Monday, June 23, 2008

Inks Found near Toronto’s First Racetrack

Dumpdiggers walked Queen St west all the way to Roncesvalles yesterday. This part of Toronto is littered with cut-rate junk shops trying to be couture and proffer fine collectibles, but their contents are mostly crap. The exception is Pickwick’s Choice Antiques at 1698 Queen St West.

Harold Barrett is an old friend of the Dumpdiggers, and I have personally traded bottles and stories with him since 1996. I see written here on his card that he has been in the antiques business since 1974. Today he sells mostly small furniture and the stuff that young urban professionals use to furnish their 600 sq ft condos, but there was a time when his store was crammed with perfume bottles, pottery, coins, silver cutlery, art deco ashtrays and crystal glassware. Those were happy days when kitsch was cool and old bottles were all the rage.

After some easy conversation on the sidewalk I followed Harold into his store and found two crude English inks basking in the sunlight on an oak table just inside the front door.

Lyons Ink. Less than 3 inches tall. B.I.M., shearlip. Aqua glass. Embossed LYONS INK in a circular pattern at the base of square bottle.

‘Where did you get these inks Harold?’

‘They were found by a backhoe operator working near the old racetrack in Weston.’

‘Hmm… Where is Weston again?’

Inside what is now the City of Toronto, at the intersection of Lawrence and Old Weston Rd, there was once a small mill town on the quiet banks of the Humber river. My research tells me that Carleton Track was located on the southeast corner lots of Keele and Dundas St more than one hundred and fifty years ago. This was the very place in which the Queens Plate was inaugurated on Wednesday, June 27, 1860. Its not really in Weston and not really in Toronto - the Carleton Track was located in between the two urban centers in a place still called 'The Junction'.

Could these inks have been used by Sir Casimir Gzowski or Thomas Patteson to write to Queen Victoria in Buckingham Palace on April 1, 1859 on behalf of the Toronto Turf Club to petition a plate of fifty guineas for a horse race in Upper Canada?

Today the actual trophy, the 'Queen’s Plate' they position in front of the TV cameras, is actually a gold cup, about a foot high? It should be called the Queen's Gold Cup or something more appropriate.

Back in 1860, Sir Casimir Gzowski was a distinguished engineer whose father had been a Polish officer in the Russian Imperial Guard. He wrote a lot of letters and was probably one of the most well connected men in Toronto, which had a population of about 45,000 people.

Here is a photo of Weston Rd in rush hour in the year 1920. Look at how the horse drawn buggies and fine carriages still compete with cars for the road, and I do believe that’s an electric streetcar in the background…? If so that same mass transit system must have connected with Toronto.

Back in 1860, by successfully establishing an annual 'Queen's Plate' incentive, Sir Casimir and Mr. Patteson had made Canadian horse racing “the sport of royalty”.

The Carleton racetrack disappeared as horseracing moved down to the lakeshore area of Toronto to a track called Woodbine (Greenwood) in 1874. A retired innkeeper, Joseph Duggan sold a large parcel of land on what is today Lakeshore Boulevard to gentlemen named Pardee and Howell who ran an unsavory horse racing racket and were soon run out of town.

When legitimate horse racing solidified at Woodbine there was both thoroughbred and standardbred races, the latter was harness racing with sulkys. Gambling was tolerated and police were usually present at each match.

The Origin of American Standardbred Racehorses

According to Betty and Jack on this Ontario harness racing fan site, John Jacob Astor bought an imported British horse named Messenger in 1788 and bred him 'with any easy equine he could get his hands on…' and he had some fast children.

Over time, Messenger’s sons had foals of their own. One odd looking horse in particular, a big-rumped stallion named Hambletonian, was particularly fast.

Over the next 24 years Hambletonian became North America’s premier stud horse producing more than 1,300 foals. Today, the lineage of virtually all American Standardbred racehorses can be traced back to four of Hambletonian’s sons.

Bad News! This ink bottle is just not that old. This vessel was made in England in 1885 tops. Veteran Dumpdiggers tell me that LYONS INK is cheap English crap. They look old because they’re so crude, but in fact they are probably turn-of-the-century manufacture. Was this blown into a mold? Yes and yes that crude top was tooled off in the factory and no attention paid to the appearance of the closure as long as the cork fit snugly in the mouth.

Because I want to know how much its really worth (if anything?) , I put this early aqua LYONS INK on eBay.

DESCRIPTION: Sometimes called a snap bottle, this vessel was made in England in the late 1800s and filled with India ink then packed in wooden gross (144 units) crates and shipped to markets all over the world (in this case, Canada). Sheer top, this aqua colored ink has pronounced vertical ridges on three sides. The fourth side is flat and no doubt once accommodated a paper label. The 3 x3 inch bottle was blown into a mold? I think so. And as you can see in the second picture, there's some embossing in a circular stamp on the bottom of the vessel that reads 'LYONS INK'

The bottle is in 'as found' condition. The stains and blemishes on the glass are well detailed in the third photo. There is also some recent damage to the top.

Does anyone have anything to add about this ink?


Crankyputz said...

I think I learnt more about Toronto in the 5 minutes it took to read your post,than from living here for the past 12 years...

Deborah said...

Hi..I came from blogcataloue. I don't know much about antiques, but my dad used to take us to dig in old army dumps for bottles (in Manitoba) I do have a post on my blog with alot of Dad's 'treasures' if you want to check it out at Songs From My Journey..June 10th, Tour Tuesday post.

Christina said...

well, I just love old glass, and ink bottles rule !! and crankyputz said it well, your Toronto history lesson covered alot...tho I don't live anywhre near T., I found the article intriguing. Kept drawing me in...