Treasures From Ashes
by Lesley Dellatola photographs by John Brummekamp
Historically fascinating and often of singular beauty
A collecting habit inspired by the rubbish dump
This article appeared in the South African Garden & Home magazine, January 1983
A display in the dining-room featuring brown and clear glass bottles. The unit was made out of shelves of wood supported by columns of solid wooden cotton reels, stained brown, also from the ash heap.
Ria Cronjé from Hennenman in the Orange Free State started collecting bottles and soon passed her ethusiam on to her husband. Now he supports her in her hobby in every possible way.
Cleaning and repairing is the second exciting step after the thrill of the initial excavation.
Modern in every way, the Cronjé home has a mellow atmosphere imparted by their collection of antique jars and bottles.
Old pipes, weathered military buttons and containers filled with stoppers all have decorative value in Ria's hands.
Every one of these eathernware containers was retrieved from a rubbish dump, about 100 years old near Pretoria. Piece de résistance is the little Wedgewood jar which bears the head of Queen Victoria and the dates 1837 - 1897.
Ria has an eye for the colours and shapes of the antique items she reclaims. Ornaments in her home consist entirely of decorative arrangements of bottles, jars, pipes and snuff tins
An arrangement of toothpaste, butter and mayonnaise jars which are over 70 years old. The glaze and painted lettering are still remarkably well preserved.
Medicine bottles and poison bottles from the turn of the century.
There about eight different shades of glass to be found among antique bottles. Here Ria arranges a collection of aqua bottles. The ones with the sharp ends are the oldest.
Piet Cronjé had a special unit built in the lounge to offset his wife's artistic displays.
|Their Home could not be more modern. Set on a
slope at Faerie Glen, Pretoria with far views to the east and south, the
house is built of unplastered brick for the most part, with a lounge opening
on to a swimming-pool and a functional yet elegant kitchen opening on to
the dining-room. Up a few steps there is a family work-room accommodating
a large, electric typewriter, and the entire house is carpeted and tiled
in shades of brown. Ria and Piet Cronje are definitely children of their
day, yet the fascination of their home comes from antique objects, about
which Ria and Piet are very knowledgeable - bottles and earthenware jars
of every shape and size are artistically arranged in different ways throughout
Right next to the front door, there is a group of the tiniest bottles imaginable. A special unit in white, to offset the exquisite colours of the glass, covers one wall of the lounge. Some eathernware jars stand on the lounge. Some eathernware jars stand on the floor under the Cape cottage-style dresser, some grace the top of an old chest. Others form part of still-life arrangements combined with dried flowers, and still others give colour to the dining-room walls in shades of brown, lovingly polished and reflecting the light from their rich glazes.
The interesting thing is that every item has a fascinating story, and both Ria and Piet can spend hours telling one about the origins, discovery, restoration and history of their collection. "Once the bottle-collecting bug bites you, you're permanently addicted," Ria admits.
It all started when a friend showed her some bottles which she had found
on a site near Pretoria. Now a dig is nearly every Saturday's exercise.
The whole family joins in the expedition, and the two children, a son
and daughter, are just as enthusiastic and knowledgeable about it as their
parents. It is not always possible to unearth the right tops fir the jars
and bottles and, most of the time, the future objects d'art are badly
shattered. Yet both boy and girl are past masters at per-severing until
they find something that fits, and they have built up a considerable stock
of spares which they keep for possible future use. "The children
are also very good at matching broken bits and building up missing pieces,
" Ria says. Dentai plaster and Bostik are the most important tools-of-the-trade
in this part of the business. For the actual unearthing, Piet uses a pick
and shovel. Didn't this lead to more breakage than had already taken place?
"Not at all," he explained. "You can hear when a prong
of the fork touches something and then you go very slowly, using a much
smaller tool like a knife."
There are ginger pots, brandy jars, medicine bottles, jars for anchovy
paste, toothpaste and mayonnaise, jam pots, ink pots and marking-ink bottles,
mineral water bottles, beer and ginger-beer bottles, poison bottles and
perfume bottles. One embossed label in the glass says, "Elliman's
Royal Embrocation for Horses, Manufactured Slough"; another "Otto
Landsberg - beroemde snuif, Loop and Shortmarket Streets, Cape Town".
They mixed their languages even then, it seems.
If Clay tobacco pipes are found in a refuse dump, it can be safely estimated
the the hole is 100 years old. Ria filled cigar boxes with pipe bowls
of many different shapes and sizes. Apparently when clay pipes were used,
the stems soon became saturated with nicotine. It seems that our forebears
took a fresh one nearly every week.
One of Ria's greatest treasures is a little Wedgewood jar of the true,
rich blue of early Wedgewood, with its top missing. However, they shaped
a little cork to fit exactly. The jar has Queen Victoria's head on it,
and the dates of her rule, 1837 - 1897. How could anyone have thrown such
a valuable article away? Or for that matter, how could anyone have thrown
a Bible away? Yet on a little table - between two early old Cape cottage
chairs from Smithfield - is a finely printed High Dutch Bible, also recovered
from the ash heap. Another collector's treasure is a perfect replica of
a coal stove in miniature, about 1,5m high. For a doll's house perhaps?
One thing is certain. Now where could such a thing be found today.
"All that is needed is an eye that sees, and an interest in bygone