All-American Dairy Collectors Inspired by Ayrshire Breed

9/22/2012 7:00 AM
By Michelle Kunjappu Reporter

HARRISBURG, Pa. — Since this year marked the Ayrshire breed’s time to shine at the 15th All-Dairy Antiques and Collectibles Show, it was Duane Rader’s year, too.

Rader, from Mansfield, Ohio, has been collecting primarily Ayrshire bottles for 40 years — long enough to amass an impressive collection for not only the front display case at the All-American Dairy Show’s antique show but also to sell to others who appreciate either the Ayrshire breed or antique milk bottles, or both. Each year at the AADS a different dairy breed is featured.

Rader’s grandfather and father raised Ayrshires, as did Rader and his daughter (“there were three generations at one time showing Ayrshires,” he said), so his knowledge and appreciation is a genuine one.

With the advent of eBay, he can have his pick from Ayrshire-based milk bottles from all over the U.S., “which is a blessing and a curse,” he said. “I have the opportunity to get more, different bottles but it also may end up costing costing more.”

Hobby Became a Business

The hobby-turned-business started out simply enough. When Rader purchased the home farm from his father, he found three milk bottles in a cabinet. He decided he liked them, and kept those three, adding to his little collection with a few flea market finds.

After he bought a bushel basket of milk bottles for 10 cents apiece, he and his wife set about experimenting with ways to best display their collection.

Sugar, salt and sand were in the running until they found an old bean bag chair and filled the bottles with the small round styrofoam beads. Liking the way the white beads showed off the label, the Raders capped their bottles with old cardboard caps and have been displaying milk bottles like that ever since.

Later they joined the National Association of Milk Bottle Collectors and began collecting bottles in earnest. Airplanes, farm scenes, warships, babies, nursery rhymes and even rocking horses might adorn a milk bottle, although the ever-popular cow design was, of course, the choice of many dairies picking out the design of their own label.

A wide variety of colored labels was used from the 1930s to the 1950s, when factories began using the “painted pyroglazed” technique of applying colored glass to the bottle to make the label stand out from the clear glass behind it.

Milk Bottle Collectors Are <\n> Enjoyable People’

Standholder Ellie Stout, Tunkhannock, Pa., has been collecting almost 30 years along with her husband, Margin, who has a dairy background. Stout works at Select Sire Power as a human resources manager.

Auctions, flea markets or personal estates in the Pennsylvania, New Jersey or New York area have yielded enough dairy-related antiques to allow them to set up row after row of milk bottles at the All-American Dairy Show.

“The reason everyone does this is because it’s fun,” Stout said. “I learned to love it because of the people,” she said, citing the other friendly standholders and the “down-to-earth, enjoyable people” who come to peruse and purchase the Stouts’ milk bottles.

Stout, in fact, takes a week vacation to tend her stand at the All-American Dairy Show while her husband chairs the Red and White show there. They also take their milk bottles to a few other bottle shows in Pennsylvania, she said.

Ice Cream Parlor

Judy Meck has been coming to the antique show at the All-American for 11 years, bringing not only milk bottles but also her “ice cream parlor,” as she calls it, a collection of candy making and ice cream related antiques.

Tiny cardboard boxes that would have housed personal servings of ice cream sit just above antique ice cream scoops at Meck’s stand.

The ice cream boxes have stayed in circulation, believes Meck, because the original processor went out of business, perhaps, and had leftover boxes to sell or give away — and then “somehow or other they end up in collections,” she said.

Although she collects a wide variety of antiques for her business, dairy-related antiques are her favorite finds.

“When I was a child, I wanted to be a dairy farmer,” she said.

Although she did a small detour and ended up studying horses in college, she still harbors an appreciation for dairy farming and all things dairy related.

For more information about milk bottles, the National Association of Milk Bottle Collectors’ website is

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