Mr. Holden, who has lectured many times on the process of gathering, collecting and restoring old bottles (wash with certain chemicals, especially if they’ve been in the Sound, collecting salt and barnacles), is not interested in anything made after 1904. He can tell when a bottle was fashioned, he said, by checking the seams on either side: If they stop at the shoulder, it’s old enough to keep.

Color, too, is a giveaway: glass, he said, is made of soda, potash, lime and sand, heated and melted.  »The iron ore in the sand gives it a green color, » he explained.  »Until the later part of the 1800’s, dark greens were more desirable. Then people started wanting clear glass canning jars so they could see what they were canning. From around 1880 to 1914, magnesium dioxide was used to bleach green from the glass and make it clear. But during World War I, they needed magnesium, so they started using selenium instead to bleach glass. »

He smiled, still amused at all these facts he had recited so many times.  »Magnesium reacts with ultraviolet rays and eventually turns glass a lavender color if it is left outdoors. Selenium does not do this. So if you find a piece of purplish glass, you know it was made before 1914. »


Mr. Holden can often determine the exact year a bottle was manufactured by examining it for telling details. Occasionally, he simply reads the front. One pale specimen, empty now of beer or soda pop, is embossed:  »John Frantz, Croton Falls, N.Y., New York registered patented June 26 ’85 through August 4 ’85 » – 1885, that is.

In Mr. Holden’s collection are two bottles that are already in a state of transformation: the surface of one is swirled and rainbow-hued, like a soap bubble, the result, he said, of. Another had has turned powdery and opalescent; touch it and pieces flake off under your fingertips.  »Glass does dissolve, it just takes a very long time to do it, » Mr. Holden said softly.  »Some day, that bottle will be a pile of dust. »

Indeed. Mr. Holden is surrounded by objects that people once held and drank from, and, on a fine summer’s twilight 100 years ago, tossed, perhaps amid laughter, unthinking, into the lake. A bumpy copper dinner plate, found in Lake Mahopac and dated from the American Revolution, graces one of his walls. When he is asked if he thinks about what he might leave for others to dredge up, he answers:  »You think about it. But I love this. When I dive, I feel like I’m diving into history. »


I spent three nights at ($50 U.S. a night) and my days snorkelling on the reef 16 kilometres away (round trip $25 U.S.). The spiny walls of elkhorn coral resembling velvet- covered candelabra were separated by deep canyons and caverns sheltering butterfly fish, flounders, goatfish, French angelfish and rays.

Placentia was a further 80 kilometres south and sounded interesting, for it has the only sandy beach along Belize’s mangrove swamp coast, a now-derelict community funded by Vancouverites in the early 1970s, with good access to the reef. A phone call to Sonny’s Resort reserved one of the seven cottages ($30 U.S.). I caught the crowded school bus and we set off along a dirt road for a 2 1/2-hour trip.

At Placentia the driver pointed me in the direction of Sonny’s and I picked my way between homes and palm trees before spotting the sign and two ladies with broad smiles of welcome. The cottage was nestled under trees in a classic setting beside the beach and I was the only guest. Accommodation and meals were adequate but rudimentary. The only jarring note was roosters under my window at 6 a.m.

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