Part II: York County, Pa., outhouse rules: From honey dippers to privy diggers
Presenting to the West Manchester Township (Pa.) Historical Society, Tom Grove Jr. demonstrates the probe rod he uses for privy excavations. Grove searches for unusual or rare bottles under old outhouses. (See additional photo below.) Also of interest: One-room school reunions preserve educational culture of thousands of York countians and Part I: York County, Pa., outhouse rules: From honey dippers to privy diggers Wheatland Mansion tour: ‘We don’t know if President Buchanan used the tub.’
The dirty work of bottle collector takes on new depths when they probe old outhouse sites.
But people are increasingly take up the hobby, a West Manchester Township Historical Society audience learned earlier this week:
“It doesn’t take long to find out which properties had a privy,” Thomas Grove Jr. said. “There are actually a lot of privy diggers out there. It’s a huge, growing hobby.”
Here are excerpts from the York Daily Record/Sunday News story (11/16/10) on the event:
Tom Grove Jr. had dug up these old bottles in excavations.
Many collectible enthusiasts search high and low for the items they treasure most, whether it’s coins, jewelry, dolls or other antiques. Old bottle enthusiast Thomas Grove Jr. mostly searches low — preferably below old privy sites.
“Many young people don’t know what a privy is,” said Grove, of Dover. “It’s another name for an outhouse.”
Grove has been digging at privy sites for eight years, always hoping to find something rare.
“I don’t do this for any kind of profit,” Grove said. “I’ve been digging for bottles since I was 8 years old. It’s an interesting hobby.”
Grove took some time to describe a few of his digs Monday night at the West Manchester Township building.
“It doesn’t take long to find out which properties had a privy,” Grove said. “There are actually a lot of privy diggers out there. It’s a huge, growing hobby.”
Grove has found many bottles dating to the 1850s — his favorite being old medicine bottles. Often, the bottles make Grove think.
“When I was digging in the well, I found a bunch of bottles that held pain medicine,” Grove said. “I wondered why someone would have so many bottles of it. Shortly after, I found a human molar with a giant cavity in it. That answered my question.”
Grove has more than 1,000 bottles collected, but one of his favorites is a rare beer bottle from the 1870s.
“It’s a pony beer,” Grove said. “They made the beer in York for about two years.”
Even though Grove doesn’t collect his bottles for profit, he said there can be big money in the field.
“The world record for a flask sale was more than $101,000,” Grove said. “I know of a guy whose whole career is in bottles. I don’t know how he does it. He probably isn’t married or have kids.”
Also of interest
– All York Town Square posts from the start. (Key word search by using “find” on browser.)
York Daily Record/Sunday News photos