Most of us are fascinated by superlatives. We can't wait to see or experience something that is said to be the world's oldest, biggest, smallest, best or first.
And so it was when I recently decided to check out the excellent exhibition "Havens in a Heartless World - Virginia City Saloons and the Archeology of the Wild West" at the Nevada State Museum in Carson City.
The show is a scholarly look at artifacts uncovered between 1993 and 2001 by archaeologists excavating the sites of four 19th century saloons in Virginia City. The quartet included an Irish pub, a shooting gallery and saloon, a black-owned saloon and a drinking establishment associated with the famed Piper's Opera House.
But I wasn't all that interested in archaeology. I wanted to see one object in particular that had been discovered. I wanted to look at the world's oldest-known Tabasco sauce bottle.
I'd read about the bottle, which was found in the remains of the Boston Saloon, the black-owned business. Archaeologists had dug up fragments of the shattered bottle on the site of the saloon, which had operated between 1864 and 1875. The bottle dates to about 1869, and was reassembled at the University of Nevada, Reno's archaeology lab.
I really wanted to see this bottle, about which even the original Tabasco sauce company had made a big deal. I looked up the story of the bottle on the Tabasco sauce Web site and discovered that the company's own historian had certified that it was the earliest-surviving form of a bottle used by the company, which began producing the hot pepper sauce in 1868.
So I headed to check out the exhibit. The show has been in the changing gallery since late January, and is scheduled to close on June 18.
Not surprisingly, once I was there, I realized that the bottle was only a small part of the whole presentation. A dozen Plexiglas displays and placards told the whole story about the digs, what they produced, and what they tell us about early Virginia City.
The excavations produced more than 300,000 artifacts. Those fragments of the past told the scientists what types of food was served, whether meals were served on fine china or plain dishes, and other information.
I found the display containing the world's oldest Tabasco bottle as well as many other equally interesting items. For instance, in one case, there is a cherrywood toothpick container, also from the Boston Saloon; in another was a spittoon from John Piper's Old Corner Bar.
Nearby was a display of a rare-but-intact 1871 Dr. Wonsor's Indian Root Bitters bottle, believed to one of fewer than a dozen ever found.
An interesting side note is that a worker assisting with the restoration of Piper's Opera House stole it from the site. The theft became known after the worker sold the bottle for $16,000.
I wandered through the rest of the displays, gaining more of an understanding about the role that saloons played in Virginia City's rich history (they just weren't for getting drunk). There was a case of ceramic ale bottles and glass mugs, and another filled with several intact soda and ale bottles - some still filled with liquid - and an unusual, imported carbon water filter.
One display contained a handful of items that showed other recreational activities went on in the saloons. A 22-caliber Smith and Wesson revolver and hundreds of spent cartridge found at the Hibernia Brewery and Saloon indicates that it doubled as a shooting gallery.
Other artifacts found included dice, poker chips and a cribbage board.
It was all very enlightening, and I wasn't even disappointed to find out that the Tabasco bottle on display isn't really the world's oldest. The original is on display in Virginia City. The one in the exhibition is actually an exact copy made using new, state-of-the-art digital technology.
I wonder if I could use the same technology to make a duplicate of myself so I don't have to go to work on Monday?
• Richard Moreno is the author of "Backyard Travels in Northern Nevada" and "The Roadside History of Nevada."