Unknown to some people is the Escolta Museum. The museum is located at the mezzanine of the Calvo Building along Escolta Street. It has a permanent exhibit entitled “Bote’t, Diyaryo, Extraordinaryo.”
Enclosed in glass shelves are vintage bottles, old photographs and old newspaper articles that perhaps showcase Escolta and its vicinity to be the Philippines’ Western Emporium at the turn-of-the-century. Also on display are scale models of existing and non-existing buildings located along this short thoroughfare along the Pasig River.
The product and services offered in Escolta are highlighted in an exhibit of newspaper advertisements. The advertisements are mostly from Spanish to the late American Period. These ads feature imported household products to overwhelmingly agrarian Philippines then.
The ads revealed that Filipinos of that era has imported everything from phonographs to sliver spoons, from shoes to empty bottles!
The Vintage Bottle Collection
Most of the bottles surfacing in Manila were used from the late 19th century until the pre-World War II era. From 1917 to 1933, empty bottles and jars made up of one third of imported glassware reaching the Philippines including tableware, mirrors, window and plate glass, eyeglasses and lamp chimneys.
According to Felice Prudente-Sta. Maria, these bottle collectibles were partly the result of conscientious bottle recycling prompted by the lack of local bottle makers. Housewives had to present containers when purchasing cooking oil, kerosene, vinegar, fish sauce, carabao milk, locally distilled liquor and a host of other liquids.
Dark green bottles usually held gin or the one popular anise wine. One version is stamped La Tondeña.
Like their European counterparts, Manila druggists displayed apothecaries with colored water in their windows and sold patent medicines. They came in cheaply made amber, aquamarine, green or clear bottles stamped with brands and cities of origin.
Cobalt blue bottles that held poisons or acids, essences, and light-sensitive compounds meant strictly for external use, eventually became containers for laxatives, salts, and even an archaic fragrance called Blue Waltz bottled along the Pasig River.
In the 1800s, charged and soda waters were the rage due to the rising health consciousness as a result of earthquake tolls, cholera and other epidemics. Sta. Maria noted that the bottle-capped beverage was introduced in the early 1900s by a Japanese drink called Tansan. The company left bomb-shaped bottles embossed with its brand name that remains the local word for bottle cap.
However, not all bottles are glass. Beer came in thick, cream colored ceramic containers that sometimes sport broad golden brown bands across the rim and shoulders. They were used well into the late 1800s by Scottish and English breweries. Previous beverages like rum, ginger-beer and whisky were also stored in clay bottles, a practice that continued to the 20th century.
Philippine glassmaking only began in 1937 when San Miguel Brewery set up the first bottling plant in Philippines. Its initial product was a tall. Slim, moss green beer bottle. Previously the firm’s containers came from Hongkong, then Japan.
I appreciate the effort of those who put up this museum. Not only that the exhibit provides visual details about the architectural structures that once stood along Escolta, it also gives its visitors a glimpse of the preferences, lifestyle and taste of the Filipino during that era.
Information source: Felice Prundente-Sta. Maria, Household Antiques and Heirlooms