Wednesday, December 2, 2009

New York City Bottle Diggers Strike Beauty in Night Soil Story

Last Sunday, Dumpdiggers got an email from an Ole friend in New York City boasting about conducting a clandestine archeological dig in one of the most densely populated places on planet Earth. The Manhattan Well Diggers are tireless explorers and this story highlights their abilities and imaginations.

The author is a dedicated digger that waxes poetic about his trips twenty feet down in the depths of his hometown. New York City has some of America’s most historically fascinating suburbs and the trinkets, bottles, jars and crocks and porcelain potlids that these guys dredge up makes all Dumpdiggers suddenly snap to attention .

In this particular story, Dan and his team dig a deep hole behind a renovated townhouse and there go back in time to recover these wonderful objects. With that same trusty blue shovel Dan and his team recover various pontiled items from the 1850s and early 1860s including an eight sided desk ink: HARRISON'S / COLUMBIAN / INK and a CLIREHUGH'S / TRICOPHEROUS / FOR THE HAIR & SKIN / NEW YORK. Also uncovered was a brown and white potlid with an eagle at the center atop a shield baring stars and stripes, CHLORINE DETERGENT & ORRIS DENTIFICE / FOR / CLEANSING & PRESERVING / THE / TEETH / PREPARED BY / ROYCE & ESTERLY / DENTAL SURGEONS. Soon after we discovered a BARKER'S / CHEVEUX TONIQUE / FOR THE HAIR / BDWAY N. Y

Dan starts his latest adventure by telling readers some historical facts like how in 1851 the Hudson River Railroad opened a station at West 30th Street and how business flourished as breweries and soda-water factories, malt houses, stone cutting yards, large stables and slaughter houses, lumber and coal yards, grew up around the tracks etc. The housing was notably inferior as it was hastily erected to accommodate newly arrived immigrants. The narrow houses and wooden buildings sprang up overnight, sometimes right alongside stretches of stylish brick townhouses (which is what they were digging). In the 1850s and 60s, downtown Manhattan is reported to have contained approx 20,000 structures, mostly small or mid-sized factories and sweatshops.

The fire insurance maps show few of the savory little details however, and do not differentiate between style or function of the buildings beyond showing churches, and hotels. The only way to learn what actual living conditions existed from place to place is to dig.

The nicest piece recovered, in my opinion, is this beautiful teakettle ink circa 1860-65, in mint condition. When positioned in direct sunlight it produces a marvelous deep purple colour. It’s made of dark violet or black-amethyst glass, possibly of English or French origin. Dan describes how it was ferreted out from near the privy floor, and remarks on how the exact likeness has never been seen before (by him).

In all there were nine pontiled aqua medicines with raised lettering, mostly cosmetics for the hair and skin, an umbrella ink, and others. Additionally, another potlid and matching base, one clay pipe, one ivory toothbrush handle, a small quantity of common food bones, and an assortment of fruit and vegetable seeds sprinkled therein. Also discovered was a Barker's Cheveux Tonic; DR D. JAYNE'S / HAIR TONIC / PHILADA; BOGLE'S / HYPERION FLUID / FOR THE HAR; HURD'S / HAIR RESTORER; PHALON & SON / PERFUMERS, N. Y.; DR. D. C. KELLINGER / N. Y; ROUSSEL'S / UNRIVALED / PREMIUM / SHAVING CREAM… / X. BAZIN. / 114 Chestnut St / PHILADELPHIA. The earlier base reads GOLD MEDALS AWARDED / E. ROUSSEL / 114 Chestnut St / PHILADA / PERFUMER

Vist to read the rest of Night Soil.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Elfshot: Sticks and Stones, an Archeology Blog on Canada Blog Friends

Tim Rast writes Elfshot: Sticks and Stones, which is an archeology blog centered on his life and work in St Johns, Newfoundland. Tim is a modern day flintknapper and his domain is profiled this week on Canada Blog Friends.

A flintknapper is someone who makes stone arrowheads, and Tim specializes in recreating the authentic points used by the Maritime Archaic Indians, the Groswater and Dorset Palaeoeskimo and the Newfoundland Recent Indians.

"Knapping" is the shaping of flint, chert, obsidian or other stone through the process of lithic reduction to manufacture stone tools, strikers for flintlock firearms, or to produce flat-faced stones for building or facing walls, and flushwork decoration.

Dumpdiggers everywhere could learn a thing or two about Flintknapping by reading Tim's blog. He makes it fun and easy because his writing is terrific. Start with this piece about Dorset Palaeoeskimo knives because it’s a pretty good little snapshot of what the site is, and what Elfshot is all about. It brings archaeology, arts and crafts, and geothermal energy in the high Arctic all together, with a pinch of polar bears.

Tim Rast describes his experiments patinating copper as a fun bit of household chemistry that’s useful for the sort of artifact reproduction work that he does.

Dumpdiggers might also find Tim's first post about the Tuktut Nogait bow that he's working on for Parks Canada to be quite interesting, but the Ioffe Site post is really outstanding. In this piece he describes a site that he found while working as a resource archaeologist for an Adventure Canada cruise last fall.

Tim Rast is Canadian, from Alberta. He has two university degrees including a Masters in Anthropology from Memorial University in Newfoundland. He's a terrific writer, researcher and blogger, and a bright light in the darkness that surrounds the study of the earliest Canadian people.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Passion for the Past Antiques in Toronto

The writing is on the chalkboard out front of Passion for the Past antiques store at 1646 Queen St West (Queen and Roncesvalles) in downtown Toronto, Ontario.

For ten years now the shop at the top of the hill has been selling fine china, dishware, glass, furniture and jewelry to the people of Toronto. But now the portal is closing.

Passion for the Past goes online!

Joe is going to sell online and reduce his expenses by about 90%. And he doesnt need Smojoe to tell him that selling online is an entirely different business. It requires promotions and online storytelling, and the love and respect of editors, bloggers and discussion forum moderators.

Here's Joe with a prized LORRAINE GLASS CO. MONTREAL, QUEBEC, CANADIAN HAND BLOWN RED GLASS CENTERPIECE, 27” LONG X 10” WIDE X 10” HIGH, CIRCA 1962-1974 this gorgeous piece of art glass is a good example of what Joe loves to sell at his bricks and mortar store and now online.

The hand drawn signs out front of the venue have the look of frustration and desperation in their manner - 70% off is hard to ignore in any font. And that's what brought me into the store. Once inside I met Joe Clement and his mother and was carried away by their friendly manner and entertaining conversation. Joe has the slight trace of an East Coast accent, but complains that its from working with John and his diction should be French.

Joseph Clement is partners with John Hogan, whom I’d met before when I was in there earlier in the summer. Joe was new to me. He made me laugh when I asked him about certain things and their cultural values? His rather dismissive remarks told me that he worships antiques on an entirely higher level than us Dumpdiggers; perhaps he places craftsmanship above historic value. "Put it this way," he says "If this place were on fire I would waste my time grabbing anything from that case."



See anything you like? Contact Passion for the Past as follows,

John Hogan or Joe Clement
Passion For The Past Antiques
1646 Queen Street West,
Toronto, Ontario,
M6R 1B2

Phone: (416) 535-3883
Email: infoATpassionforthepastantiquesDOTcom

Store Hours:
Tuesday-Sunday:11:00 AM to 6:00 PM;
Monday: Closed

Here's a Mustache Cup from Germany.

1 1/2 blocks East of Roncesvalles Ave. and Queen St. West intersection, between Callender St. and Triller Ave.

Sunday, August 30, 2009

The Canadiana Guidebook by William Philip Wilson

Among the many research tools that I treasure as much as my treasures, is a small paperback book published in 1974 by Greey de Pencier Publications in Toronto called The Canadiana Guidebook and subtitled Antique Collecting in Ontario.

The author, William Phillip Wilson notes in the introduction that Canada is still a young country and is just beginning to understand its heritage. His work sets about identifying all things 'Canadiana' with an eye on buying and collecting antiques as investments. His guidebook comes complete with maps to all the most prominent antiques hotspots in the province (in 1974) of Ontario and pages full of helpful tips, terms and references.

Indeed the Table of Contents sets forth the dimensions of his categorization and includes Furniture, Treen, Iron, tin, brass and copper, Silver, Pewter, Ceramics, Glass, Textiles, prints, painting and framing, and also includes lists of stores, and maps of Upper Canada.

Types of wood furniture are first assembled by making a distinction between softwoods and hardwoods. Mr Wilson teaches how to recognize Maple furniture from Birch, and the unique characteristics of Butternut, Oak, Chestnut and Cherry. He quotes Thomas Ormsbee'a Field Guide To Early American Furniture (Boston: Little, 1951), when he writes on how to spot Hepplewhite armchairs and 'chicken coop' Windsor side chairs in so much clutter at local antiques shops or mismatched, painted and stacked on tables at antiques auctions. Now I want to own a Schrank or clothes cupboard from the 1830s someday...

Treen is an old word. In the same way ‘wooden’ means made from wood, the word ‘treen’ is the old English word that means the object was made from a tree. Hardwood was most often used for treen objects, especially kitchen utensils. Maple was most popular and birch next. Treen objects include splint boxes, bowls, butter moulds, rolling pins, scoops and mashers and the most coveted pieces, and therefore most often faked items to genuine 1800’s Quebec maple sugar moulds.

Iron is broken into two categories, cast and wrought iron and he shows pictures of commonly faked cast iron items. On page 58 I found a sketch of the Naughty Nellie bootjack which I'd once read about elsewhere and heard mentioned in other texts. Commonly found iron Canadiana includes things like vegetable choppers, cast iron ‘T.Eaton’ trivets, corking forks, and cruise (grease lamps), tobacco cutters and coffee grinders and the big ticket items are cast iron parlor stoves, cauldrons, vats, baking pots and tea kettles.

Tin doesn't mean 100% tin as the word is commonly applied to sheet iron objects with a protective tin coating in the lexicon of Canadiana. There were many generations of whitsmiths or tinsmiths in both upper and lower Canada and the most outstanding Canadian tinsmithing is exhibited in weathervanes which are eagerly sought by all Canadiana collectors. The chanteclair or ‘crow cock’ from Quebec is most obvious weathervane, but other variations like banners and horses, fish, cattle and beavers exist. Tole or toleware is another popular field inside this category – the word means tin in French and came into the English language in the mid 1800s to designate tin that has been painted or decorated to distinguish it from other more utilitarian items. Common toleware items would include spice boxes, serving trays, document boxes, and chambersticks (a candle stick with wax moat made ‘for the chamber’).

Brass and copper Mr Wilson mentions a Toronto coppersmith named H.Piper and Brothers as being a prolific mid to late 1800’s Toronto based producer of brass and copper items. Items to look for include decorative candlesticks, brass coal scuttles and cauldrons and most specifically copper tea kettles and brass pots esp a ‘jelly pan’ or kettle that was developed in 1851 made of thinner ‘lathe spun’ brass that allowed jellies to simmer properly on wood stoves. Lastly look for chamber sticks and pierced candle lanterns. William Philip Wilson cautions against buying ‘horse brass’ pieces, that’s what the industry calls the brass decorations that have been harvested from old saddles, because these pieces are the most commonly faked brass items as the age and authenticity of such objects is very difficult to determine.

Books detailing the trade in period iron, tin brass and copper that Phillip referenced include Seymour Lindsay Iron and Brass Implements of the English and American House 1964, and Mary Earl Gould Antique Tin and Toleware 1957, and thirdly he referenced Louise K Lantz Old American Kitchenware 1971 which he says has lots of tin and cast iron pieces illustrated and lastly Margaret Coffin American Country Tinware covers American painted tin authoritatively.

Pewter and Britannia Metal are described next on pg 76. Pewter is an alloy or mixture of metals with tin as its base metal. According to the intended purpose lead, copper, antimony or bismuth, and more often a combination of all three metals were mixed with tin to make pewter.

The finest pewter contains no lead at all and was used for dinner plates, tankards, and cutlery – the cheapest pewter may contain as much as 25% lead and this of course was the subject of much medical inquiry in the late 1800’s after England adopted laws to restrict lead in household utensils. No such law was enacted in Canada, but very little is known about Canadian pewterers. Unlike European productions which had makers marks and sometimes quality stamps, Canadian pieces were often sold unmarked. But there are some exceptions and these include the flying angel mark of Jean Menut and the beaver mark of Thomas Menut, both of Montreal.

Ceramics is broken into three sub chapters, the first being Earthenware. William Philip Wilson defines this as ‘made from local clay’ that turns a buff or red colour in the kiln at temperatures between 1200 and 1500 degrees F. From the earliest days of settlement, earthenware potters in Upper Canada were influenced by three traditions, French, English and Pennsylvania German. Wilson details how the manufacture of earthenware was often a family industry and could be done by farmers at home in the winter months.

Stoneware is made with a high-firing clay (2000 to 2200 F) that was not discovered in Canada until around 1910. Consequently all 19th Century Canadian potteries arranged for the delivery of this particular type of clay from pits in New Jersey. The importation of clay and the more complicated manufacture of kilns and facilities meant that stoneware manufacture required a factory of sorts and had to be run more as a business. Because stoneware contains silica, or natural glass, it vitrifies or bonds together when fired and as a result it does not need a glaze or seal. Typical shapes in salt glazed stoneware include jugs, storage crocks and bottles. Lean glazed stoneware is something else and when its presented with brown slip over yellow the glaze is called Benningtonware in the USA and Rockingham in Canada. The chapter concludes opposite illustrations of common makers marks used by the St Johns Stone Chinaware Company, St John’s, Quebec, 1873-93.

William Philip Wilson's favourite books on Canadian potteries includes my own favourite book by Donald Webster, Early Canadian Pottery which Wilson deems essential, and Elizabeth Collards 19th Century Pottery and Porcelain in Canada Montreal 1967 which he says is very well researched. And the author tips his hat to R.W Finlayson Portneuf Pottery and Other Early Wares, Don Mills Ontario, Longman, 1972. This book is a wealth of information that’s both a good analysis of Portneuf and many other transfer prints and imports.

Finally, after a great chapter on glass which I'll save for another post, and some insight into fine art and framed paintings, and some description of Canadiana painting frames themselves, William Philip Wilson leaves readers with maps to his favourite antiques hunting grounds in Southern Ontario Canada.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Glover Boys visit Meyersburg Flea Market

An article on details an Adventure in the Meyersburg Flea Market. The story explains how the youngsters sought information and transported a fresh dug amber cork top food flavouring bottle to that location for appraisal.

Exploring the lush countryside west of Warkworth Ontario the Glover Boys found a surface dump filled with bottles and mechanical debris.

Practiced dumpdiggers they took the time to sink test pits all through the site to identify the historic perimeters in order to gain understanding of the whole sum of buried material. It's important to know the answers to questions like, how old is this dump? and where was the gate by which all the dump wagons delivered the trash? And finally everyone was eager to dig down and find out for certain what exactly was moldered away as antique treasure right beneath our feet?

Three foot deep test pits should show signs of period dumping before any further digging occurs. The tell tale clues generally include white furnace ash soil layers atop bits of glass and pottery and the rubble of bricks and cement. Dig deeper and you'll find orange soil and that's where the old bottles lurk.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Manhattan Well Diggers Excavate Old America

Dumpdigging in Old American Cities

That would be a good name for a book. Someone should focus on that subject and research and write that best seller; I'd only have to start an online discussion by which everyone involved can contribute their digs and photos. This would amount to half the content. Today that's how people conduct interactive research on a subject. Perhaps a thread on the Dumpdiggers Discussion Forum would help?

On Sunday there came a curious email from someone south of the border. This little birdie was very excited, and very eager to share the thrill and spread the obsession that is the bottle bug virus.

First, remember the cloak and dagger nature of digging relics and why talk of buried treasure engenders such secrets and lies. Only then can you appreciate how difficult it is for anyone to get rare and pretty pictures of a spectacular dig in downtown New York City, because this activity is done in secret. And I believe this blog is the first to display these pictures, another rare honour in this subculture.

You all know how I feel about the heritage police in Canada... Our bureaucracy of backward thinkers have their own blanket rules propagated only to protect their own outdated establishment, and nothing else. True diggers hold a higher moral code which binds them to use the internet and share as much as possible about their quest and their activities. They strive to educate the public by whatever means necessary in order to communicate the subtle excitement of excavating history...

So I was honored to receive these pictures of Dan, Tim & Mya, the Manhattan Well Diggers doing their thing at the bottom of some deep holes in the middle of their great city. Thanks to Joe who sent along some text too, and I love the cryptic tone that hearkens back to the days of adventure on the high seas, when X marked the spot.

Here's what Joe wrote, transcribed, in that cryptic email,

We’ll take the A Train…to The Village that is.

On the way to twenty-one feet of exceptionally fertile night soil
with the Manhattan Well Diggers.

"Rolling swiftly down the tracks in a dark tube, situated under a sizable metropolis, on the way to dig a privy is a fairly unique endeavor by most standards...."

..."Lining up a dig in the heart of New York today is significant. Abandoned buildings, those constructed without plumbing in the mid nineteenth century or earlier, which once dotted the streets of certain key neighborhoods, and the numerous easily accessible open lots containing great digging potential, are basically long gone..."

"...a week ago we had the pleasure of excavating a hundred intact bottles and miscellaneous pieces from 1845-1870. These were unearthed in the privy right next door from today’s adventures. Remarkably, during day two of that project the broken remains of a small photograph, showing a seated gentlemen and believed to be a daguerreotype, were uncovered in the privy. The gold plate which surrounds the glass picture indicates it was most likely taken at KIMBALL 347 BROADWAY N-Y. An 1856 listing was confirmed for that address in New York. The third and final day of that excavation was spent sifting and assembling various shard-piles for the local history professor who owns the property..."

by Daniel McGee

Do you have anything you want to share with the world? My email address is rob AT dumpdiggers DOT com and I'll publish your stories and link to your site and help you share your knowledge and ambitions.

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)


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:



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.

Friday, June 19, 2009

Time Team America Debuts on PBS

The British hit TV series TIME TEAM, which plays on PBS on Monday nights has spawned an American franchise. TIME TEAM AMERICA debuts Wednesday, July 8 at 8 PM, ET on PBS. Yes it must be written all in caps, that's how they are branding the name.

Much like the CSI type of experts who drive so much American prime-time TV drama, this group of specialists works 'cases' to probe mysteries in real time.

According to insiders this series has a much different feel than a typical PBS documentary. TIME TEAM AMERICA lets viewers eavesdrop on archaeologist who are grappling with the uncertainties of different excavation situations and testing different, and often conflicting theories. Here's host Colin Campbell (left) and Chief Investigator Adrien Hannus (right).

Just like the hugely popular British series, the American clone follows a team of scholars who are mostly archaeologists, geologists, geophysicists and historians of course. These people will again race against time to unearth some of America's most intriguing archaeological sites.

But its the race against time that I always found most contrived. Anybody who knows anything about time management and digging dumps and forgotten heritage sites trenches knows that the best stuff comes out of the hole at the end of the summer. It takes weeks to find proper goody veins and honey holes in any site, weeks to tell each site's story. So it seems reckless to me to cut apart these old places and not do comprehensive digs.

Check out a sneak peak here:

Preview the full premiere episode, "Fort Raleigh, North Carolina," on the new PBS video portal at:

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Beauty Pageant Collectibles

Beauty pageants were once a large part of our culture. In the old days, before and after World War II, there were beauty pageants for just about everything. I found pictures online that show regional beauty queens in every major tourist destination across Canada, and several corporate beauty queens representing our entire nation. In the age of print media and flash photography, this was seen as a great way to promote a retail business, and get people of all ages to focus on your goods. The prospect of finding and promoting a new celebrity attached to a company's name was a terrific incentive to corporate Canada.

For teen girls in the 1960s, the beauty pageant offered a real chance to finally be recognized as a princess, and start living life as a celebrity, if only for a year.

In my other job as a social media consultant and online marketing strategist, I've been doing some work for Miss Teen Canada and I've been studying beauty pageants and the illusion of stardom and celebrity cult that's so important to each event's overall success. For example, the size of the audience, and marital status of the Host, the quality and appearance of the designer swim wear, and of course the Judges themselves are key players in the media mix. The judges must be vaunted celebrities in order to bestow their celebrity status upon eager participants, and the excitement in the room builds as the evening draws to a dramatic conclusion.

Look at the SWAROVSKI CRYSTAL in this vintage 1962 era Beauty Pageant Tiara Crown worth approx $65 US on eBay. This was fashioned in California for some event that goes unrecorded today, but perhaps it was a splashy affair that was televised.

And this is my favourite, look at this 1971 DAWN BEAUTY PAGEANT cartoon comic book advertisement for a doll set that comes with a run way and HOST. This old comic book ad ran in 'Golden Age comic books' and other female teen publications as a promotion. The ad measures approximately 6x9 inches and features Dawn, Longlocks, Dale, Glori, Angie and Jessica.