The Oldest Bottle Club in the United States?


The Oldest Consecutive Bottle Club in the United States?

By Jim Bender

I received an invitation to join the Empire State Bottle Collectors Association for dinner to celebrate its 50th year as a club. I first did not think much about the 50th year being that important. After all, there are a lot of things that last 50 years. I have lasted 57 years.

I decided I wanted to go right off to the dinner because I have a lot of friends out that way and I love bottle-related gatherings. Once I made my mind up to go for sure, one thing kept sticking in my head. On the invitation it said, “The Oldest Consecutive Club In The United States.

Being the FOHBC Historian and a curious person by heart, I had to look into this.

The Empire State Club started in 1965 so the question was, is there any club older than that? I knew that the first club started in Sacramento, California by John and Edith Tibbitts in 1959. It was called the Antique Bottle Collectors Association of California. It lasted until 1969 when it was dissolved and a new club was created and called the Federation of Historical Bottle Clubs, FOHBC for short. The Empire State Bottle Collectors Association was a member of the FOHBC right from its start in 1969.

There are no records that I could find of any other club being around before 1965 that is still around. That might make the Empire State Bottle Collectors Association the oldest nonstop club in the country. This is a feat beyond comparison in today’s world where things come and go.

Now let’s look at some of its history. On October 5, 1965, founders Paul and Betty Chapman met in their home with a few friends with similar collecting interests to discuss the possibility of forming a bottle club. The original five collectors seated around the Chapmans’ dining room table formed the nucleus of the Empire State Bottle Collectors Association. Within just two months, the Chapman’s home had outgrown the club’s needs, so the meetings were moved to the basement of the Federal Saving and Loan Bank in Liverpool, N.Y. It was there that the name Empire State Bottle Collectors Association was adopted. A slate of officers headed by Paul Chapman as president was elected, committees formed and the drafting of a constitution was discussed. By the end of the first year, there were 183 members.

I never really gave this a thought until guest speaker Jack Stecher spoke at the dinner. Jack reminded us that most of the clubs in New York State were directly formed from the Empire State Bottle Collectors Association. Jack recalled himself being a member of the Empire State Bottle Collectors Association in 1965 and after a year or so he thought that there must be enough people in Rochester to start a club there. So in 1967 he helped start the Genesee Valley Club. Jack sponsored and held the first bottle show in Rochester. If you look up the word legend in the dictionary, surely Jack’s name has to be part of the description.

The Empire State Bottle Collectors Association has done so much and continues to do so much for the hobby. It has been a lifelong supporter of the National Bottle Museum as well as the FOHBC. It sponsored along with other central New York clubs the 2002 FOHBC National Show in Syracuse. Under the leadership of Barbara Schwarting, the show was a huge success. Many members have donated bottles and time to the National Bottle Museum. They truly are great ambassadors of the hobby.

The Empire State Bottle Collectors Association has also produced two reproduction bottles. In 1975, it produced a Poor Man’s Family Bitters in the original mold in a very nice blue color. In 2000, it produced an anniversary milk bottle.

The club still puts on two shows a year – one in the fall at Scriba, which is chaired by Barry Haynes, and one in the spring, this year at its new location in Cicero and chaired by Keon Kellogg. It produces a newsletter called “Bits and Pieces,” a name picked in the early days from a name the news letter contest. Phillip Vollmer submitted the name because he would scuba dive for bottles and normally find just bits and pieces. Mark Yates currently handles the newsletter as well as the being the club’s librarian.

The 50th Anniversary dinner was a great success. There were over 60 people in attendance and the food was second to none. There was no charge for the meal and everyone was welcome. John and Carol Spellman did a fantastic job putting this all together. Not only was it a great bottle get together but a great place to celebrate longtime member Tom Dudarchik’s 91st birthday. I am told Tom has a killer flask collection.

As I sat there watching and listening to the speakers, I realized how lucky I was to have joined this great hobby at such a young age. I was an early teenager when I started which gives me an insight that mostly people in their 70s and 80s have. Being only 57, I will be able to share stories about these great people for years to come. I realized how important it is that these events be put down in writing for the future generations.

When I was asked to speak I spoke on behalf of not only the FOHBC but myself. I shared my memories of attending the Syracuse bottle show in the ‘70s when it was a two-day show at the fairgrounds. Someone had brought in a McKeever’s Army Bitters and the announcement was made that if anyone wanted to see an $800 bottle to come up front. I rushed up and there it was. Of course, I had no idea what it was but if everyone else loved it so did I. I shared my memories of going to the Gardner sale. Once again I was a kid with my mom’s 126 Kodak camera with a flash cube on top. I still have old blurry photos and still love them. I remembered the sad time when the National Bottle Museum and the FOHBC were having trouble and I was glad that is all behind us now. Most of all I shared my love of my friends current and past. They have made and make my life so much better. I will end with this quote used by the late Charlie Gardner: “When all the collecting is said and done, it’s not the bottles that we count, but instead, the friendships that one makes along the way.”

[UPDATE] Since the article I wrote about the Empire State Bottle Collectors Association first appeared on our Federation web site, I have received emails, calls and Facebook has come to life with people telling me that they thought their club may be older. Both Marty Hall from the Reno Antique Bottle Club and Mike Bryant of the San Diego Antique Bottle & Collectibles Club contacted me and we have talked. They both feel that their organization may be an older antique bottle club. I want to give them time to gather information, so we can do articles on them as well.

The Empire State article is to celebrate the fact that a club was able to make it 50 years and is still going strong. Both the Reno and the San Diego clubs have clearly been around 50 years or more. We are not having a contest or anything of the sort, we are celebrating the clubs great accomplishments of 50 years or more.

People try to tell me clubs are failing and the hobby is weak. Don’t tell these guys! Our hobby will be as strong as we choose to make it. I hope to hear from the other two clubs and do a tribute to them as well. If any other clubs out there have made it 50 years or more continuously, drop me a line. We at the FOHBC want to let you shine and show what you have done to keep this hobby we all love, strong.

Jim Bender
FOHBC Historian


Here is a list of people who have made and still make the Empire State Bottle Collectors Association the model to follow.

2015 Officers and Committees

President: John Golley
Vice-President: Barry Haynes
Secretary: Keon Kellogg
Treasurer: Dave Tuxill
Newsletter/Librarian: Mark Yates
Historian: Gary Schaap
Spring Show Chair: Keon Kellogg
Fall Show Chair: Barry Haynes

Lifetime Members

Howard Dean
Robert Dicker
Doris Simpson
Tom Dudarchick Jr.
Barb Schwarting

Charter Members as listed in the E.S.B.C.A. Constitution signed November, 1965

Mr. and Mrs. Howard Wilcox
Mr. Rene Fredette
Mr. and Mrs. Delbert Cobb
Mr. George Brewster
Mr. and Mrs. Paul Chapman
Mrs. Roland Adsit
Mr. and Mrs. Richard Knodel
Mrs. L. L. Doy
Mr. and Mrs. Robert Hickey
Mrs. William Clement
Mr. Robert Chapman
Mr. Edward Schulz
Mr. Douglas Crego
Mrs. Eleanor Palmer

Past Presidents

1965-1966: Paul Chapman
1967-1968: Gregory Cooke
1969: Royce See
1970-1971: Thomas Dudarchik Jr.
1972-1973: Edward Hillenbrand Sr.
1974-1975: Leigh Simpson
1976: Thomas Dudarchik Jr.
1977: Rose Brewster
1978-1979: Darryl Klutts
1980: Larry Finnigan
1981: Clinton Capron
1982-1985: John Spencer
1986-1987: Howard Dean
1988-1989: Gary Camp
1990-1992: Robert Dicker
1993-1994: Thomas Dudarchik Jr.
1995-1998: Barbara Schwarting
1999-2001: John Golley
2002- 2003: Charlie Betts
2004: Chris Bellizzi
2005-2006: Gary Schaap
2007-2015: John Golley

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Great buffet style food was served.

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Overview of the 70 people that attended the dinner.

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John Golley current President welcomes everyone to the dinner.

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Club Certificate of Membership to the FOHBC 1976

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These wooden bottles were given as awards for years instead of ribbons.

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Repro Poor man’s Bitters (blue) with a real Poor Man’s both blown in the same mold (aqua).

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1979 National Bottle Museum certificate.

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Fred and Kathy Capozzella past and current presidents of the Mohawk Valley Bottle Club. Kathy is currently President.

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John Spellman (with hat) Carol Spellman, Bob Dicker and Burt Spiller.

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Barbara Schwarting Past president and past chairman of the 2004 National Show in Syracuse NY

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Bob Dicker speaks about his time as President and donated his wooden hammer he used. Bob is 91 years young and is active in the Mohawk Valley and Empire State Club.

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John DeVolder speaks about joining the club when he was 16 years old.

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Past President Darryl Klutts talks about his time as President. Darryl is a descendent of the Hayner Family of Hayner’s Whiskey fame. He attends the family reunions each year.

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Gary Moeller of the National Bottle Museum speaks about the Empire States involvement and support.

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Jon Lander speaks about his friendship with Howard Dean who was unable to attend. Jon is one of the founders of the Mohawk Valley Club.

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Mark Yates talks about his part in the club and how he got started. Mark clearly is a big part of the future.

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Feature speaker Jack Stecher spoke about his collecting over the years and shared a pontiled medicine he and his wife found years ago.

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Past three-time President Thomas Dudarchik Jr., was present and celebrating his 91 birthday. The club made him a great cake.

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Tom’s Birthday Cake.

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Chris Davis and Barbara Schwarting visit. Barb Chaired the 2004 National Show in Syracuse NY

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Linda Sheppard FOHBC Membership Director visits with Dave Mount of the Mohawk Valley Club.