World’s Oldest Message in a Bottle?

Konrad Fischer 1913Something strange has been happening in the world’s oceans over the last three years. Waves keep tossing up contenders for the title of World’s Oldest Message in a Bottle.

This week, numerous news outlets have proclaimed fisherman Konrad Fischer the new record holder for finding a bottle thrown into the Baltic Sea by Richard Platz on May 17, 1913. A 20-year-old baker, Platz was out for a jaunt with a nature group.

Andrew LeaperThat beat by one year the bottle that Andrew Leaper, also a fisherman, found off Scotland’s Shetland Isles in 2012. Captain C. Hunter Brown from the Glasgow School of Navigation dropped that bottle into the sea in roughly the same area on June 10, 1914 to study current drift.

Of the 1890 bottles originally released in the experiment, 315 have been found. The card inside promises six pence to anyone who returns a bottle. Leaper won a place in the Guiness Book of Records for his find, besting the previous record, which was also set with one of the drift bottles. Oddly enough, a friend of Leaper found that bottle while sailing on the exact same fishing boat six years earlier.

So does Fischer hold the new record by finding Platz’s 1913 bottle?

Message in bottle 1906Not so fast. Last year Steve Thurbur found a message in a bottle while beachcombing in Tofino, Canada. The note inside said Earl Willard threw it overboard from the steamer Ranier on September 29, 1906 when sailing from San Francisco to Bellingham, Washington. However, Thurbur’s find might be hard to verify because the date on the message has only been read through the bottle glass. He doesn’t want to break the seal to remove it.

Imagine what was happening in the world when each of these missives landed in the ocean. In 1906, San Francisco was still recovering from the great earthquake that leveled much of the city a few months previously. In 1913, suffragettes marched for women’s rights in England and America. And in June 1914, Europe was just weeks away from the start of World War I.

And through it all, people put messages into bottles to set adrift on the tides of time.