In some ways, it's a typical old bottle. But it's also the rarest of the rare.

Unearthed 20 years ago, it was previously not known to exist.

And nobody has come up with another.

When a bottle collector finds an example in a league of its own, well ... it's enough to become uncorked with happiness.

That's the case with vintage bottle aficionado John Paul "Bussy" Jones, who believes he owns the rarest bottle in all of Pennsylvania. Fittingly, he keeps it locked away in a safe.

"There's not another one anywhere," says the New Ringgold man, who's been offered thousands to give it up to private collectors.

The soda bottle is an 1850s-era, squat or pony style. A blue cobalt version, it's embossed "L.F. Buehler, Tamaqua."

Jones found it while privy digging in the center of town, a hobby he's enjoyed since 1980.

"I was digging in the back of Gerber's Bar on Mauch Chunk Street," he says. The site now hosts Schick's Cafe Calcutta, a sports bar.

It was discovered among other old bottles that had been casually tossed into the outhouse during a far different era, a common practice in days before the sanitational advantage of municipal garbage collection.

Surprisingly, the bottle was in perfect condition. It boasts air bubbles and imperfections indicative of early bottle making techniques. But to a collector, those telltale signs of age enhance a bottle's value.

Interestingly, the precious gem is marked "Union Glass Works," a firm known to exist in Philadelphia from 1848 to 1852.

Everything about the blue glass speciman is special, right down to the terminology.

"It's called a soda but it actually held beer," said Jones, 62.

While a few Buehler bottles can be found in green, more accurately aquamarine, the cobalt sample stands alone and is a tangible reminder of a family that left a big mark in the community.

The Lewis Buehler family operated the 1850s Union Hotel, plus a bottling business and wholesale and retail wine and liquor operation. Buehler was one of Tamaqua's earliest entrepreneurs.

On Dec. 9, 1865, he inherited $150,000 from a relative in Germany. He invested the funds in his Tamaqua empire.

Buehler's three-story brick building was located just east of the railroad tracks near the Five Points.

The building, directly across from the bell at Depot Square Park, was taken down about 1970. The land is now part of the extreme west end of the M & T Bank parking lot.

Buehler legacy

The Buehler family left a legacy in Tamaqua celebrated to this day.

One of the family's final descendants was Howard "Moe" Buehler, a bachelor with a kind, loving reputation.

Son of John and Rose Buehler, he was born Dec. 26, 1903, and raised at 332-334 Hazle St.

Friends say Buehler was a tall, imposing man, standing 6-feet 4-inches with a heart just as big. He had three brothers and a sister and stayed close to home. However, he served time in the Army as a cook, then returned to operate Buehler's Cafe.

Buehler passed away July 16, 1968, age 65, and is buried in Tamaqua's Odd Fellows Cemetery. According to provisions of his will, Buehler designated his holdings in stocks, certificates and real estate to be liquidated and proceeds used to care for the lifetime needs of his two closest relatives, a sister and a sister-in-law.

According to his wishes, the remainder was to be used at the Tamaqua swimming pool to benefit children. Miners National Bank trustees followed Buehler's instructions exactingly, eventually turning over $260,000 to the borough about 1975.

No one knows for sure what prompted Buehler to be so benevolent.

Some say fond memories of his own happy childhood led him to bequeath his estate that way. Others say it was simply his desire to make children happy.

Jones, a history buff, is proud to own part of the Buehler legacy and to share it with his family, including his wife, the former Nancy Markwordt, and sons Ryan and Derek. He also shares his passion for digging.

All family members take part in privy digs, including Jones' brother Bill, nephew Matt, and others.

Nancy, retired school teacher, admits to having been a nervous Nellie a few times over the years.

"I was afraid for the boys when they dug at places where there were mine sites," she said. She feared they'd pick a bad spot and find themselves falling into a mine void. Fortunately, it never happened.

Other finds

The Jones collection includes other enticing rarities, such as the Aleck Campbell, Summit Hill, squat-type bottle. Campbell was said to be a member of the reputed Molly Maguires.

Others include the McClafferty, Girardville, bottle and several McGinty, Tamaqua, bottles.

"Back then, the Irish owned the bars," said Jones, employed as lab technician at Air Products, Hometown.

Another of his finds is a Gavulla bottle, reflecting a short-lived trend in home bottling.

Andrew Gavulla was a Mahanoy City native who moved to 417 Willing St., Tamaqua, and opened an independent bottling business in his basement. Little is recorded, except that Gavulla dabbled in the enterprise from 1912 to 1917.

Last October, Jones dug a site in Nesquehoning. But then the bad winter set in and he took a break. Next month, he'll resume with scheduled digs in a variety of places, including Emmaus.

He said Tamaqua backyards, in particular, yield lots of prime bottles for a variety of reasons.

For one, he says, the town is old (1799) and was home to many miners, many of whom imbibed.

"They were heavy drinkers in these old towns," said Jones, who started his hobby "by digging old farm dumps."

He occasionally finds unexpected items. While excavating a privy site at the Tamaqua American Legion on Thanksgiving Day 15 years ago, Jones came up with a perfect set of 1850s false teeth. They appear to be in mint condition and would work just fine. But he's not planning to give them a try.

He's looking forward with renewed enthusiasm after a long, bitter winter and overcoming serious illness and hospitalization.

It was enough to make someone frustrated and blue. But Jones understands that being blue can be a good thing, especially when it's found in an old bottle that carries the Buehler name. A bottle like that is the creme de la creme.

Bussy Jones has found his niche. His dig is digging. It's therapeutic, his medicine.

"It's a great hobby. It's almost like being an archaeologist," he said. "You never know what you'll find."

Could be a bottle worth thousands.

Some men pan for gold at the bottom of a creek bed. Some mine coal. Others dive into dumps and outhouses. Makes no difference. The bowels of the earth can turn up riches.

It teaches us the lesson that one man's trash is another man's treasure.

And it sure can chase away the blues.