found is a soda bottle from Pratt City Alabama. The bottle has an embossed Indian chief on it with a watermelon slug plate. It really is a beautiful bottle and I was offered $500 before I even left the bottle dump. Between my wife and I, we have dug thousands of dollars in bottles and have enjoyed every minute of it! But for so much reward there is definitely risk….

Various bottles and relics 

One of the main risk factors of bottle digging are cave-ins. When digging -  sometimes in excess of 15 feet -  dirt can become severely unstable. If you are at the bottom of the hole you could literally become buried alive! When digging, we always have what is called a spotter who watches the walls of the holes for cracks and any dirt movement, though this definitely does not mean they will always be able to warn you fast enough. I know of at least one digger who was killed in Atlanta, Georgia by a cave in. NO BOTTLE is worth your life…. This is our motto and we always try to keep that in the back of our minds. Another risk factor is the neighborhood location. It never fails….if you find a great bottle dump, it will be in the worst neighborhood! This is where keeping a good relationship with the local law enforcement really helps in keeping you safe. We have multiple police officers that we are on a first name basis with that come and check on us during our digs. It is really sad to me that sometimes diggers have bad attitudes towards cops. Just remember, they have a job to do! They have literally become a valuable part of our team! So always remember to stay safe while digging and always be courteous to law enforcement. You never know when you will need their help!

Brandon showing off two freshly dug bottles

Sadly, I feel bottle digging is a dying hobby. It is why I started my YouTube channel Southern Diggers. I want to keep people interested in the hobby and show them the history that is literally buried beneath their feet! The next generation will miss out if we don’t find a way to keep them interested and informed. Therefore, if you are a digger reading this I encourage you to help keep this generation in the loop! Take them with you, show them the safe and correct ways to dig, and always remember the family that digs together stays together!

Brandon Nicholas aka Southern Diggers

Brandon's YouTube Channel: Southern Diggers