HE'S GOT A LOTTA BOTTLE! Crate expectations for enthusiast's collection of 20,000 milk bottles.
TEVE Wheeler is the adlactologist considered the cream of the crop.
s In fact, when it comes to milk bottle collectors - that's what adlactologists do - he's the undisputed pastor of the pasteurised, simply the cratest.
Because 67-year-old Steve has a collection of more than 20,000 bottles.
That's right, TWENTY THOUSAND, some of them from the churn of the century.
And he has turned his home in Malvern, Worcerstershire, into a unique milk museum.
But the story of doorstep deliveries from 1880 to the present day is missing one important chapter.
Steve is desperate for early Black Country sterilised milk bottles - and hopes Sunday Mercury readers can help out.
"The Black Country was the 'stera' capital of the country," he explains. "I have a 1930s bottle from Kinver Dairy but I'm desperate for others."
Steve, who exported cattle for a living, was first introduced to the wonderful world of milk bottles 30 years ago.
While walking the Brecon Beacons, he discovered one from a long-lost dairy. It was the start of a hobby that has seen him scour America and Australia for empties.
The museum - a workshop in Steve's garden - is now crammed with 14-and-a-half tonnes of glass.
"Technically, they're not valuable," he admits. "But everything has a value.
"A lot of mine have come from electricians who have pulled up floorboards and found really rare bottles." Wife Sue, he admits, is NOT a fellow collector, but she's fine with it.
"On most of our holidays, I'll go out 'milk bottling', searching farms, old dairies, going down tracks," he admits. "Sue acts as my navigator."
There's not a lot Steve doesn't know about the humble milk bottle, launched in America in 1878. London's Express Dairies followed suit two years later. Early examples weighed more than 20 ounces, later reduced to seven ounces.
"The main thing that has changed is the amount of glass used," says Steve. "And that was simply down to the cost of washing bottles.
"Fifty per cent of the costs incurred by dairies was washing the empties."
And don't believe the white stuff has always come in pintas.
Steve's collection includes gallon bottles from Associated Dairies.
"One bottle called 'The Big 'Un was launched by Associated Dairies in the 1970s," he reveals. "It held one-and-a-half litres and came in three colours. It was for supermarkets, but was a disaster. No housewife wanted something that big and heavy."
Steve is in high spirits as we chat. He has, after years of searching, located a sought-after bottle from Matthews Dairy, Herefordshire. It is the Penny Black of the milko world. But the extraordinary collector fears we may be seeing the death throes of glass pintas as fewer people rely on milkmen.
"You rarely see a bottle in a supermarket," he huffs. "No-one wants the empties back. What annoys me is a bottle of milk costs 70p, yet you can spend PS2 on a bottle of water."
Steve's unusual hobby earned him a place in last year's Dull Men of Great Britain book, alongside such characters as traffic cone collector David Morgan and postbox photographer Peter Willis. He felt honoured and hopes the publicity will make more people view the humble milk bottle in a different light.
After all, it's history on our doorstep. | If you've got an old 'stera' bottle, contact Steve on 01684 569656 or email firstname.lastname@example.org
A lot of them come from electricians who have pulled up floorboards and found really rare bottles
Steve Wheeler, below, has created a massive collection of milk bottles for his museum