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World’s Oldest Message in a Bottle is 132 Years Old

132 Year Old Message in a Bottle Found

As of March 2018, the oldest message in a bottle ever found was 132 years old when it was discovered. Tonya Illman was simply walking among sand dunes in Western Australia with a friend when she discovered a very old gin bottle that she thought “would be nice for her bookshelf,” according to the BBC. Tonya, her husband Kym, and their son’s girlfriend passed the bottle around, and noticed something inside.

“We took it home and put it in the oven for five minutes to dry up the moisture,” Kym told the BBC. “Then we unrolled it and saw printed writing. We could see the hand written ink at that point, but saw a printed message that asked the reader to contact the German consulate when they found the note.”

Oldest Message in a Bottle Kym and Tonya

Kym Illman and his wife Tonya with the 132 year old message in a bottle she found. Photo: Kym Illman – used with permission of Kym Illman Photography.

The BBC reported that “The Illman family have loaned the find to the Western Australian Museum for the next two years, and it will be on display to the public from Wednesday.” Anyone fancy a field trip to the Western Australian Museum?

World’s Oldest Message in a Bottle Was Used for Ocean Science

Like many of the oldest messages in bottles ever found (including the second oldest message in a bottle and the fourth oldest), the reason this message in a bottle was made and dropped overboard was to study ocean currents. The vessel that dropped the message in the Indian Ocean was a German research ship called Paula.

Painting of the German research vessel, Paula, that sent the world's oldest message in a bottle in 1886

Painting of the German research vessel, Paula, that sent the world’s oldest message in a bottle in 1886–forwarded to the Illmans as the researched the note. Published by Lancelin.

Photo of the German research vessel, Paula, that sent the world's oldest message in a bottle in 1886

Photo of the German research vessel, Paula, that sent the world’s oldest message in a bottle in 1886–forwarded to the Illmans as the researched the note. Published by Lancelin.

World’s Oldest Message in a Bottle Authenticated Based on Handwriting Sample

Dr. Ross Anderson, Assistant Curator of Maritime Archaeology at the Western Australia Museum, told the BBC that “an archival search in Germany found Paula’s original Meteorological Journal and there was an entry for 12 June 1886 made by the captain, recording a drift bottle having been thrown overboard. The date and the coordinates correspond exactly with those on the bottle message.”

In other words, everything written on the message by the person who sent it was also recorded in the ship’s log by the same person! Here’s the WA Museum’s side-by-side comparison of the handwriting:

Oldest Message in a Bottle Handwriting Comparison Western Australia Museum

Handwriting comparison between the writing on the world’s oldest message in a bottle and the known author’s handwriting. Photo: Western Australian Museum.

Also, according to the BBC, “Thousands of bottles were thrown overboard during the 69-year German experiment but to date only 662 messages – and no bottles – had been returned. The last bottle with a note to be found was in Denmark in 1934.”

This means that there could very well be more bottled notes from the same experiment just waiting to be found…

***If you liked this story, click here to find me on Facebook and like my page for more message in a bottle stories! You never know when YOU could be the one to solve a message in a bottle mystery! Also, Kym Illman is an accomplished photographer, and you can click here to visit his website and see the most amazing photos and video of the 132 year old message in a bottle. Finally, click here to learn more about messages in bottles, and you can always contact me with questions, ideas, or stories.

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