Bottle diggers unearth buried treasure of Hotel Vancouver silverware

On a cold, wet day in late December, Christian Laub and Julian Hicks slogged their way through a Vancouver forest in pursuit of a hot tip.

Hicks, an actor by trade and newcomer to the hobby of bottle digging, had learned of an old abandoned car in the area.

Hicks had enlisted Laub, a film location scout with years of bottle digging experience, who knew that where there was an old car, there was often antique bottles to be found. 

Once at the secret site, however, the two stumbled upon something completely surprising: a treasure trove of historic silverware from the Hotel Vancouver, possibly dating back over 80 years, buried near a rotting tree stump.

Video posted on social media captures the moment when Hicks hits the mother lode and starts pulling handful after handful of the utensils out of the dirt. 

WATCH | Bottle diggers discover silverware stash in Vancouver, B.C.: 

Buried silverware unearthed

Two men digging for antique bottles stumbled upon a treasure trove of vintage silverware from the historic Hotel Vancouver

“We’ve just hit a hot pocket,” narrates Laub. “This never happens. It’s a whole stash of Hotel Vancouver silverware!”

The pair extracted 121 fully intact pieces and a few broken ones — soup spoons, teaspoons, pickle forks, regular forks, knives and ladles — all with an old Hotel Vancouver insignia clearly stamped in the silver plating.

Julian Hicks (R) and Christian Laub are pictured after recovering vintage silverware from the Hotel Vancouver in Vancouver, British Columbia on Monday January 9, 2023.
Bottle diggers Christian Laub, left, and Julian Hicks, right, found 121 pieces of vintage Hotel Vancouver silverware buried in a Vancouver forest. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

“The experience of reaching your hand in a hole and pulling out a bunch of close to 100-year-old forks and knives, it’s once in a lifetime,” said Hicks. 

“I thought we were gonna have to fight over who got the first piece of cutlery, and then I kept finding more and more and more.”

At first, Laub estimated the silverware dated back to the 1920s.

But a little research revealed a provenance of 1939 or later, when construction of the Hotel Vancouver that still exists today at the corner of Burrard and Georgia streets was finally completed after a five-year delay during the Great Depression. 

“The logo, which says Hotel Vancouver, is a mimic of the Canadian National logo of the time,” said Laub. “Canadian Pacific … joined forces with Canadian National and the two [companies] completed the hotel in time for the King and Queen’s visit to Canada in 1939.”

Hotel Vancouver silverware is can be seen in this 1939 photo of a banquet room and staff.
Hotel Vancouver silverware can be seen in this 1939 photo of a banquet room and staff. (Submitted by the Hotel Vancouver)

The Hotel Vancouver has confirmed the approximate age of the silverware. Laub and Hicks won’t reveal exactly where they found the stash, only saying it was from land near the University of British Columbia.

How it ended up there is a mystery of history.

“It wasn’t just recklessly discarded, it was carefully put there,” said Laub. “But the question is why?

“We’ve come to two conclusions: it was either put there purposely for somebody to find in the future, as we did, or somebody stole it and stashed it for a rainy day and then something happened to that person, or they forgot about it.”

The find includes soup spoons, teaspoons, pickle forks, regular forks, knives and ladles, all with the Hotel Vancouver insignia clearly stamped in the silver plating. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

After an initial cleaning, a few of the pieces looked to be in good condition. Many, however, have some damage, although not nearly what would be expected for being buried in a rainforest for untold decades.

Hicks chalks it up to the fact that the stash was found underneath a car section that had kept it dry all these years.

Collectors of Vancouver history have already started inquiring about buying the find. Laub estimates a single piece in good condition has a market value of around $30 to $40. But not all of the silverware is for sale. 

“We’ve already decided we’re both going to keep one set for ourselves and we’re offering one set to the hotel for their archives,” said Laub. 

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