Their’s is a love of strange and beautiful proportion. The kind measured in porcelain, peanut-sized dolls, and antiqued oysters as big as your face. “It’s hard to imagine a time when we’d stop digging,” says Belle, back-lit by a wall of technicolour glass bottles, “I mean it’s addictive. And when you have someone who gets it? Well…”
Belle Costes is a hunter of treasures primarily in the New York area, and her partner in crime and in life is Scott Jordan, otherwise known as the Bottle Man: a seasoned treasure hunter in his own right with all the charisma of a forgotten Mark Twain character. They let us into their jewellery box of a home in Queens to poke around, and learn the secrets of excavating one of the world’s grandest cities.
Antique pocket watches, graphic ceramics, and lace-thin animal skulls; a lone Pilgrim-esque shoe, and keys to doors that no longer exist. When these two dig around the city (and sometimes in some pretty down and dirty locations), they like to think they’re doing their bit to salvage its past. And what they salvage the most is, indisputably, bottles.
Bottles, bottles, and more bottles. Bottles in the closet, the pantry, and the windows. “My favourites,” says Belle, “are the old hot sauce bottles that look like cathedrals.”
“Tell her about the Twinkle Twinkle lamps,” says Belle, pointing to a fist sized glass that looks like a giant amethyst. As it turns out, there are two of the antique specimens in the house: in a stroke of serendipity, the couple found the old nursery rhyme oil lamps separately.
“Our booths were right by one another’s for a long time at the market,” explains Scott, who like Belle, sells his finds at the Union Square Holiday Market, “So we’d known each other. But we’ve been together for about five years now. When Belle moved in we definitely had to make more room.”
For all of the overlap of objects and memories, there are definite his-and-her corners to the apartment; Belle’s talent for jewellery-making fills many crannies, while Scott’s passion for taxidermy finds its way into surprising places.
“These are my hats, etcetera,” he says in a room whose golden and brown bottle give it a sepia glow. “Oh, that?” he says when asked about a perplexing skeleton on the wall, “that was a bottle nose dolphin. We think.”
There’s no particular formation for becoming a treasure hunter like Scott and Belle, but in the latter’s case, a childhood growing up in amongst the curious on Governor’s Island sure helped.
“There was stuff from the Revolutionary War that we’d dug up,” he says, “I was into taxidermy initially, I’m a painter — becoming a digger was only natural.” Over the years, their work has caught the eye of everyone The New York Times, to the occasional, perplexed police officer. Luckily, when their artefact hunting agenda becomes obvious, they’re in the clear.
Landfills, privies, shorelines and construction sites are all fair-game for a dig (this is also the part where we note that the two always ask for permission when necessary). “Williamsburg is an area we’d like to explore more,” he says about their plans for the future, “Sometimes we’ll spend weeks digging, and come up dry. Other times, these things seem to roll right out of the earth.”
“I used to be more superstitious about it, you know, trying to ‘manifest’ a good find before a dig,” he says. These days, it’s more about faith not in the finds, but in the hunt. “You know you’re piecing together this New York history that’s otherwise disappearing,” he says, “and that’s what’s really important.”
Follow the Instagram accounts of the bottle man, Scott (@greybeardboy) and Belle (@girlfindstreasure) for the latest updates, and shop their Etsy boutique. Every single piece they collaborate on, from the spruced up bottles to the revisited jewellery, includes a hand-written description of its history.
For even more information visit their website.