by David Smith
Marge Hollis was a dressmaker who collected miniature bottles and worked from home. Two of her customers saw the bottles and revealed that they too collected. In January 1981 the three of them, Marge Hollis, Helen Marson and Phyl Walsh, decided to form a club, as there appeared to be no club in New Zealand for mini bottle collectors. In February 1981 they put a notice for an inaugural meeting in a local Hutt Valley paper. Only one other couple turned up, Ross and Debbie Page. Despite this they decided to found the Hutt Valley Miniature Bottle Collectors Association, with Ross as the inaugural President.
Over the next couple of months they gained a couple of members from elsewhere in the Wellington region and a proposal was put forward to change the name to the Wellington Miniature Bottle Club. A couple of the original Hutt Valley members objected to this and a compromise name was adopted, Port Nicholson Miniature Bottle Club. Port Nicholson is Wellington Harbour and both Wellington City and the Hutt Valley border it. Have a look at a Google Map of Port Nicholson
In July 1981 I saw an advertising card that they had put into a local bottle store (liquor store / off-licence) and phoned the contact about an advertised meeting the following Sunday. I was told that it would be a waste of time my turning up as they were not attracting members and would probably close the club. Talk like that is like a red rag to a bull to me so the following Sunday my late wife, Jackie and myself turned up - and shook them up! Jackie became secretary, a position she held most years until she died in 1998 and I was elected as a committee member. I have been a committee member of one sort or another ever since.
Membership increased only by two or three over the next year, then we had a stroke of luck. We were approached by someone trying to sell a collection of about 600 bottles. I held an auctioneer's license and offered to auction them. We advertised for more bottles to go in the auction and got about another 1800. We held the auction on Saturday 26th March 1983 in an empty floor of a building my business partners and myself had recently bought. We contacted the Wellington newspapers and hit the jackpot with The Evening Post. On the Friday before the auction they printed an article and a large photo of Jackie behind some of the bottles and holding up more - on the front page. The auction was a great success. We doubled our NZ membership and increased our membership overall by 150% as we gained our first overseas members. Some people who joined as a result of the auction are still members. The commissions on the sales amounted to many times the previous club funds and left us with enough money to properly promote the club.
Later in 1983 Manawatu Auction Co. of Palmerston North held the first of the three mini bottle auctions they held during the 1980's. At each of these auctions members increased their collections and we signed up new members for the club. In the mid-80's some members had a falling out and started a rival club, the New Zealand Miniature Bottle Collectors Association. This ran for about three years before merging, in January 1987, with the, by then, much larger Port Nicholson Miniature Bottle Club. At a meeting in the late 80's I suggested that we change our name to the New Zealand Miniature Bottle Club, as Port Nicholson no longer fitted, but the motion was defeated.
Unbeknown to the founders of PNMBC, when they formed the club another mini bottle club already existed and had been in existence since sometime in the 1970's. The Northern Alcophilist Club was Auckland based and had members as far south as Rotorua, which was as far south as practical as they relied entirely on meetings and never published a newsletter. Erica Mulder was a member of that club before ours and tried to get them to work together with us. They did not wish to know us! They closed in the late 1980's and a few of their members joined PNMBC.
I should also mention our newsletter, miNiZ. This was first published in an A4 format, in 1983 and from then on, in theory at least, six times per year. As I amend this we have just published issue 128. Originally published so we could keep in touch with, and recruit members elsewhere in NZ, it was quickly turned into a newsletter of interest to a growing number of overseas members. Over the years miNiZ has changed considerably. Originally it was a few pages pasted together and with much of the information from other alcohol/bottle related sources (ripped off without permission and often without even an acknowledgement of the source!). Today it is still in an A4 format but has evolved to a quarterly publication in full colour, although it is generally larger than previouly. An index of all editions and articles can be found Here. Older editions of miNiZ are availiable for you to read on-line or download.
Our first meeting outside Wellington was in Wanganui in October 1984. Membership had then grown to 48. In February 1986 the club had it's 5th birthday and held the AGM for the first time on the farm of Di & Ron Opie at Patea. This became a tradition that lasted until the farm was sold in 2004. Members got far more than just an AGM. It was always a lively long weekend away. Activities included walking, fishing, boating, tennis, petanque, shooting, swimming (in later years there was a large indoor swimming pool) and much more. We barbecued, spit roasted a whole pig or sheep and ate some of the crayfish (lobster) that Ron had caught. In fact food was never a problem as there was always too much. Particularly in the early years, when many of our members had smaller children, it was a real family weekend. The swapmeet was always the best of the year. By-the-way, the composite above is the graphic we made to publicise the weekend and it was later on teeshirts.
Over the years the club has always supplied bottles to it's members. Usually these are hard or impossible to obtain elsewhere and always they were sold at a very reasonable price. Although profits per bottle were small this became a major source of funding for the club and eventually gave us enough of a bank account to make membership free. Undoubtedly our biggest 'coup' was obtaining the permission of Air New Zealand to have a run of 70 sets of The Colonial Collection made for sale to members (three of the set of 11 are at the top of the page). Most of the members would not have been able to obtain them if we had not done this as Air New Zealand only gave these away for a few weeks in 1986. As a result of this promotion the club grew to it's largest membership, 120 (now exceded). The club has also made a number of 'Club Bottles' over the years, the latest of which was our 25th Anniversary boxed set. Our 16th Anniversary bottle was given free to all members. Two of our former members died and left us their collections, the proceeds of which paid for the bottle (and more). One bottle of note was Wellie Water. Hundreds of these were given free to bottle stores to give away to people who bought minis. Each had a tag on it advertising the club. The idea seemed a great one but it was our most unsuccessful promotion as we gained not a single member!
PNMBC was the first Miniature Bottle Club with a web site - and the second! Two of us, Errol Brasset & myself, were working on sites (secretly) at the same time. Errol beat me to it by a month so my site was altered to become 'Drinks Links' and complimentary to the main club site. Our hosting company, Voyager, closed down in 2003 and Errol (temporarily) left the club, so we were without a web presence until this new site was posted in 2006.
Meetings over the years have varied between lively and abandoned through lack of interest. Originally the third Sunday of every month, the club now meets every second month in Wellington and occasionally in other parts of NZ. Wellington meetings are now usually a 'pot luck' lunch. Members always bring some new bottles to show and usually there are bottles to buy or swap.
In February 2008 we changed the club name to the New Zealand Miniature Bottle Club. We have been a national club since the 1980's so this name finally reflects who we are.
In 2017, after an overwhelming vote by the membnership, we became a free club. miNiZ is now available to members on-line only, with back copies, up to two years ago, available for non-members to read also. In 2020 we published all past issues of miNiZ in Flip Book format, which enabled us to make it mobile friendly as well.
So, where to from here? The club will keep going as long as New Zealander's continue to collect minis. There are less and less places selling minis in NZ but, with the ease of making labels now, more and more minis are becoming available - many of which are only exported or made for special occasions. A number of mini bottle clubs around the world have folded in the last few years, although other clubs have sprung up (China, Georgia, Ukraine etc.). It was a great loss to the hobby when Miniature Bottle Collector ceased publication as this magazine bound both collectors and the mini bottle clubs together. Click here for scans of Miniature Bottle Collector. The internet shows how international the hobby is and collectors are showing up in dozens of countries (we now have a 30 country membership). Many collectors have their own web sites and there are a number of FaceBook Groups dedicated to mini bottle collecting and/or sale of minis. Our introduction of emailed copies of miNiZ (for a considerably cheaper annual membership fee) helped grow the membership again and making the club free has resulted in a record membership. I'm optimistic.