11 December 1998

Twenty years memorabilia of milk makes for lot of bottle

WHEN it comes to milk, Michael and Naomi Hull have a lot of bottle – over a thousand in fact! This intrepid couple have spent the last 20 years searching hedgerows and browsing junk shops to build up a unique collection of milk bottles that explains the history of milk bottling from Victor-ian times to the present day.

Their avid interest is such the couple have converted a former stable in the grounds of their home near Stroud, Glos, to display a range of containers that was in danger of overwhelming the house.

Among their collections are early aqua glass bottles that displayed the milk as a grey liquid and did little to enhance the contents; a 1940s British Walt Disney character bottle with the slogan, "Mickey Mouse Is Always Gay – He Drinks Two Pints of Milk A Day"; and a fascinating group of 1930s French glass stopper bottles with wonderful enamelled artwork.

There are bottles from Israel, Greece, India, Germany and Japan. Just name a country and it is likely they can produce an example from that nation. For Michael, a retired weather forecaster, and Naomi, a former teacher, their milk bottle mania all started two decades ago with the discovery of a bottle emblazoned with "Cricket Malherbie".

They decided to search for other rare examples and reasoned that during the relative traffic-free 50s a family could virtually park anywhere on main roads without restriction. Michael said: "We studied old maps looking for wooded areas near to the highway where people may have stopped for picnics and I suppose you could say we discovered the first bottle banks! We have applied the same logic in France with great success. Much of our collection has been obtained in this way.

&#42 Interesting facts

"During the 30s London had more than 3000 dairies. Now you can count them on the fingers of one hand.

"Many dairy farms up and down the country produced and bottled milk under their own labels and also retailed. But modern production systems have closed down these small outlets to the point where there are just a few stalwarts left. Despite innovations, bottled milk has always been the containers preferred by both the supplier and the housewife.

"Cartons appeared in the USA in 1907 and here in 1929. They were thought to be more economic, with savings on collection and cleaning. They cost a farthing each compared with 2d for the bottles, but when the accountants added up the figures, they discovered traditional glass averaged a hundred trips – hence bottles stayed on the doorstep."

The Hulls memorabilia of milk, impressive though it is, will never make their fortune. The bottles change hands between enthusiasts for a couple of £s, with rarer examples realising figures around £4 to £5 pounds. They swap information and items from their collection via Milk Bottle News a quarterly newsletter which is – yes, youve guessed it – written, edited and published by Michael and Naomi. More than a hundred copies are sent out to subscribers, including the British Library.

The Hulls would be interested to hear from any farms that might have old samples of milk bottles or the cardboard discs that were used to seal the containers prior to the introduction of metal caps.

Michael Charity