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York County history pours from milk bottle collection

York Daily Record logo York Daily Record 10/22/2019 Gordon Freireich, York Daily Record
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It was a welcoming, early morning sound decades ago: milk bottles rattling in a metal carrier as the milkman delivered them to your door. They may have been left at the back door or placed in a pass-through box that was built in some homes.

Over the years, the milk bottles may have been replaced by cardboard cartons and plastic, but for one York Countian the milk bottle mystique remains.

Thomas Steele is a York County milk bottle collector.

Tom has “close to 500” glass milk bottles in his collection at his home outside of Yorkana.

a man holding a bottle of beer: Thomas Steele holds one of his favorite milk bottles from his extensive collection. It is a “cream top” bottle from Meadow View Dairy that was located between Red Lion and Dallastown. © Submitted Thomas Steele holds one of his favorite milk bottles from his extensive collection. It is a “cream top” bottle from Meadow View Dairy that was located between Red Lion and Dallastown.

Now 50 years old, Tom says he became interested in finding bottles from York County dairies shortly after he graduated from the Cape Horn Christian School.

Raised in Red Lion, “right out of high school I was interested in history and I started studying the history of Red Lion – memorabilia, cigar items.”

That interest led him to milk bottles.

“I bought my first bottle (Warners Dairy) for $2 around 1988,” Tom recalls

And he has continued to do so since then. “My dad and I would go to bottle shows.” Tom would look for milk bottles. His father developed an interest in soft drink bottles at the shows and he began collecting them.

Blossoming from Red Lion area dairies to those across York County, Tom’s collection now fills many shelves in his home and an adjoining shed. Beck’s, Sanitary, Pensupreme, Warners and others are in his collection. Tom says Warners was the third largest dairy in York County and the biggest operation in Red Lion.

The bottles range in size from half pints, to pints, to quarts, to half gallons, to gallons.

He has filled some of the bottles with small, white plastic beads to simulate the look of milk.

What he calls his “favorite bottle” among his extensive collection is a “cream top” bottle from Meadow View Dairy that was located between Red Lion and Dallastown. The bottle has a bulb near the opening that collected the cream as it rose to the top.

Cases and shelves are filled milk bottles from York County. Shown is just a small section of his collection of “close to 500” milk bottles. © Submitted Cases and shelves are filled milk bottles from York County. Shown is just a small section of his collection of “close to 500” milk bottles.

There’s also a sentimental reason surrounding the Meadow View Dairy. His mother “used to go there to get ice cream” as a child. His mother adds, “Every Sunday after dinner.”

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He says the rarest bottle is probably a pint bottle from the Crystal Dairy. “I know of only four others that exist.”

The collection has become somewhat overwhelming and Tom, who works at Trans Air Manufacturing in Dallastown, has decided to “downsize” the number of bottles in his collection and return his focus to the dairies around Red Lion.

He is selling the bottles on his Facebook page and has a few at a consignment shop – American Daydream Antiques & Miscellanea – on East Market Street in York.

Tom can be contacted through his Facebook page, his email at Bigt0722@comcast.net, or by telephone at (717) 501-2939.

Even though he is downsizing the collection, the search for Red Lion area dairy bottles continues.

The bottles Tom would like to add to his collection are from the Standard Dairy Company and Stein Bros. Dairy and they would date to the early part of the 1900s.

He is hoping that “someone has some in a barn, garage or attic.”

Gordon Freireich is a former editor of the York Sunday News. Email: gordonaf2805@gmail.com.

This article originally appeared on York Daily Record: York County history pours from milk bottle collection

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