Sera Coblentz admits that she’s always had an interest in historical items and has always been an antique buff, so when she recently saw a ceramic jug lying in an empty Weehawken lot near her home in the Shades section of town, she had to take a closer look.
“I was just curious what was going on over there,” Coblentz said. “There was a lot of action going on. Trees were being cut down. A bulldozer was digging dirt. There were piles of dirt and a huge hole in the middle of the ground. It looked like a swamp. But then, there was this ceramic jug lying against the fence. I had to see what it was.”
With a keen eye for antiques, Coblentz figured the jug had to be close to 100 years old.
“I had just recently purchased one just like it from a homeless man for $5 and it was worth about $200,” Coblentz said. “This jug was just like it. It was like a dream come true.”
Being a curious sort, Coblentz had to take a closer look. So she decided to climb the fence and enter the construction area.
“There was no sign stating ‘No Trespassing,’ ” Coblentz said. “My boyfriend thought I was crazy, but I had to see what was in there. So I hopped the fence to check it out.”
It didn’t take long for Coblentz to find some amazing items.
“Within a half hour, I found 40 to 50 unbroken glass bottles of all colors,” Coblentz said. “They were beautiful blue and green, lying right there with the concrete and the rubble. I went over there with three five gallon buckets and just kept filling them up with what I found.”
Among the rubble were a porcelain doll, some hat pins, a man’s pipe made of porcelain, glass perfume bottles and hundreds of antique plates. Coblentz plans to make a mosaic tabletop from the pieces of the broken plates. She also found ceramic crocks that once held condiments like dry mustard and flour.
“I also found an old hotel china soap dish,” Coblentz said. “Some of the bottles I found still had their original corks or stoppers in them.”
Coblentz kept going back to the lot on a daily basis, digging two, perhaps three feet below the surface to find the items.
“I set up these two wood pallets along the side of the fence so I wouldn’t have to climb the fence each time,” Coblentz said. “Neighbors would see me going in there and ask, ‘Sera, what are you doing?’ I’d tell them that I was just digging. One day a police officer came by and asked me what I was doing. I told him I was looking for antique bottles.”
One day, the owner of the property spotted Coblentz’ archeological efforts.
“He told me that instead of climbing the fence, he would open the gate,” Coblentz said. “He was so cool about it after I told him what I was doing.”
In the span of a week, Coblentz went back home with more than 100 different items. After contacting both the Historical Commissions in Hoboken and Weehawken, Coblentz discovered that the area must have been an old dumping ground from the turn of the century, long before there was ever a thing known as public sanitation.
“Every town had an area where people brought their garbage,” Coblentz said. “This must have been Weehawken’s town dump around the turn of the century. Over the years, trees grew and the place was forgotten about. The bottles and the ceramics were able to survive all this time. It really is amazing.”
Coblentz donated some of her find to both the Weehawken and Hoboken Historical Commissions. Lauren Sherman of the Weehawken Historical Commission said that Coblentz’ findings will be exhibited at the Weehawken Free Public Library sometime in the fall.
Included in the artifacts that Coblentz donated to Weehawken was the ceramic jug that started it all.
Two centuries ago
“Some of the things are definitely from the 19th century,” Sherman said. “Others are probably from the 1930s. It really is an amazing find. How often do you have an excavation five minutes from your home and finding things from the turn of the century?”
Coblentz added, “It was so relaxing and fun, digging around and finding something else,” said Coblentz, who works as a waitress in Hoboken. “It takes my mind off everything else. It really was a nice experience.”
Added Coblentz, “My grandparents were Classics professors and would go all over Greece digging for things, so it’s always been a part of my family. They would always find some wild stuff, but it was always so beautiful to look at. It always fascinated me. I have an arts background and I’m always bringing home something from the trash that I can work with.”
Now, she has a bunch of items to work with and admire.
There was only one sense of sadness in Coblentz’ voice. The lot where she did her digging has been completely flattened now. There’s nothing left to dig.
“They’ve already poured concrete and it’s probably going to become a parking lot,” Coblentz said. “It’s sad. I know I could have found more. I guess I have to be happy with what I got.”