Message in a Bottle, Found in the Baltic Sea, Is 100 Years Old | Smart News | Smithsonian
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This is not the 101 year old message in a bottle. (Robby Ryke)

Message in a Bottle, Found in the Baltic Sea, Is 100 Years Old

While this new Baltic bottle will probably take the prize for oldest verified message in a bottle, it's probably not actually the oldest

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This week, a German fisherman pulled a 101-year-old message in a bottle out of the Baltic Sea. The message was written by a man named Richard Platz, and set to sea in 1913. It may be the oldest message in a bottle ever recovered, according to the Guardian

The International Maritime Museum was able to identify Platz’s granddaughter, Angela Erdmann, and sent her the message. When she saw the bottle and postcard inside, Erdmann said she was touched. "Tears rolled down my cheeks,” she told the Guardian

According to the Guiness Book of World Records, the oldest known message in a bottle is from 1914, a year after this one. But according to Matt Novak at Gizmodo, there’s an even earlier bottle that actually takes the prize—having been written and set afloat in 1906 and found by a man named Steve Thurber last year. Or at least that’s the most likely date for the message, Novak explains why there’s some difficulty in dating it:

The curious wrinkle in the Canadian bottle story? Thurber doesn't want to open it. This makes independent verification difficult, and will probably lead to the German bottle being officially declared the oldest by the Guinness Book of World Records. Before Thurber's Canadian capsule was found, the oldest known message in a bottle was discovered near Scotland in 2012 and dated back to 1914, having spent nearly 98 years floating at sea.

According to Therber, you can make out a date by looking through the glass to the message inside, which he says reads September 29, 1906. So while this new Baltic bottle will probably take the prize for oldest verified message in a bottle, Theber’s find probably trumps it. 

But how common is it to find a really old message in a bottle? Well, for a while, people were really into sending these kinds of messages. In 1914, a World War I soldier tossed a letter to his wife into the English Channel two days before being killed. It was recovered in 1999, and returned to their daughter. In 1916, the crew of a Zeppelin sent their final words as messages in bottles, and they were found on a beach in Sweden six months later. In 2012, one of the 1,890 messages in bottles that a scientist in Scotland cast into the ocean in 1914 to study currents was found. At the time, the 98-year-old bottle was the oldest in the world.  Only 350 of those bottles have been recovered, so it’s possible that there are more still out there to find. Time to go sailing. 

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About Rose Eveleth
Rose Eveleth

Rose Eveleth is a writer for Smart News and a producer/designer/ science writer/ animator based in Brooklyn. Her work has appeared in the New York Times, Scientific American, Story Collider, TED-Ed and OnEarth.

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