Monday, August 11, 2008

A Big Task: Moving the Dr Pepper Museum's Bottle Collection

Written by Robin Kelly, Collections Intern, Summer 2008

The Dr Pepper Museum has a collection of over 25,000 objects and a large chunk of those are soda bottles. The Museum’s mission is to “educate and entertain the general public through the collection, preservation, interpretation, and exhibition of objects relevant to the history of the soft drink industry, and through that example, the free enterprise economic system.” Because the Museum is not owned or operated by any particular soft drink distributor, its collection contains bottles from any (and by any I mean every) soda company. From A&W root beer to Yoo-Hoo chocolate drink and almost everything in between, the Museum has collected somewhere between five and six thousand bottles. Though about half of them are Dr Pepper bottles, there are still hundreds of different brand names in the collection.

The bottle collection was kept in the basement under the Museum even though the whole collections department moved to the Kellum-Rotan building last summer so that there would be more storage and exhibit space. Eventually, other departments of the museum will be moved over as renovation on the building progresses. The collections staff had constructed some creative bottle racks in the newer building and it was my summer job to go through all of the bottles, inventory them, find out which bottles we have too many of, move two of each type of bottle over to the Kellum-Rotan building and organize them on the bottle racks.

There were more than four thousand bottles in the basement sorted in various ways. Some of the bottles were in boxes; many were sitting alone on shelves. There were some in drawers; many were in crates, stacked on shelves or on top of each other. It was a rather daunting task. It took me three weeks to go through and inventory all of the bottles (recording the name, material, size, and anything else important) and get my inventory into the computer and then three more weeks to go through the bottles again and sort out what would be moved to the bottle racks and what would stay in the basement for the time being.

Precautions were taken to keep the bottles in relatively good condition while they were in the basement. They were stored away from any sunlight that could damage them and they were also kept off of the floor in all instances to avoid damage from any water (or other things) that might happen to leak from the ceiling. The major brands were mostly together and the old old bottles were kept separately in boxes. The main problem was that no one knew where to find anything. It is the Museum’s collection policy to collect two of each item. But when new bottles were donated, no one would know if we already had any of this particular type. This would lead to bottles being collected that shouldn’t have been and general confusion in the basement.

The bottle racks were built against the wall out of two wire grids, one on top of the other. The outside grid is larger so that a bottle can be placed, resting with the neck in the smaller grid and the body in the larger grid. The bottle is angled downward with the head resting on the wall so that it can’t slip out. In the bottle racks there was room for more than three thousand bottles but before we could place them, another intern and I needed to wrap each rack with a strip of felt to protect the bottles from scraping on the rack and also to cushion them. That also took a while.

After we finished wrapping all of the bottle racks, we alphabetized the bottles by name. We had pulled two of each type of bottle from the collection (or one if there weren’t two available) and we placed them all on the bottle racks by letter. A few of the bottles were either too large or too small and wouldn’t fit on the racks but we ended up with around 1400 on the racks. Now the bottles are easy to find and identify. We marked where each letter begins so if new bottles are donated, the collections staff can make sure that we don’t have two of that bottle before accepting. We also left many of the bottle racks empty while we worked so there will be room for new bottles in the collection. The bottles that were not put on the bottle racks will stay in the basement until later this year when they will be moved and become a part of the prop collection or the education collection.

Organization and records are extremely important for museum collections and I’m glad that I was able to spend my summer helping the Dr Pepper Museum complete a big project that will make a big difference to the collections staff in the future.

A few tips for taking care of antique glass:

• Gloves are usually used when handling old and delicate objects to protect them from the oils on your hands but gloves are often too slippery when you’re handling glass. So skip the gloves but wash your hands often.

• Always use both hands when moving your glass.

• Try to keep the glass out of direct sunlight because this can cause discoloration.

• If you are washing your glass, avoid the dishwasher and wash them yourself. One at a time in warm water with very little detergent and a soft bottle brush should do it.

• If you collect soda bottles, empty them out and make sure they are clean before you store them. 50 year old soda is pretty gross.

• Leave the lids off of bottles when you store them because any moisture caught inside will be trapped and cloud up the glass.

• Extreme changes in temperature can make your glass explode. Try to avoid that.

Robin Kelley interned at the Dr Pepper Museum during the Summer of 2008 and will continue in the fall as a part-time Collections Assistant.

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