Collection started with love of history
Doug Woolfolk is crazy about old dumps, landfills and especially former outhouse sites. As an antique bottle collector, his prime locations are places where people dumped things they didn’t want.
“When I started collecting, people said to go under houses or diving in lakes where they had old bars or at old outhouse locations,” he said.
His interest in bottles started when he was doing a summer job for a contractor in Florida with his twin brother, Ned. “We were digging a foundation for a dormitory when I discovered an old bottle.” It was for White House Vinegar. Woolfolk located the company that produced the vinegar and learned something about its history.
Once he started looking for bottles, he began to find them in all sorts of interesting places. “I really had a good time,” he said. “I would try to find as many as I could.”
Woolfolk says that his bottle collecting complements his love of history. “The history of bottle-making goes back to the Romans,” he said. “Collecting bottles is a way to look at history through a different lens.”
In his collection, which is “pushing 1,000,” are hundreds of old medicine bottles. “People ordered medicine from all over,” he said. “When they were through with the medicine, they would throw the bottle under the house or in the outhouse.”
One group of bottles in Woolfolk’s collection contains ridges or bumps that can be felt when the bottle is picked up. These bottles held poison. “If a blind person picked up one of these bottles, he could feel the ridges,” Woolfolk said.
Most of the bottles in his collection are at least 100 years old. Most are medicine bottles. He says he can tell the older bottles because they do not have a seam all the way up one side.
“In 1903, they invented an automatic bottle machine,” he said. “All the ones that have a seam all the way up were made after 1903. Before that, a seam just came to the spout.”
Occasionally Woolfolk will find a bottle with a partial label. These are very helpful in determining the origin of a bottle. On rare occasions, he has found a bottle with its label completely intact. “Some with totally intact labels are usually not so old,” he said.
The value of a bottle depends on the color, age and rarity, Woolfolk said. Some in his collection are worth as much as $100 each. However, some antique bottles have brought big money for collectors. “The record for one bottle is $90,000 made in San Francisco,” he said.
Woolfolk and his twin brother grew up in University Acres, “the best place in the world to grow up,” he said.
With neighborhood friends including Verne Dicharry, Jimmy Bollinger and Doug Moreau, they built a place for track meets in Dicharry’s backyard.
When the twins were in the ninth-grade, the Woolfolks moved to Tampa, Fla., where their father had taken a different job. Ned got a full baseball scholarship to the University of Florida. “I was the slowest infielder to go out, so I got bounced,” Doug Woolfolk said.
Ned Woolfolk’s roommate’s father was a lieutenant colonel stationed in Germany. “We were playing cards in Ned’s room, and his roommate said they could go over there and stay for free,” Doug Woolfolk said
Because of the scholarship, Ned Woolfolk could not leave, so “I hopped a freighter out of Tampa and went over there,” Doug Woolfolk said. He was 19 at the time.
The two guys moved into the cellar of the friend’s parents’ home in Wiesbaden. “He had 150 pieces of a motorcycle,” Woolfolk said. “He said, ‘This is how we are going to get around.’”
In Munich, they found a man who sold Woolfolk an Italian-made motorcycle for the equivalent of about $150 American dollars.
“As a consequence, we traveled for about five months through the Alps, the Pyrenees and all the way to Barcelona,” he said. “It was the time of my life. It was probably the best education I ever got.”
Woolfolk then came back to the University of Florida and got his degree in journalism and mass communications. “In Florida, I always worked about three jobs because I had no scholarship,” he said. “I worked at a pizza shop during the day, at a hotel at night and umpired softball.”
If he knew that the pizzas he was making were going to a sorority house, Woolfolk said he would put a note in the boxes, “Especially made by your special friend Doug Woolfolk.”
After college, he joined the Naval Reserves during the height of the Vietnam War. He got security clearance, had training in Morse Code and electronic spying and was sent to Japan. “We mainly spied on Russian submarines,” he said.
By the time Woolfolk left Japan, his parents had moved back to Baton Rouge. “I started seeing cute blue-eyed blondes and all my old Baton Rouge buddies,” he said.
One day, he ran into Doug Moreau, who was returning home from playing with the Miami Dolphins and on his way to law school. Moreau said he and another friend were moving into an apartment and wanted Woolfolk to join them. The friend turned out to be James Carville.
“We lived together for a couple few years,” Woolfolk said. “We had a great time.”
Woolfolk got his master’s in mass communications and entered the business world. “Over the years, I started 15 or so different businesses,” he said. “I never stay that long.” Among his businesses were The South Baton Rouge Journal and Total Photographics, which he started with Greg Kleinpeter.
He now develops properties with business partner Ed Kramer and manages apartments they own. They developed the Highland Club, which has apartments, commercial real estate, a neighborhood and condos.
Woolfolk and his wife, Mary, are the parents of triplets, now 32. Grant Woolfolk lives in New York. William Woolfolk lives in Fairhope, Ala., and daughter Kristy Guillory lives in Baton Rouge.
In his spare time, Woolfolk does painting and experimental photography. He loves to fish, and he collects old reels and lures.
He occasionally adds a bottle to his collection, which is on display on shelves in his garage. “I am keeping the reins on to keep from being a hoarder,” he said.