Thursday, January 31, 2008

Irradiated Glass, the Amethyst Color of Greed

Sometimes called desert glass, or sun-colored amethyst glass, these pretty purple bottles are fake; their color is artificially produced by gamma radiation in a lead lined chamber by an unscrupulous merchant with one motive – profit.

Irradiated glass is a problem for bottle collectors and a nightmare for insulator collectors. That’s because there are so many irradiated insulators on eBay and some are gorgeous and exhibit previously unknown colors. Even though some sellers do admit their insulators have been ‘altered’, the foremost objective of their fakery is immediate profit with no regard for the effects on the insulator collecting hobby.

Thankfully, experts like Dwayn Anthony at the National Insulator Association have created a comprehensive collection of fakes to help warn amateur enthusiasts; over the past six years they've conducted extensive research and subjected many different makes and models of insulators to different types of radiation to photograph and catalog the results.

Radiation of old glass produces colors without historical precedent. It isn’t natural and it's irreversible. It isn't natural because no druggists bottles, cough medicines, hair tonics, lotions, whiskeys or sodas were ever made that color amethyst, or in those particular shades of cobalt blue, or those unnatural shades of amber... A rare or unusual color today probably means that somebody somewhere tampered with the chemical composition of the glass (using gamma radiation) to make it a unique specimen, and now unfortunately that piece is ruined forever.

Here is a Digger on eBay selling irradiated glass which he admits is altered (but not in the headline, and only after suggesting that it could be the product of the sun's own ultraviolet light) and his page contains some information about the history of manganese in glass making. He should probably stop this practice altogether... Dumpdiggers is of the opinion that Digger Dave is ruining the historic glass he finds, while fostering deception.

Here's a Ball fruit sealer jar that's a weird color of amber... Dumpdiggers found this on after doing a Google search on the words ‘irradiated glass bottle’. Don’t give this guy a hard time though as I don't believe he's the source of these irradiated fruit sealer jars.

The Chemistry of Glass is at the core of this controversy, and the history of North American glassmaking is subdivided by the price of lead and the US Civil War. You see up until the 1860's lead had always been used as the principle clarifying agent (vitrifying) in making clear glass from what would otherwise be green glass (due to iron impurities in sand).

Even before the American Civil War 1861-1864, the element Lead Pb was a valuable strategic commodity and used for all manner of industrial applications, the most important being the manufacture of munitions. But lead was also used to line the insides of British East India tea boxes, and as the principle ingredient in white paint and clear glass. In the industrial markets of London in the summer of 1853, the price of pig lead climbed from £17.77 all the way up to £23.40 per ton and eventually peaked at £24 in the spring of 1856 - the rise was affected in part by the Crimean War 1853-56. The price of lead affected the price of glass in England and North America. During the 1850’s, almost all of the small glasshouses that had appeared along the new railway lines in Upper and Lower Canada failed.

In 1864 William Leighton, a son of Thomas Leighton developed a successful soda lime formula for glass that didn’t require lead.

From this point on all North American glasshouses were classified as either flint glass (with lead), or green glass houses which used soda lime. The New England Glass Company in Boston is probably the most famous lead glass house.

1860 – 1880 Canadian Glass Houses

Of the four dominant glass companies operating in the early 1860s, the Canada Glass Works in Hudson, Qué, 1864-72, and the Hamilton Glass Company, Hamilton, Ont, 1865-96, were "green" glasshouses that used Leighton's soda lime recipe to make green hued window glass and bottles which ranged in colour from aqua through green to olive green and amber.

The St Lawrence Glass Company, Montréal, 1867-73, and the Burlington Glass Company 1874-98 in Hamilton, Ontario however were lead / flint glass houses.

Flint is a colourless glass mineral that occurs in nature and has been known since ancient times – flint is a sedimentary cryptocrystalline form of quartz, and is categorized by geologists as a variety of chalcedony or ‘chert’ which can sometimes contain fossilized shellfish. Flint is usually dark-grey, black, or deep brown in color and when crushed into powder and added to molten sand and soda mixture it becomes a decolorizing agent that masks out the natural iron molecular impurities present in every grain of sand.

Because of the high price of lead in the 1860’s, pure manganese and manganese dioxide (specifically the mineral pyrolusite which is the primary ore of manganese and occurs as black or dark bluish-gray powder) was substituted as the glass makers 'soap’ - the element worked just as well as lead to counteract the green discoloration caused by impurities. (Pure manganese is a silvery white brittle metal that does not occur in nature and was not isolated and identified as an element until 1774 – pure manganese was exported from Germany to England and America between 1880 and1914 - this was the great era of manganese glass. )

Manganese was the most common vitrifying agent in clear glass made in the American industrial revolution – it was used right up until World War One and war with Germany cut North American supplies. It was at this time that selenium was discovered and soon replaced manganese as the vitrifying agent of choice in clear glass.

When exposed to the radioactive isotopes Cobalt-60 and Cesium-137, most manganese glass will turn amethyst, while glass made with selenium will become either straw, wheat, or honey colored.

Irradiated Glass in rural Canadian Antiques Markets

A few years ago Dumpdiggers went shopping for early Canadian glass bottles at the Aberfoyle Antiques Market in Southern Ontario, Canada – it was July 2001, and while wandering the 'antiques village', this author spotted three separate displays of irradiated glass showcased in various windows and doorways and being sold at premium prices. Upon questioning the vendors, Dumpdiggers learned that all three shopkeepers had bought the merchandise from the same individual, on the same day.

That fakery isn’t tolerated in Toronto, and so 'sun-coloured amethyst' glass ends up out in the country bazaars, at village antique shops and flea markets where the vendors are hobbyists and the customers are tourists or cottagers with summer homes in the area. Out there the dealers feign ignorance when you point and ask ‘Is that glass irradiated?’

Monday, January 28, 2008

Find Rare Coins in Pocket Change

The Wise Old Man is a good numismatist that ponders his pocket change. He sometimes smells the bills in his wallet and studies the stamps on his letters, and he inspects every coin he receives for clues to the currents in his life.

Dumpdiggers will sometimes find old coins in the drawers of decomposing furniture, or under the baseboard trim in old houses. Coins are sometimes discovered under floor mats in derelict cars, and on the bottoms of drain pipes and in the pockets of old clothes – but old quarters, dimes, nickels and pennies are worth much more than face value if they happen to be what currency experts classify as 'error coins'.

Tomorrow, while I wait for the bus, I'll check my change purse for a 1969-S Lincoln cent penny with a doubled-die obverse. That's because Dumpdiggers has just learned that this rare copper coin (in mint condition) is worth over thirty thousand dollars!

The 1969-S Lincoln cent penny with a doubled-die obverse is the subject of Treasure Hunting’s January 24th post. This entire blog is worth reading from start to finish - authored by Shaun, Matt, Elizabeth, and Adam the metal detecting resource is the best Dumpdiggers has ever encountered. The above mentioned post links in turn to an AboutCoins article that was written by Susan Headley and her knowledge appears to be the synthesis of a book entitled 'Cherrypicker's Guide to Rare Die Varieties' by Bill Fivaz and J.T. Stanton.

Dumpdiggers honors the two known Mint State Red 1969-S Lincoln cent doubled-die obverse pennies with some delicious history. The rare coin in these close-up pictures was discovered by a Michigan collector named Michael Tremonti who was examining two rolls of uncirculated 1969-S cents on October 3rd, 2007. He must have wet his pants when he spotted this isotope. And I have no doubt the well known numismatist Ken Potter was also excited when he (Potter) submitted the coin to Professional Coin Grading Service (PCGS).

Tremonti's very special copper penny has strong doubling on the obverse in the date, 1969, and the words, LIBERTY and IN GOD WE TRUST. The aberration is described by Potter as a "Class I Rotated Hub with counter-clockwise doubling."

This rare coin has an incredible story. Earlier known examples were seized by US Secret Service in a bid to thwart a counterfeiting scheme (to make rare pennies? weird) in which two people were charged and convicted. You can read about all this on Dave Harper’s buzz on Numismatic News.

Numismatic News also reports that David Hall, PCGS co-founder and president of Collectors Universe, Inc. (NASDAQ: CLCT) remarked, "I was totally amazed that this coin could turn up out of nowhere. The coin is completely original and full mint red. It's a beautiful near-Gem example" after inspecting Tremonti’s treasure.

Including this latest discovery piece, the PCGS Population Report lists only twenty three 1969-S doubled die cents from Very Fine to MS-64 (Mint State), and only two are graded Mint State Red.

Here's a handy chart from PCGS from which you might gain a new perspective on your pocket change, and the same company authors a guide for starting your coin collection.

Here's a list of rare coins that could be in your pocket right now,
The following is from the same article; Dumpdiggers can give you the skinny on the most valuable error coins that you might ever hope to encounter, especially if you live in the United States.

2. 1970-S Small Date Lincoln Cent with a Doubled Die Obverse
The Doubled Die Obverse (one side has been struck twice) is best demonstrated by doubling in LIB and IN GOD WE TRUST. Approximate Value: Around $3,000 in extra fine shape.

3. 1972 Lincoln Cent with a Doubled Die Obverse
The 1972 (no mint mark) Lincoln Cent doubled die variety shows strong doubling on all elements. Approximate Value: About $500 in fine shape or better.

4. 2004-D Wisconsin State Quarter With an Extra Leaf
There is an extra leaf on the lower left-hand side of the ear of corn on the reverse
Approximate Value: $200-$300 in mint condition.

5. 2005-D Speared Bison Reverse New Design Jefferson Nickel
This variety results from a gouge or crack in the die that created a line below the E in STATES so that it appears as though a spear bisects the bison. Approximate Value: From $75 rough shape to $1,400 mint. Here is a sale on eBay for a roll of these 'speared bison' nickels and the picture I've used in this post was published by the Seller.

6. 1999 Wide "AM" Reverse Lincoln Cent
The years 1998, 1999, and 2000, with 1999 being by far the rarest. The AM in AMERICA on the reverse is clearly separated Approximate Value: $5 to $25 in middle grades, $75 to $600 for 1999 in great shape.

7. 1982 No Mint Mark Roosevelt Dime
This 1982 dime is missing a mint mark (a letter detailing where it was made). Approximate Value: About $30 to $50 in normal condition and more for higher grades.

8. State Quarter Die Axis Rotation Errors
Full 180 degree rotations are worth about $20 in fine condition. Lesser rotations are worth much less.

9. 1995 and 1995-D Doubled Die Obverse Lincoln Cents
Approximate Value: About $20 to $75 in normal condition, more in higher grades. read about wall systems.

10. Various "Old Style" Jefferson Nickels
The 1941-Doubled-D, 1941-Large-S, 1942-D-over-horizontal-D, 1949-D-over-S, 1955-D-over-S, and the 1964-Doubled-D. All of these coins are in circulation today! Approximate Value: $5 to $75

Friday, January 25, 2008

Relics of the Fur Trade #4

Should the Dumpdiggers unearth a forgotten fur trading post from the late 1700's, what kinds of relics could they expect to find?

Glass Trade Beads

Any glass trade beads found in Chester Huff's secret dig site on Lake of the Woods would pinpoint that historic fur trade company's European supply line. In the 18th century, Venice no longer enjoyed a monopoly on glass production, but this city was still one of the world's largest producers of beads. The Sun King, Louis XIV of France, through the genius of his first minister Colbert, employed master craftsmen to create glass windows and dishware for Versailles in the 1670s. Although some of these artisans no doubt came from Italy, many more were the apprentices of glassblowers living deep in the forests of Germany, where a determined craft had emerged in the early 1600s.

Glass trade beads have always been part of the exploration and colonization of the New World, and Dumpdiggers regrets that it cannot concern itself (in this post) with the yellow beads that traveled in the holds of the Nina, Pinta, and Santa Maria when Christopher Columbus presented a necklace to the chief of San Salvador Island on October 12, 1492.

Over the next three hundred years, intricate hand-crafted glass beads become more affordable to European traders as glass making technology spread from France to Holland, and then to England in the early 1700s. This map shows the positions of the tribes in North America at the beginning of the Colonial Age. By following the paths of the explorers, a reader can imagine how the beads were traded among the First Nations.

While they were not entirely worthless in Europe, glass beads were not very valuable at their point of origin. They were however highly prized the forests and meadows of the New World. In the wilderness of New England and New France, these colorful beads brought wealth and prestige to the First Nations peoples who sometimes traded one beaver pelt each to obtain them for a necklace that would take a lifetime to assemble.

Venetian glass beads were particularly valuable as ‘status symbols’. Here are some examples of the most famous high technology beads that were frequently traded among the various tribes, following ancient Native American trade routes.


The journals of the 1804 Lewis and Clark Expedition document an extensive exchange of glass trade beads with the Indians of the American Northwest – indeed some of the rugged Mountain Men traded thousands of glass trade beads to amass vast personal fortunes in beaver pelts.

Elizabeth Bennet of Africa Direct travels into the interior of the Dark Continent once every three years to fetch out the last remaining Lewis & Clark beads. These beads shown here are part of a necklace that's currently offered for sale on eBay for eight hundred and fifty dollars. According to the information she lists on her auction page, these beads were made in Venice and vended through a broker named J.F. Sick. Germany and Holland and his firm was one of the largest bead brokers / importers in Europe in the 1850s - the end of the fur trade. After mentioning the name of Moses Lewin Levin, who was a bead importer / exporter in London England from 1830 to 1913, Eliza offers no insight on how these beads found themselves in Africa? or for what commodity they were traded?

The popularity of genuine 'African trade beads' was revived in the late 1960s when they began to be exported from Africa back into the United States and Europe. The term "trade beads" remained very popular during this time period and is still used today. The signature Venetian millefiori beads were called "Love Beads" in the 1960's and were used in necklaces with peace symbols during the Hippie days. The irony is that these beads were the currency of war, whiskey and disease in the fur trade.

Although these objects are not very pretty, this EBay Auction offers genuine 600 year old trade beads from Europe. At that age these relics were probably vended through Spain. There’s some information here on the subject of early European trade beads, and I’ve no doubt this Seller is an authority on the subject.

There exists some confusion over trade bead names and classifications and that’s because the whole history of the enterprise is just becoming known today; unfortunately some previous scholars have named their beads too randomly, based on where they were found, who traded them, and what tribes wore them. Some archaeologists reference the methods by which they were transported (i.e., the ‘pony’ bead), or by the various ports from which they were shipped and consequently there are a lots of discrepancies.

CHEVRONS are probably the best known, oldest and most interesting historic trade bead. Often called ‘star’ beads or ‘chevrons’ by Spanish traders, these artifacts are quintessential fur trade relics - but yet they are rarely found in Canada and North US. They were traded here, but very early in the game.

Chevrons were traded with African tribes for slaves and ivory, and Native Americans, primarily in southwest Arizona. Blue and red chevrons are listed among the supplies of Coronado and his conquistadors in the year 1540 in what is today Arizona. These are prized beads - but they are rarely found in the fur belt. Some authors believe they were bought and traded by the Hudson's Bay Company early in the history of that venerated company - before glass making became common in England. There's also an interesting story which details how the exact recipe and process for making Chevrons (all fifteen steps) was one of the great industrial secrets to escape the Republic of Venice when several highly skilled glassblowers escaped from the Island of Murano to migrate north to Germany in the early 1600’s. The mills of Bohemia made the manufacture of these complicated beads more practical as a single necklace required hours of grinding – remember the beads start life as long sticks of glass that are broken into bits and ground into small spherical shapes.

Glass beads are still sold today.

Today there’s still a demand for glass beads in North America. There are markets for new beads both online and in boutique shops in high culture shopping neighborhoods like Kensington Market, and the ever- fashionable Queen St West in the Canadian city of Toronto.

In downtown Toronto, Dumpdiggers had the good fortune to meet Claude and Anastasia at 446 Queen St WestThe Beadery sells all manner of beads, mostly mineral including jade, turquoise, ceramic, vinyl, kryptonite but no historic beads.

However when I asked to see his ‘Italian glass beads’ and I used the adjective ‘millefiori’, Claude was quick to fetch out the nicest reproductions I could have imagined.

When I asked the price, Claude said 'For you, three strands for fifty dollars.' And as I could count about thirty beads on each strand, I reckoned that would make them about fifty cents each; that's probably comparable to what European adventurers paid in the 1750s when they were outfitting their trade ships in the markets of London and Amsterdam.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

American Bottles FOR SALE at AUCTION

Dumpdiggers has a new friend in Rod Walck, the proprietor of the Galleria Auction which is headquartered in Lehighton, Pennsylvania. This online auction house specializes in antique bottles, glassware & stoneware.

Unlike many other North American websites, Galleria Auctions doesn't inflict the usual 10% surcharge on the seller. In fact Rod doesn't charge the seller anything. Rod Walck seems content to impose a 10% cost-of-doing-business fee on the buyer only. He estimates that in the last five years he has saved his clients over $350,000 in fees, and I only mention that because it strikes me as the cost-of-doing this online auction business, where it takes a lifetime to build a good reputation.

Rod Walck and the folks at Galleria are at present hosting Auction XXIV (#24) which ends February 24th 2008.

In this slightly overwhelming sale bill there's about a hundred colored sodas, several bitters, twenty five or more flasks, including several from the Seagrams Collection. There's also several colored pontil medicines, beers, a threadless insulator, lots of blown glass, some rare cures and much more. A catalog is available by order from the Galleria Auction website.

Lot 7. Master Ink, clear olive green, cylindrical with domed shoulders, pontil scar, crudely applied mouth, about mint (skin deep surface flake near the base edge). Blown at a New England Glass House, C. 1850, extremely rare. Rod believes the only other example of this ink that has ever come to light was included in the collection of Watt White. This piece is DEFINITELY New England in origin and is perfect for the advanced collector looking to add something "different" to the collection. Extremely Rare and beautiful example. 5 7/16". Estimate: ($1000-$1500).

Lot #8. Light yellow olive Pitkin diminutive flask. Beautiful basket weave pattern swirls with vertical and horizontal swirls. American ca. 1790’s-1820’s. Pitkin Glass Works Connecticut. Open pontil base, sheared top. Unusually light color and a great small and rare size. Good pattern molding definition. 5”. Estimate:($700-$1000).

In the Auction XXIV Sale Bill, there are about a hundred colored sodas, several bitters, twenty five or more flasks, including several from the Seagrams Collection.

There are also several colored pontil medicines, beers, a threadless insulator, lots of blown glass, some rare cures and much more. A catalog is available by order from the Galleria Auction website.

Lot #14. Stiegel Type 20 Diamond Creamer. PATTERN MOLDED CREAMER, cobalt blue, 20 diamonds, pear-shaped with applied solid glass handle, pontil scar, sheared and tooled mouth with pour spout, mint. American ca. 1780 - 1800. A beautiful example of this delicate diminutive creamer. Possibly blown at Stiegel’s Manheim PA Glass Works. 4”. Superb! Estimate: ($500-$750).

Lot #28. "KEEN - P & W" Sunburst flask, GVIII-10, golden olive amber, pontil scar, half-pint, sheared and fire polished mouth, about mint (some highpoint wear and a tiny, skin-deep base edge flake). Keene Marlboro, Street Glass Works, Keene, NH, 1820-1840.
It has been our opinion that the mold charted as GVIII-10 did not exist and those sunbursts catalogued as such were actually overblown GVIII-9’s. Noticeably broader and puffier than a typical 9, this flask is very crisply embossed and thus does not show evidence of overblowing. It also appears to have the more "squared" shoulders as documented by McKearin. In any event, this is a very attractive flask with good heft, an interestingly tooled mouth, boldly defined ribbing and a color that is more amber than olive. Estimate: ($700-$1000).

Lot #37. SPECTACULAR medium green barrel "C.W. Roback's - Cincinatti O". Large size, American ca. 1860's-1870's. Early smooth base, applied taper top. Although we have had several of the dark green Roback's, this is only the second true pure green we have seen. This gorgeous example easily passes light and has neither a trace of yellow or amber in it. Crude, whittled and RARE. Finest possible example. 10". Estimate: ($7000-$12000).

Dumpdiggers is proud to exhibit the very finest in American glass. Thank you Rod Walck and Galleria Auction. Best of luck with Galleria XXIV.

Monday, January 21, 2008

Geocaching Collectible Coins

Dumpdiggers love Geocaching – this new sport (it all started less than ten years ago) is a great way to stay in shape, see the countryside, and interact with family and friends while sharpening your own skills as a treasure hunter. In fact geocaching is kind of similar to relic hunting but without the rich historical rewards. Sure there's some plunder, but the sport actually requires participants donate prizes of equal or greater value after completing each quest. Maybe I should back up and explain some things…

What is Geocaching?
American military technology has transformed treasure hunting into a thrilling 21st century sport, but instead of using an X to mark a spot on a map, we can now use GPS devices to pinpoint our quarry, and throw away the map.

G.P.S. means Global Positioning System
Unless you’ve been hiding underground for the last fifteen years, you probably already know that satellite based GPS first appeared as the invisible hand that guided those smart bombs into Iraqi equipment sheds in Operation Desert Storm in the early 1990’s. Now it can be used by the public to glean the position of anything anywhere on the planet. Armed with a love of exploration and a decent GPS system, participants use alpha numeric coordinates to search and rescue cached goodies.

One international Geocaching Website binds the entire community together with remarkable unity. On this one site, ALL geocaches in ALL countries are listed, along with their coordinates and any hints you may need to find the booty.

Introducing Norman Hissa and his son Neil. These two avid adventurers have extensive resumes as anglers and rock hounds on Lake of the Woods.

Together they discovered the thrill of geocaching in late July 2007, and now obsessed, both evil geniuses conspire to create the most challenging travel adventure in the area; an empty peanut butter jar has been codenamed 'LOW not Whisky Island' and indexed as GC152ET . The drop was made on a tiny island in the middle of the lake on August 10, 2007. (There was a spectacular lightning storm at 4pm that afternoon and the boating party was lucky to get back alive.)

Why plant this geocache?
Operating under the moniker ‘Rosie’ in July, the duo found and logged their visits at all the geocaches in Kenora in under three days. Unfortunately these caches were too easy to find; like most targets originally seeded by Rambling Rose, they require a hike along the railroad tracks. Keep your eyes peeled for railroad dumps near Tunnel Isle – there’s a nice one in the marsh just east of the first rock cut (on the north side of the tracks).

This family understands Geocaching's appeal, and sees the new sport's potential as an emerging tourist activity. The snowmobile clubs have 'poker runs' where drivers pick up cards and rally between ice fishing huts - soon there will be Geocaching Clubs visiting Lake of the Woods in all seasons. Frustrated with how easy it was to find ALL existing caches in Kenora, Norman and Neil decided to create this super-challenge.

GC152ET is the alpha numeric key code for a geocache that was planted by stormin’ Norman Hissa and his son Neil in the middle of the lake. Without question this is the hardest target in the entire area; GC152ET requires a boat (or a snowmobile in winter) and some special skills!

Geocaching on Lake of the Woods

At the time of this writing, there are 508520 active caches worldwide, and there are over 5000 caches in Ontario alone, but less than fifty caches in the Lake of the Woods area. GC152ET is a peanut butter container filled with trinkets, buttons, pins and collectible coins.

Collectible coins?
This sport is one of the few hobbies around today that traffics in collectible coins! Geocoins, as they are called, are created to mark events and honor places - and they travel in the pockets of geocachers all over the world. Most will probably increase in value over time, depending on certain key variables that seem kind of mysterious to this author, at this time.

Three companies have set up shop here in Canada to manufacture such coins. Check out Land Sharkz, and Angies Outdoors and to peruse new material. I suppose if this collectible merchandise is preserved in mint condition it will increase in value - there's some proof of that here in a Lady Luck Blonde geocoin on eBay that’s getting the attention of geocoin collectors worldwide. I would like to know more about geocoins and what makes them collectible. Perhaps I should issue a series of Dumpdiggers coins?

Saturday, January 19, 2008

How To Find Old Dumps #3

Of the six different types of dumps mentioned in How To Find Old Dumps #1, the most common example is the farm dump, and that’s because every farm had one (and sometimes two).

Farm dumps are not good digging. Like the miserable poverty of the first settlers, these dumps are filled with hard work and offer very poor returns. Most farm dumps are small - they were used infrequently, sometimes seasonally, by just one or two families over long periods of time.

The average farm dump is born from the land owner’s natural instinct to protect his fields from soil erosion... and he had to dump his broken junk and rubbish somewhere.

In many cases, right after the original settler cleared the land, the homesteaders noticed wide areas of soil erosion at the sides of their new fields. Where tree roots had once held firm the forest floor, now small creeks made large gullys in the loose top soil of inclined planes - esp after the snow melt in the spring. To minimize the loss of precious top soil throughout the year, the farmer damed the gulch with whatever was most handy.

Unfortunately for us modern Dumpdiggers, rocks, dead animals and tree stumps were a lot handier than household garbage. And let’s remember that early farms didn’t make a lot of garbage - much of the family's rubbish was light industrial material. For example the oldest son of the farmer would almost always drive his father’s obsolete farm equipment to the site and abandon the implements where he thought they could do the most good in the generations old battle to stem the creeks.

Farm Dumps are often full of old equipment which can present a serious challenge to diggers working with shovels alone. It’s recommended that diggers carry a length of chain, and have a vehicle ready to drag out any old plows and logs that might otherwise impede productive digging.

That being said, Dumpdiggers will sometimes find a pocket of absolute joy in a farm dump. One hundred and fifty years ago, the logic was simple – the farmer waited until he had a wagon load of rubbish like tobacco tins, empty grease cans, horse liniment bottles, and maybe some worn out leather harnesses and broken tools. This junk had been taking up space in his barn. When a calf got sick (and needed to be separated from the herd), or when the farm family got a new tractor, or when the son took over from his father, there was a binge cleaning – a wagon load of not so easily burned trash was dumped somewhere on the farm.

The goody veins found in farm dumps have been known to contain assorted ointments and cream tins, grease cans, horse liniment bottles and other assorted medicines, milks, sodas, beer and whiskey bottles, and broken tools – unfortunately these treasures are often protected by heavy iron farm implements, metal spools, all manner of wire, old cars, rocks, and more rocks.

How To Find The Farm Dump?
When probing for a farm dump, search the most obvious inclines near the back of the barn first. If there's a water course at the base of an inclined field, but out of sight from the road, then there is probably a dump in the vicinity. Most often the best dump is the closest, most convenient , and somewhere along 'a wagon friendly route' where a small ravine threatens the crops.

Freshly plowed fields – the secret of using aerial photos to detail historic farms sites.

Finding the farm dump is harder when the farm itself has entirely disappeared, but freshly plowed fields will still show the fence rows and the wagon trails along with the foundations of the house and barn.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

How To Find Old Dumps #2

Much like a Kung Fu sensei reminds an acolyte, ‘only by evolving beyond your greed will you ever become rich’, I used to feel the same truism applied to treasure hunters.

The Dumpdiggers Handbook instructs each reader that 'only by fostering a genuine passion for local history can you ever hope to uncover lost historical relics'. That’s a nice idea and I imagine that such a sincere passion for learning would be manifest in numerous and protracted visits to the archives, extensive copying and scrutinizing of old maps, and a great many trips spent probing forgotten heritage sites, etc. And only by eagerly learning and adopting new technologies and highly professional practices would anyone ever be able to find anything of any value… Do you believe that?

It’s not true. When I asked some veteran Diggers on a particular niche discussion forum their secrets to find old dumps, myersdigger replied that it’s as easy as walking along small creeks just outside of town searching for rusty bits of metal in the shoreline. In the same thread, tigue710, a super member added that, ‘every 1/2 mile of town will have a different dumping area... a town with a population of 10,000 at the turn of the century will usually have at least 5 dumps, all the same period, and 5 is on the low end... one other thing, dont waste your time on the poor side town unless your getting older then 1890... go for the rich guy dumps

Just as obvious as rusty junk sticking up out of the grass on the surface of the land, metal detectors with big search coils will sometimes get deep iron hits in gulches and bogs below the surface of the earth. Iron is a good historic dump indicator, and iron tools are of course present in both colonial age, and industrial age dumps.

Depending on their collecting habits, some metal detectorists might also carry a five foot long ¾ inch steel rod that’s known as a privy rod. This simple probe is usually just a spring steel rod wielded to a short piece of grid pipe (which serves as a handle). The tip of the probe has a ball bearing with a girth slightly wider than the shaft. When users push this five foot long metal finger down into the earth they can feel the objects below – an experienced digger can recognize the feel of rusty metal cans or glass bottles or stones. Veterans will first puncture the earth with the probe, and then dig test pits to inspect the soil for ash and broken bits of pottery and glass.

Here is an 1878 Map of Warkworth Ontario, which happens to be my home town. When I look at the area and contemplate the locations of any would-be historic dumps, my eyes and experience lead me to the marshlands south of the letters R and T in the word Warkworth, on the bend in the river. That particular spot would fit all of the criteria for the first town dump.

Warkworth was founded in the 1850’s and settled primarily by Scottish immigrants throughout the 1860s. These people didn't make much garbage and most adults in this time period would have dumped medicine bottles and whiskey flasks in private - probably down their latrine holes.

I sometimes let my eyes wander about the farms all around the side of this old map. This is where I get real passionate about history. Right here it’s personal; these are my neighbor's fields, and the fence rows of my childhood. This is where I fomented what has become the foundation of my knowledge on the subject of farm dumps, and that will be my next topic in this series.

Monday, January 14, 2008

How To Find Old Dumps #1

When ordinary people wrap their minds around the possibility of digging up antique glass bottles and pottery in forgotten heritage sites outdoors, their first question is usually, Is it legal? and that's soon followed by, How do you find the best places to dig?

These two prime questions are uniquely connected; amateur archeology on private property is legal enough, and finding the best places to dig on privately owned land (and with the permission of the owner) is the highest art of the Dumpdiggers' subculture. For only by conducting extensive research and on-site observations, which includes probing and digging countless test pits, can a veteran digger harness his intuition (born from years of experience) and embrace the possibility of finding buried booty.

As per the Dumpdiggers' Handbook, there are six different types of dump:
1. Town Dump - most towns have more than one dump site.
2. Privy Pit - the old latrine is considered a dump of sorts.
3. Farm Dump - farmers dump here to halt soil erosion.
4. Swamp Road - when nobody's looking, people dump here.
5. Railway Dump - trains stop here to sweep cabin cars of debris
6. Camp Dump - Hunting, mining and forestry camp dumps

Town Dumps are generally the best and most rewarding places to dig, and that's because they contain the highest quantity of household trash.

How old can such a dump get? That's a good question. It depends on the town, but on average in Upper Canada, and I think this is also true of many American states, the oldest town dumps date back to the 1870’s. That’s the age when the first 'chartered towns' recognized the need for, and legislated local property as, the Town Dump. Do you remember watching the scene in episode #8 of the first season of the HBO's classic Deadwood, wherein Sam Bullock approves the location of the dump on one of the empty lots in the camp? The land is selected and appropriated because there's rubbish already accumulating in what sounds like a river gulch.

Recorded minutes from century old meetings in the Town Hall will sometimes chronicle counselors voting to make a salary available for a ‘Dump Attendant’ and or perhaps detail funds for the purchase of a special 'dumping wagon'.

The Dump Attendant was paid to watch the property on burning days and organize a weekly trash collection. Research this individual's family and you may find pictures of their ancestor in the town dump in front of navigable landmarks that you can use to find the same location today.

The above picture details trash collection in the City of Toronto in 1903. It's interesting to note here how two wagons work in tandem - this is a precursor to our modern recycling program. The wagon behind the sled is filled with furnace ash which has a variety of municipal applications, not the least of which is road paving material.

The sled in the foreground is loaded with sacks full of glass bottles, clay pottery and tin packaging - household waste. Notice how the garbage man wears a backpack, and I wonder what he puts inside his backpack everyday? I suspect that this individual removed local brewed beer and pop bottles that he knew were refundable - sadly, and perhaps consequently, these are the bottles that are the most collectible today.

The Health Inspector
, often called the ‘medical officer’, or the ‘town doctor’ also made reports on early dumps. His primary concern was ground water contamination. There are circumstances in which he would report an infestation of rats or wild dogs at dumps. Often times he ordered the bulldozing and burning of dumps as a solution to exterminate such vermin.

Unfortunately for Dumpdiggers, even the oldest and most secluded town dumps were likely subject to burning and bulldozing at some point in their existence. It was considered civilized to burn dumps and thereby reduce ‘the spread of germs’. Municipalities used heavy machinery to compact dump sites in the early 1920’s and 30’s. Before this horse drawn ‘dump scrappers’ were used to flatten the piles. The horse’s weight and the weight of the operator helped compact the garbage to allow the next day’s wagons a hard surface on which to dump their contents.

Early Dumping Wagons are themselves now very collectible because of their scarcity. One hundred years ago the Watson Bottom Dump Wagon was the finest dump wagon in America; today less than ten examples remain, and most of these are in pieces.

In 1886 David Watson moved his wagon manufacturing company to Canastota, New York where he bought what was then known as the “mop handle factory” on the west side of the town. The Watson 'dumping wagon' was the first and best of its kind - his vessel dominated the market in residential garbage pick-up and disposal. As testament to its versatility and reputation, it was the wagon of choice in the First World War when 15,000 units were shipped to France to help Allied Command support the men in the trenches.

And finally, here's a Dumpdiggers' secret; every town's first municipal dump was usually located less than a mile away from the historic main intersection, and almost always on inclined or boggy terrain, and never windward (which means North West here in Ontario).

Saturday, January 12, 2008

Relics of the Fur Trade #3

Chester Huff is still digging pits in Kenora, or rather somewhere outside the town on the north shore of Lake of the Woods, Ontario. Friends tell me that he’s dragged an ice fishing hut over the excavation (for warmth) and he found a rust covered iron beaver trap six feet down. According to a very reliable source, he sold the item online for 120 bucks!

If Dumpdiggers unearthed a forgotten fur trading post from the mid 1700's, what kind of relics could they expect to find?

Early HBC beaver traps? I’m skeptical. Aboriginal people didn’t use iron traps, and Chester’s fur trading post site (near the original Rat Portage, which is actually located near the town of Keewatin) is supposed to be the exchange point between three Indian nations, and the Europeans (specifically the British in the HBC).

I’m told the Indian fur trappers had developed excellent all-natural methods of hunting beavers without using guns or iron traps. They used snares which would trap the animal in a wire noose, and baited traps, which would attract the animal with food or another substance. The 'deadfall trap', which dropped a heavy weight onto the animal to kill it, was also used. In addition to these ingenuities, the First Nation's people had perfected a method of trapping the beaver inside his own wooden lodge. They somehow blocked the submerged entrance of the beaver den, and then broke into the side of the hut to take the whole family at once!

Iron leg traps (which were cruel and inhumane) came about much later in the history of the fur trade. The first mention of iron leg trap is from David Thompson, the foremost cartographer of North America notes that (white) fur trappers in the lower Red River started using castoreum and beaver traps in 1797. After relocating to Fort Vancouver in 1818, the Hudson's Bay Company’s pacific division sent out brigades of trappers that included from 50 men (and sometimes women and children) with iron leg traps. By all accounts the trapping of beavers was an awful job and dangerous work, particularly because it had to be done in the winter when animal pelts are thickest.

Some of the very first iron traps were made in Fort Vancouver in 1818 and these were designed to catch the beaver by the leg in shallow water. It was attached by a chain to a sharpened stake that was planted in deeper water. The traps were baited with castoreum, a scent obtained from glands in the hind legs of the beaver. Now picture this for a moment, to plant the device the European trapper stood in ice cold water so that he would not leave his own scent on the shore. After the curious beaver, attracted by the castoreum, stepped into the trap the hunter had to be quick to retrieve the prize of the pelt would be destroyed by another animal feeding off the carcass. The trapper skinned his catch at the first opportunity. Back at camp, he would (or perhaps his Indian wife) had to scrape off all the flesh from the skin and the stretch it out to dry. After almost a year in the wilderness, the trapping brigades, with their furs in tow, returned to the trade posts.

Finding an early French Canadian iron beaver trap from the 1780’s and 1790s would be a spectacular relic! It would be extremely collectible and certainly worthy of a museum, (Chester!) and that’s because these items are very rare.

Indeed according to The Fur Trapper the use of iron traps did not become wide spread until the early 1800s. This web page reports that that the iron beaver traps created the Mountain Men, and eventually the Rocky Mountain fur trade. The sole purpose of the American and the Canadian fur trade brigades between 1807 and 1840 was to locate and trap beaver using such devices. During that time frame, it came to pass that trapping beaver by the white European mountain men (in United States territories) was illegal, but the laws were difficult to enforce in that area of the country.

According to the Fur Trapper website, Lewis and Clark did not have beaver traps listed among their Indian trade goods, but several of the expedition members carried iron beaver traps for their personal use. Before the Lewis and Clark Expedition reached the Pacific, a North West Company fur trader, François Antoine Larocque, had taken beaver traps to the Crow Indians along the Bighorn and Yellowstone rivers. Lisa, Menard, and Morrison (1807), the Missouri Fur Company (1812), the Astorians (1811) carried beaver traps. From 1818 to 1821, the North West Company's sent three fur trapping brigades to the upper Snake River country under Donald Mackenzie, a former Astorian. The Snake River brigades outfitted each trapper with six beaver traps.

The Newhouse Community Trap is one of the earliest traps used in the fur trade. It is very similar to the Hudson's Bay traps.

Here's a suspicious consignment of historical milieu that has been dressed to sell as Fur Trade relics on eBay. The seller lists the items as ‘Assorted nails from trade posts or battows (boats), part of a fur trade trap, two folding knife blades, end of rifle or pistol barrel, French amber musket flint, five cast brass tacks, Woodland pottery chards, metal arrowhead, copper dangle cut out of a trade kettle, small fur trade ring broach, and what looks to be part of an ice chisel.’ This load of debris is congruous with Dumpdigging. Somebody somewhere at some time dug up an 1800’s fur trade post. But is this evidence of Chest Huff’s amateur archeology in Northern Ontario? Nope. The Seller is listed as American, and I doubt Chester would cross the border. This lot is currently listed for sale at $25.00, and there are still five days left in the auction. I seriously doubt these bits of iron will sell for such a high price (shipping will be expensive too no doubt), but I hope they do find a buyer as such a transaction would further evidence the ‘commodification of history’ in the age of high technology.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

eBay Scavenger - How to Find Stuff to Sell

Six months ago I wrote an article for Bizcovering magazine entitled, How To Find Stuff To Sell on Ebay,

Scavengers find the best stuff to sell online.

To my satisfaction, the article soon became a very popular and has now been viewed almost a thousand times. As of this morning it has earned $3.54 in that author rewarded web 2.0 world. What's more exciting to me is that the Stanza corp protects the originality of the submitted content. These guys won't publish duplicate content, and (they claim) they'll drop content that's heavily replicated after it has been accepted as original work and published on their site.

That means Bizcovering is a massive collection of original works, and it's no secret that search engines love that type of website. It's interesting that this article's pages have grown in prominence because they are optimized and original (and also helpful and informative; Google Page Rank = 2). What's this really means is, today's search engine users that type the words 'eBay Scavenger' into the query box will find this article in the first page of results!

I have since contacted Bizcovering magazine and edited the piece to include a 'back link' to Dumpdiggers. Forgive the obvious SEO properties of this post; I reveal these marketing strategies only as insight into how eBay Scavengers can promote their own sales online.

Tuesday, January 8, 2008

Found Money on Toboggan Trail

Keep your eyes peeled when the snow melts! Dumpdiggers appreciates any form of extra income that might be found lying on the ground.

Just before Christmas 07, while walking with Digger, I cut through a ravine that's park land near the Humber River in north Toronto.

It was right after the first heavy snowfall in December, and I noticed the neighbourhood children getting good exercise tobogganing down a nearby hill.

The gentle slope of this park’s north end has probably been used by generations of young people for this same activity every winter - I suspect a nearby sign that reads ‘No Tobogganing’ plants the idea.

Anyway Digger and I also happened to observe these young rascals had fashioned a ramp halfway down the hill, and they were getting good height in jumps made with those black plastic Canadian Tire brand GT Racers.

Fast forward to January 8th, 2008 and note how the weather is unseasonably mild. Today the snow outside is melting.

This morning I happened to find myself 'off the leash' with Digger near our local ‘ski hill’ in that same ravine parkland reserve.

Much like the Wise Old Man whom I sincerely admire, I too had the presence of mind to look down at the ground as I passed through the toboggan alley. I kept a sharp eye out for coins, keys, jewelry or even those metallic bus tokens – anything that didn’t look natural.

Sure enough, to my immense satisfaction, I found a small deposit of Canadian currency totaling $1.32 twelve feet below the ramp in the melting snow of the toboggan run. Without question this discovery evidences a spectacular wipe-out in which the contents of one passenger’s pockets were violently emptied into the snow. What’s more interesting is that this same activity has no doubt occurred countless times in this very place for the last hundred years - maybe longer. The top soil in this patch of local history is probably primed with a century of spilled coins!

Note to all coin collectors and treasure hunters with metal detectors – be sure and sweep the toboggan hills in your hometown.