Saturday, July 11, 2009
A Dumpdiggers Perusal
This dumpdigger made a house call today, Sat Jun 10th 2009 the author spent a lovely Saturday afternoon with Dale Thurman, deep in the concrete jungle, east of Yonge St just below Bloor, and right in the heart of Toronto's downtown core. The wise man contacted me seeking an appraisal, and so I've created this post to help relate the experience to you.
Dale Thurman is a building contractor and jack of all trades with a long resume and a career of happy customers. He doesn’t advertise his business anymore, but rather works steady all year long on word of mouth referrals and co ventures. Dale is an old school structural engineer, a restoration expert and savvy pack rat.
He's also a studied historian and the self appointed protector of the Thurman family heirlooms and special keepsakes. His apartment is well organized to accommodate the mission. The living room shelters a drafting table, sewing machines and lathes and the walls are lined with filing cabinets and shelves; its part museum part machine shop. Dale’s office could double as a mad scientist's lair.
He asked me for an honest appraisal.
When I stepped in the door I knew immediately what I was seeing – a bottle bug. Dale is obsessed with glass and at age 56 he's still taking home anything and everything he finds because he can't bear to part with the objects after experiencing the thrill of discovering them at work. After forty years of doing home renovations on the oldest houses in this city, Mr Thurman had unearthed lots of bottles. At one site in particular, near the intersection of Jones St and Queen St (in what I consider the ‘golden triangle’ of Toronto) he trenched into a 1920’s residential dump full of old sodas, medicines, and food bottles.
Visitors in Dale's apartment see immediately, above the front windows, a wide shelf with about two hundred pieces of glass stacked in rows. At first glace it appears to be treasure trove of old bottles, but closer inspection reveals that almost every piece is machine made, most are blanks, one fifth are screw tops and some are badly damaged. In the most severe cases, some of Dale's bottles are partially melted (from the dump fires). However, I soon spied on the wall of his apartment two bottles with faded brown paper labels that I knew were going to be significant.
Even from the floor I could read the labels,
E.E. RUTHERFORD (Re-Astilled Glycerin)
J.F. HARTZ Co., PURE OLIVE OIL
Although glycerin and olive oil are both found in the early 1900s kitchen, these bottles appear medicinal and were probably used in a pharmacological enterprise.
Then we focused on the Dairy Bottles. My experience has taught me that there are more collectors of dairies and sodas than there are for medicines and sauce bottles and food jars (cathedral pickles excluded) even though these genres of glass bottles are also richly embossed and usually just as pretty.
In perusing Dale's milks I lifted each specimen to scrutinize the bottom for pontil mark that would reveal it as a blown bottle, but this tell tale scar is not present in any of Dale's bottles. Although he did have some milks with embossing from local dairies that I have never seen before… These two creatures are new to me:
THOS DOWNING / 127 / CARLAW MILK
J. HOLLINGER + CO / MAIN 2055
Gazing further down the collection I spotted a square cobalt blue bottle sticking its neck and shoulders above a grove of sodas on the far end of the crowded shelf. I directed Dale to fetch down this relic at once, and he lifted it from the ranks. A tall blue E.B Shuttleworth chemical bottle that is so gorgeously almost perfect. A tiny chip on the lip is the only flaw, and its dirty. The bottle needs a good brisk tumbling, but its a gem.
I soon counseled to put this jewel in the window. This one vessel is worth more than everything else and should be polished and specially presented in the sunlight.
Dale also has some antique maps, books and ephemera. He has a brochure from the Lusitania, and a 1912 tourist photo book entitled Canada, From Ocean to Ocean that features good crisp black and white photos of popular hot spots in every city all across the nation. He keeps this tome alongside the 1935 Arrow Toronto Street Guide which has a lovely fold out map glued to the last page.
In closing I congratulated Dale on saving, preserving and keeping safe these lovely pieces of Canadian history.