WHITMIRE — Sunlight glistening through an old Coca-Cola bottle puts a glimmer into Marty Mcmurtury’s eye. The Whitmire native has been collecting antique soda bottles from South Carolina since 1970.
The unique hobby began from another hobby — deer hunting. Mcmurtury said he was deer hunting when he began picking bottles up around some of the home places.
“I brought them home, but was told I couldn’t keep them in the house, and I still can’t do that today,” Mcmurtury said laughing.
Mcmurtury lives right near the center of town in Whitmire, where he has always lived. The house was brought from Prosperity to Whitmire in 1937 for his grandparents to live in.
Now on the property is a small building Mcmurtury constructed to showcase his bottles. He currently has over 1,000 bottles organized from Abbeville to York counties on display. Several years ago, Mcmurtury said they were appraised at $30,000 but more bottles have been added since that time.
What drove him to continue the hobby was finding a bottle that no one knew anything about at the time, known as a three centa. Researching more about the bottle, Mcmurtury said he learned what was folklore and what turned out to be true, which he enjoyed.
The bottles in Mcmurtury’s collection have come from many different locations, but all have the common thread of being from South Carolina. Mcmurtury said he has dug bottles out of trash piles, gotten them at flea markets and auctions, all for the love of collecting.
“A lot of them were found in Whitmire,” Mcmurtury said.
Out of his eclectic collection, his favorite bottle is his Newberry Teal Pepsi-Cola bottle. Made around 1923, Mcmurtury said at one time it was the most sought after bottle among collectors.
“People just love the color,” he said.
While the Pepsi bottle is his favorite, overall Mcmurtury said he’s a Coca-cola fan simply because of the wide variety of different bottles they have made that he enjoys searching for through guide books and online research.
“The history of them is what makes them so good,” Mcmurtury said.
A common love
What started out as a simple trade has turned into a business plan as well for Mcmurtury and friend Chris Prince.
“We each had a bottle that the other one needed and wanted,” Prince said.
Mcmurtury, who is retired after 45 years in the drywall business, said it was unusual for him to even consider trading a bottle, but it was necessary in this case. Very seldom he said does he sell the bottles either.
Prince works at the Carlisle finishing plant, but lives in Whitmire. He said his collection hobby began with coins, but for the past two years has transitioned into bottles. His collection contains bottles from Newberry, Union, and Carlisle.
Although Prince said he started off bottle collecting with going after South Carolina dispensary bottles, he soon realized their steep pricing and looked for other types. Prices for bottles such as those that Prince and Mcmurtury collect range from $1 to $15,000.
Unlike Mcmurtury, Prince said he has always paid for his bottles, rather than searching for them. The goal of the two men is to open up a museum of Whitmire and South Carolina soda bottles as a combination of both of their collections as well as those of other collectors.
“I’ve always wanted Whitmire to have its own museum — their own spotlight,” Prince said.
Not many are allowed to roam around Mcmurtury’s bottle shop simply because of the value held inside. Mcmurtury recalled a time when a bird flew in through an open door, damaging over $100 worth of bottles.
“You learn to shut your door when you leave the building,” he said.
Mcmurtury’s dog Hershall, however, is a welcomed companion as he knows to look and not touch. Mcmurtury’s son E.J., 20, is someone else he hopes will share in his love of collecting.
“Every time you think you’ve found the last one, another one comes up,” Mcmurtury said. “It’s very rewarding.”