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  • Staff photo by Don Himsel


    Wageling displays his collection throughout his Manchester kitchen.
  • Staff photo by Don Himsel


    Bottles vary in their unique characteristics and features.
  • Staff photo by Don Himsel


    Tom Wageling of Manchester collects milk bottles that relate specifically to the Queen City and nearby Bedford.
Sunday, April 22, 2012

Man has milk bottle collection focusing on Bedford, Manchester

Tom Wageling doesn’t cry over spilt milk. Instead, he may just take the bottle.

Wageling has been researching and collecting antique milk bottles since the 1970s. His collection spans more than 100 bottles primarily from Bedford and Manchester. His collection ranges from the first glass milk bottle from Manchester in the late 1800s to the Docos Milk Co. bottle from the 1950s.

The milk industry was a large part of Wageling’s life since early childhood. His father, Edward Wageling, was a milkman for the Manchester Dairy System in the 1950s.

“It was an open-door policy,” Wageling said. “If customers weren’t home, he would leave a note on the door, walk right in and leave the milk in the refrigerator. It was a completely different time.”

Wageling’s father died in 2009. Oddly enough, it wasn’t his father’s work in the milk industry that inspired Wageling to collect antique milk bottles.

“My friend and (former) milkman John Pollock and I were at Dunkin’ Donuts when we ran into someone John knew,” Wageling said. “He said he paid $15 for John’s milk bottle. That piqued my interest.

“It’s a labor of love. It is about money, but not about money. I value it more as history.”

Wageling decided to focus on Bedford and Manchester for two reasons: Because Wageling lives and grew up in Manchester and because Bedford dairy farmers would deliver their produce to Manchester.

According to the “History of Bedford, N.H. 1737-1971,” in 1901, there were 23 wagons making daily runs to Manchester from Bedford on regular routes. Each wagon carried an average of 150 quarts of milk.

“Most would sell their milk in bulk to Manchester,” Wageling said. “There weren’t any condos and communities. People were self-sufficient.”

Wageling was able to start his collection with the help of New Hampshire antique milk bottle collectors Ernest George, Jerry Jerard and Richard Clark.

“It’s extremely hard to find milk bottles in antique stores.” Wageling said. “When Ernie donated his milk bottle collection to the New Hampshire Farm Museum, he let me trade with him to receive his Manchester and Bedford collection.”

Wageling trades with collectors across New Hampshire.

“I’ll collect bottles from Newport, knowing that a collector there will want to trade with me for Manchester bottles,” Wageling said.

“Other collectors may collect signs, milk cans and cream spoons, but I like to focus on milk bottles.”

Included in Wageling’s collection are rare baby-face milk bottles, which are round milk bottles with the face of a baby on the top. There are only eight farms in New Hampshire that produced this type of bottle. Other rare bottles include two-color, orange and blue bottles.

Wageling also wrote and published a book titled “History of Bedford & Manchester, NH Milk Dealers.” The book originally was published in 1995 and has been updated throughout the years. The latest update was this year.

In the book, Wageling explains that around the turn of the century, New Hampshire issued sanitary milk rules, which affected dairy farms in Bedford.

“They were unable to afford the updated equipment,” Wageling said.

Wageling also said that prior to the sanitation laws, there were extreme cases of dairy farmers putting unsafe chemicals in the milk to preserve the product. There were also cases of dairy farmers being arrested for watering down their milk.

Wageling’s book lists a number of regulations from the 1912 Board of Health for the sale and distribution of milk in Manchester.

Rule 5 states, “All bottles, cans or vessels of any sort used in the distribution, or sale or collection or preparation of skim milk or cream shall be cleansed and scalded or sterilized before they are used again for the same purpose.” Any who failed to comply with these rules were fined $10.

Wageling also said that around the 1950s, milk bottles changed from round to square.

“This way, the milkmen could fit more milk in their trucks,” Wageling said.

Wageling’s findings were shared with the Bedford Historical Society, along with some of the Bedford antique milk bottles.

Wageling receives research help from his daughter, Samantha. The two said they were eager to learn more about the Bedford dairy farms because there’s a possibility more unknown bottles are in local landfills.

According to Wageling’s book, many of the local dairy farmers served only their neighbors and didn’t advertise their product.

Wageling hopes to expand his Bedford collection in the future.

“I’ll keep collecting until the day I die.” Wageling said. “After that, I think my daughter likes it enough to continue. If my daughter can’t find anyone in her family to pass the collection down to, then she will probably donate the bottles to one museum.”

Katelyn Dobbs can be reached at 594-6549 or kdobbs@nashuatelegraph.com.