The gin bottle itself could date back to the year 1880.

oldest message in a bottle
Credit: Courtesy of Kym Illman

Today, plenty of social media apps like Snapchat specialize in making sure your alcohol-soaked messages are deleted not long after you’ve sent them. But over 131 years ago, a written message sent in a literal gin bottle proved to be far less ephemeral: A woman in Western Australia found what will likely be certified as the world’s oldest message in a bottle when she came across a century-plus-old gin bottle stuck in a sand dune along the beach.

On January 21, Tonya Illman pulled a bottle from a beach-side sand dune near Wedge Island in Western Australia, not quite realizing the importance of what she found. “I picked it up thinking it might look nice on display in my home,” she said. Another member of her group noticed what they first thought was a cigarette inside the container, but—after a bit of drying—was determined to be a more-than-a-century-year-old note. “The first thing that caught my eye was the year field, 18__,” explained family member Kym Illman on his photography website.

The family got in touch with the Western Australia Maritime Museum which was able to connect all the dots. The note was dated June 12, 1886, and was determined to most likely have come from a German boat named Paula that was traveling through the Indian Ocean. As for the bottle itself, the WA Museum traced its production to Daniel Visser and Zonen in Schiedam, The Netherlands, and believes it either contained gin or the gin precursor, genever. Meanwhile, the distinct shape of the bottle helped date it. “The starting point of production of this specific type of gin bottle is c. 1880 (typical tapered shape of the rim),” Dutch archeologist J. van Doesburg was quoted as saying. “The oldest ones are quite angular, just as older types. The later ones have a more rounded shoulder. The development from angular to round takes about 20-30 years and is gradual. [This] bottle should be placed somewhere in this development.”

The Illmans now believe that their find will be confirmed by the Guinness World Records as the oldest message in a bottle, beating the previous record, set by a 108-year-old bottle, by more than 23 years.