A Closer Look at the Berlin Swirl Ceramic Pattern

Happy Fat Tuesday! After flocking to the nearest paczki-filled bakery, I hope that you sit down and enjoy your Polish donut on some fine china. Perhaps, if you’re historically or archaeologically inclined, you might want to enjoy your treat on a nice British ceramic plate. Enter: the Berlin Swirl pattern.

"Berlin Swirl" pattern plate. We have this pattern produced by two manufacturers. Photo source: Lisa Bright

“Berlin Swirl” pattern plate. We have this pattern produced by two manufacturers. Photo source: Lisa Bright

Here at CAP we’ve encountered the Berlin Swirl pattern in both the West Circle Privy, and the Saint’s Rest trash area.  Lisa Bright has researched the specifics of the Berlin Swirl fragments found in the historic privy on campus. The ceramics found in the privy are all characterized as institutional whiteware. The following is taken from Lisa’s summary of the privy assemblage from the forthcoming West Circle Privy Report:

“The Berlin Swirl pattern is characterized by a series of paired plumes following the rim of the plate, or around the body of cups.  Interestingly there are two different manufacturers of this plate represented; Mayer Brothers & Elliot, Mayer & Elliot, and Liddle Elliot & Son. Although the pattern was produced in a wide variety of  vessel types, the privy only contains dishes of varying size, and handless cups and sauces.  Plates were produced in dimensions from 6” to 10 ½”. The privy contained many ceramic fragments, but many of the ceramics could be reconstructed.  Of those with half or more of the vessel present include: 3 handless cups, 2 saucers (6” diameter), 1 small bowl (5.3” diameter), 1 small plate (6.3” diameter), 1 medium plate (7.5” diameter), and 2 large plates (9.5” diameter).

A Berlin Swirl plate bears a British registered design mark indicating a production date of December 18th, 1856; It was produced by Mayer Brothers & Elliot.  Mayer Brothers & Elliot produced ceramics under that name between 1855-1858.  They changed the name to simply Mayer & Elliot and continued production between 1858-1861.  In 1861 the        name was changed to Liddle Elliot & Son, which produced ceramics from 1862- 1869.  After 1869 the name was once again. This provides a narrow date range of 1855- 1869 for the production of the Berlin Swirl plates recovered from the privy.  There are additional illegible stamps on the base of the plates.”

We’re still in the midst of re-analyzing the ceramics from the trash pit, but it appears that additional Berlin Swirl forms may be present such as the soup tureen or tea set!

"Berlin Swirl" Plates recovered from West Circle Privy dating to 1860s.

“Berlin Swirl” Plates recovered from West Circle Privy dating to 1860s.

In the late 1800s, Americans were thought to favor “plain white vessels with comparatively unobtrusive molded decoration” (Lawrence and Davies 2010:304). By contrast, countries within the British Empire chose transfer prints with bright colors over the whiteware of their American counterparts (Lawrence and Davies 2010). By the 1840s, the first “Berlin Ironstone” appears under the maker’s mark T.J. & J.Mayer. This article provides a brief history of the progression of this style leading up to the Berlin Swirl pattern found on campus. The embossed style and edging of the Berlin Swirl pattern illustrates the craftsmanship involved in the molding of these pieces. One researcher even hypothesized that the stylistic curvature of the mold, in addition to the tall jugs and posts with paneling, may have been designed by persons involved with some familiarity with architecture.

Berlin Swirl handless cup and matching saucer. Recovered from West Circle Privy

Berlin Swirl handless cup and matching saucer. Recovered from West Circle Privy.

The Civil War disrupted the trade of British-manufactured ceramic wares to the American market and Brooks (2005) has hypothesized that the rise in exports of white Berlin Swirl patterns to Australia is a response to the declining American demand. Archaeological excavations in Australia demonstrate that Berlin Swirl is found at various sites during the American Civil War (Lawrence and Davies 2010). The Berlin Swirl pattern is noted in a volume with a title that really says it all, “Good Taste, Fashion, and Luxury: A Genteel Melbourne Family and Their Rubbish” (2014), a detailed review of a wealthy family with a large collection of ceramics. Clearly, the Berlin Swirl was considered desirable enough to make it to the dinner table of a wealthy Australian family. However, the pattern also occurs at sites associated with decidedly lower class families. The Museums Victoria Collections has a wonderful review of the archaeology of the “Little Lon” working class district, a poor mid to late 19th century neighborhood in Melbourne, where many lower income and transient individuals took up residence. Fragments of Berlin Swirl ceramics were found during an excavation in the late 1980s but, interestingly, many of the ceramic pieces feature patterns or designs that are flawed in some way. Perhaps the rejected wares not suitable for sale to the American market were making their way to the working class neighborhoods in Australia.

Liddle Elliot & Sons makers mark from Berlin Swirl Dish - recovered from West Circle Privy

Liddle Elliot & Sons makers mark from Berlin Swirl Dish – recovered from West Circle Privy

The maker’s marks on the bases of the Berlin Swirl fragments in the privy provide tight date ranges for deposition and use. While researching this blog, I was reminded of how powerful maker’s marks are for historical archaeologists, not just in terms of dating but also in thinking about trade relationships around the globe. The Australian examples from both high and low income neighborhoods also remind us that ceramics can speak to aesthetic choice/selection as related to social class. I found it interesting that the working class neighborhoods were incorporating elegant china into their households likely as a result of a decline in the American market due to the Civil War! Archaeological analysis proves, yet again, the interconnectedness of consumer demand for products, status-related items, and increasingly global economies.


Works Cited

Brooks, Alasdair. “An archaeological guide to British ceramics in Australia 1788-1901.” (2005).

White Ironstone China Association Inc. White Ironstone Notes Vol 5 Issue 3 – Winter 1998.

Hayes, Sarah. Good Taste, Fashion, Luxury: a genteel Melbourne family and their rubbish. Vol. 5. Sydney University Press, 2014.

Lawrence, Susan, and Peter Davies. An archaeology of Australia since 1788. Springer Science & Business Media, 2010.



The Flower Pot Tea Room: A Female-Run Student Business on the Early Campus

Station Terrace - Photo courtesy of MSU Archives & Historical Collections

Station Terrace – Photo courtesy of MSU Archives & Historical Collections

Last summer CAP discovered the foundation/basement of a building known as Station Terrace. This building had many different uses during its approximately 40 years on campus (it was moved off campus in the early 1920s). It housed researchers from the experimental stations, served as bachelor faculty housing, rented space for East Lansing’s first post office, was a waiting room for the trolley line, and contained the female student run Flower Pot Tea Room. Station Terrace is a unique opportunity to examine a space on campus that transitioned from a male only building, to a female run business.

Early female students often get dismissed in history as just on campus for the “Mrs.” degree or disparaged for seeking a Home Economics degree that may not be understood as a legitimate course of study. A look through the archives dispels that narrative immediately, as female students at Michigan Agricultural College were held to high standards in the past and had an active role in creating and maintaining the college campus. At MSU, the Home Economics course was designed as a domestic science with the learning spaces as laboratories. A look at the Course of Study for Women at M.A.C. shows that women’s schedules were packed!

List of courses in women's studies. MAC Record, 1896, Vol 1, Number 23.

List of courses in women’s studies. MAC Record, 1896, Vol 1, Number 23.

The domestic sciences were considered quite important at the college and women were tasked with the responsibilities of preparing meals for high-ranking visitors. A M.A.C. Record article written by a student and titled, “Our Cooking Laboratory” from 1897 noted that women at Abbot Hall served the members of the State Board whenever they visited the college. It appears that their creativity was encouraged, as their professor allowed them to create the appetizers and desserts for the meals to show off their progress and skills. It should be noted, too, that the cooking laboratory was exclusively the domain of female students – it is here where they experimented, measured, tested, and prepared food. It is interesting that the women refer to the space as a laboratory!

Women in Physics Lab c. 1915. Image courtesy of MSU Archives & Historical Collections

Women in Physics Lab c. 1915. Image courtesy of MSU Archives & Historical Collections

By 1912, the M.A.C. was hosting nearly month-long workshops called the Graduate School of Home Economics. An article in the M.A.C. record noted that courses in the chemistry of textiles and the physiology of the cell were scheduled alongside the principles of jelly making and costume design. Clearly the business of Home Economics is more varied than perhaps we assume.

Women looking through microscope c. 1919. Image courtesy of MSU Archives & Historical Collections.

Women looking through microscope c. 1919. Image courtesy of MSU Archives & Historical Collections.

During WWI, current and former students of the Home Economics program supported the war effort by putting on popular demonstrations of canning and food storage. The science of home economics was well-established on campus, but the transition into business management did not come until 1921 with the opening of the Flower Pot tea room (at least, this is the earliest record that we have found). MSU has a long tradition of student-run business and emphasis on entrepreneurship (in fact, modern Spartans even have the opportunity to compete for start-up funds for their businesses through a number of the colleges on campus!). The Flower Pot tea room can be understood in the history of this student-oriented business tradition, though it initially started as a alumni-owned shop. The proceeds from the tea room were allocated for the home management houses, but by 1922 the small building was taken over by the Institutional Management class of the Home Economics department. The tea room was initially run out of an old shed behind Old Horticulture, but in the fall of 1921 it was moved into Station Terrace.

An M.A.C. Record article from 1922 describes the space as, “an admirable laboratory,” likely referencing the “experiment” of having students operate the tea room and prepare all the food. In 1923 it appears that they attempted to move the tea room off campus, but it returns to Station Terrace and the alumni had relinquished their stake in the business. CAP has excavated portions of Station Terrace and will return this summer to continue exploring this space. The use life of Station Terrace is exciting for CAP to investigate, as the space was originally the province of males exclusively – in fact, it was a bachelor house! The transition from bachelor housing to female-operated tea room business in a fairly short period of time gives us clues about the expanding role of females on the historic campus. Stay tuned for more from Station Terrace as excavations get underway this May as part of the 2017 CAP field school.



MAC Record, 1896, Vol 1, Number 23

MAC Record 1921, Vol 26, Number 34

MAC Record 1921, Vol 27, Number 5

MAC Record, Vol 27, Number 14

MAC Record, Vol 27, Number 18

MAC Record, Vol 27, Number 25

MAC Record, Vol 27, Number 26

MAC Record, Vol 28, Number 16

Let’s Get Trashed! A Comparison of the Saint’s Rest Dorm, Privy, and Trash Pit.

Berlin Swirl handless cup and matching saucer. Recovered from West Circle Privy

Berlin Swirl handless cup and matching saucer. Recovered from West Circle Privy.

Archaeologists care a lot about garbage. We can learn a great deal from looking through what people throw out, how much they throw out, and when they throw it out. Because trash is the byproduct of what humans consume and use in their daily lives, middens and refuse deposits can help us fill in the gaps of our knowledge about the historic campus experience and student behavior.

Campus Archaeology has been involved in excavations of three separate components of life at Saint’s Rest Dorm: the refuse pit from Saint’s Rest, the West Circle privy, and the excavation of the building itself. Several blogs have been written on each of these sites, but no comparison between sites has yet been done.

"Scalloped Decagonal" serving dish. Most likely made by Davenport but no makers mark present. Image source: Lisa Bright

“Scalloped Decagonal” serving dish. Most likely made by Davenport but no makers mark present. Recovered from Saints Rest trash pit. Image source: Lisa Bright

This semester, Lisa Bright and I will work on re-cataloging and accessioning artifacts from the 2011 trash pit excavation (with some help from several undergraduate honors students from ANP 203) so that we may get a better sense of what is present (and, interestingly, what is absent). For now, we have some general observations about each site such as abundance of serving dishes in the trash pit, but only dining plates being present in the privy. The trash pit and the privy also contain some of the same ceramic patterns. The location of each site also serves as an interesting variable for comparison. Because the building and trash sites were likely public and at least partially, if not totally, accessible, the artifacts found at each site are expected to be reflective of daily life (e.g. bones from butchered animals, empty food containers, etc.) and human error (e.g. broken plates, bowls, lamps, etc.). In contrast, the assemblage within the privy is potentially reflective of secrecy, prohibition, or mishap. Knowing that no one would retrieve items from a privy, students may have thrown items away in this space (or perhaps dropped them accidentally). Saint’s Rest  burned down in December of 1876.  The accidental destruction of the building also creates a different context for the artifacts compared to the trash pit and the privy.  These items were still in use, and their owners were not, at that time, intending to dispose of them.

Decorated porcelain fragments recovered during 2005 Saints Rest excavation. Image source: Lisa Bright

Decorated porcelain fragments recovered during 2005 Saints Rest excavation. Image source: Lisa Bright

Lisa and I believe that comparing the assemblages from these sites will be useful in piecing together student and faculty behavior as well as use of space on the campus. The opportunity to compare and contrast three sites from the same time period, but with disparate function, allows us to examine some largely intangible aspects of the past. Last semester we finished the privy report, so this semester we will do a quick re-analysis of some the Saint’s Rest materials and dig further into their meaning. Stay tuned for our findings!


Rock Me Like a Hurricane (Lamp shade): Kerosene Lamps on Campus

Examples of Kerosene Lamps with Hurricane Shade - Image Source

Examples of Kerosene Lamps with Hurricane Shade – Image Source

During the west circle historic privy excavation, 773 fragments of hurricane oil glass lamp shades were found. Lamps that use these shades are characterized by a wick dipped into the fuel source that would have been surrounded by a glass globe. Glass lamps may initially seem like a fairly routine find, which of course they are to an extent. But, consider the role of electricity in your own life. Now, imagine what studying must have been like in a small dorm room with the only light coming from an oil lamp! Clearly the students’ all-nighters would have been interrupted by the tending of the lamps.

Female student in dorm room 1896 - oil lamp can been seen on her dresser. Image courtesy of MSU Archives & Historical Collections

Female student in dorm room 1896 – oil lamp can been seen on her dresser. Image courtesy of MSU Archives & Historical Collections

Rule 81 from the 1868 M.A.C. Regulations. Image courtesy of MSU Archives & Historical Collections

Rule 81 from the 1868 M.A.C. Regulations. Image courtesy of MSU Archives & Historical Collections

The rules of the Michigan Agricultural College from 1868 clearly state that, “Filling a lamp with kerosene when it is burning, or in the evening or night is forbidden under penalty of suspension or expulsion.” However, as we know from the presence of clay pipes and alcohol bottles found in campus excavations, students often subverted the rules. I imagine many a lamp was kept burning as students hurriedly tried to get through the material they needed to know for a tough botany or chemistry course. Though the early campus buildings were constructed of mixed materials, the rules regarding lamps were clearly designed to cut down on fire hazards in dorm rooms.

Ancient Roman Oil Lamps, 1st-5th century AD - Image Source

Ancient Roman Oil Lamps, 1st-5th century AD – Image Source

There is archaeological evidence for the use of oil-lamps for thousands of years, while the kerosene-fueled lamp was introduced around 1850 (1). Ancient Romans used lamps made of stone, shell, or ceramics and fueled by the abundantly available olive oil (2-3). Oil lamps appear in Jewish, Islamic, Hindu, and Christian texts, usually referencing lighting some spiritual way or the light as a source of direction (1).

I am sure we are all very grateful for the widely available electricity we enjoy today, but in other rural parts of the world kerosene lamps are still used today where electricity is too expensive or inaccessible. Kerosene as a fuel source rivals even the amount of U.S. jet fuel consumption per year! While kerosene lamps like the ones found on campus consume about 77 billion liters of fuel per year, the U.S. airlines report usage of about 76 billion liters of jet fuel per year (4).

Interestingly, CAP has only found oil lamps at the sites of the historic privy (associated with Saints’ Rest) and the site of Beaumont West which is associated with College Hall. These locations make sense as students would have been occupying these spaces after the sun went down. Recently, the City of Boston Archaeology Program (5) located a complete oil lamp at the bottom of a privy dated to 1835. CAP has had no such luck with finding an intact lamp, which is not unexpected since one careless knock into a table could have sent a lamp flying and glass shattering. We have been able to reconstruct some of the lamp shade fragments, but their presence in the privy associated with the old dormitory lends credence to the idea that the lamps ended up here due to breakage. Perhaps it was all to common for students at Saints Rest to make their trip back to the dorm in the dark, after accidentally breaking a lamp shade, and hiding the evidence down the privy shaft.


(1) https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Oil_lamp

(2) http://www.sciencebuzz.org/museum/object/2003_05_roman_oil_lamp

(3) http://www.ancientresource.com/lots/roman/roman-oil-lamps.html

(4) http://www.eia.gov/dnav/pet/pet_cons_prim_dcu_nus_a.htm

(5) https://www.facebook.com/BostonArchaeologyProgram/?fref=ts

Combing Through the Artifacts

While Lisa Bright and I were accessioning artifacts from the West Circle Drive privy excavation, we noticed that one of the short combs had some lettering. Faint, tiny print spelled out, “IRC CO. G YEARS” with a few other letters (or numbers) that we could not read. Some quick Googling brought up the India Rubber Company based out of New York City, one of the first two hard rubber companies to sell products made through the process of vulcanization.

India Rubber Company Ad - Image Source

India Rubber Company Ad – Image Source

India Rubber Company Ad for Unbreakable Combs - Image Source

India Rubber Company Ad for Unbreakable Combs – Image Source

Charles and Nelson Goodyear developed the vulcanization process, or applying heat to rubber treated with sulfur, in 1839 which allowed for hard rubber products to be produced in mass quantities. Through experimentation, Charles Goodyear was able to turn raw rubber into a malleable, stable substance, while Nelson Goodyear figured out how to adapt the pliable rubber into vulcanite (hard rubber) that could be used to make a number of personal items including buttons and brushes1. In the mid-1850s, ivory and wooden combs were largely en vogue until the Goodyear brothers utilized vulcanite to manufacture rubber combs of all sizes. Initially, the vulcanite combs cost twenty times as much as the combs previously in use, but (presumably) the superior quality of the rubber combs produced by the Goodyears contributed to their staying power2. Specialists who were originally trained in making each ivory and tortoiseshell by hand were replaced by comb-cutting machines by 18653. Mechanized production eventually allowed for the creation of two combs, whereby one comb was created from the spaces of the teeth of the other comb. Increased production and eventual expiration of hard rubber patents led to significant expansion in comb manufacturing, so India Rubber Company began to stamp each comb with the manufacturing date and a guarantee against breakage for twelve months3.

Indian rubber comb ad

India Rubber Comb Ad – Image Source

So what does vulcanized rubber have to do with Campus Archaeology? Enter: the beard (and mustache?) comb!

Comb from West Circle Privy - Image Source Amy Michael

Comb from West Circle Privy – Image Source Amy Michael

The comb measures approximately 3.5 inches in length and 1.25 inches in width, making it fairly small. Since the comb wound up in the privy, we can only assume that a recently clean shaven man was just done with all facial hair maintenance! Just kidding. It’s likely that the comb ended up in the privy accidentally, as the India Rubber Company was very proud of the durability of their allegedly unbreakable combs. Perhaps one of these guys, or someone similar to them, used the comb:

Photo of Faculty with facial hair, 1888. Image Courtesy of MSU Archives & Historical Collections

Photo of Faculty with facial hair, 1888. Image Courtesy of MSU Archives & Historical Collections

Hard rubber combs from the same time period have been found in other archaeological contexts and even wind up in art museums. Check out a fancy 1851 comb manufactured by India Rubber Company that is in the collections at the Met: http://www.metmuseum.org/art/collection/search/16809. The excavation of the SS Republic, a famous shipwreck, yielded a number of artifacts produced by the India Rubber Company including combs, a woman’s headband, and even a hygienic douche (check out the artifacts here: http://odysseysvirtualmuseum.com/categories/SS-Republic/Artifacts/Personal-Necessities/).

As we go through the rest of the privy materials, we will continue to do historical research on each of the personal items found in the assemblage. Perhaps we will get lucky and find another dateable piece!



2Depew, Chauncey Mitchell, ed. 1795-1895. One Hundred Years of American Commerce…: A History of American Commerce by One Hundred Americans, with a Chronological Table of the Important Events of American Commerce and Invention Within the Past One Hundred Years. DO Haynes & Company, 1895.

3The India-Rubber Journal. The History of a Large Rubber Firm. May 21, 1906.

It’s a Wrap! Five Years with CAP

Amy digging a shovel test pit

Amy digging a shovel test pit

I can’t believe I’m typing this, but next month I will graduate from MSU and be let loose into the world as a real, live Anthropologist. I have been very fortunate to be employed as a graduate researcher with CAP since 2010. As a physical anthropologist, I entered graduate school thinking I’d just study old bones but I have found a real love for historic archaeology. I credit CAP and Dr. Goldstein with fostering this interest in me. Each year with CAP has taught me something new, so Lisa suggested that I re-CAP (ha!) my time in my final blog post. In no particular order:

1) Gender on the historic campus – This project has consumed my CAP research for the past two years. This project taught me so much about the early female experience at MSU. It was incredible fun to dig through the University Archives, looking through scrapbooks and photos, trying to piece together the trials and lifeways of female students. Women were far from docile beings content with a sliver of the education their male peers were receiving! There were quite a few muckrakers and rabble rousers in the early female student crowd and it has been inspiring to read about their lives. The articulation of material culture excavated by CAP and the archival documents has been a welcome challenge, pulling me into a direction I never thought I’d go before my CAP involvement.

2) Privy research – Though I was not part of the initial excavation, I was tasked with doing background research on historic privies as part of the More Than Just Nightsoil poster presented at the MAC last year. I never knew privies were so interesting! I really enjoyed reading through published works on privies, as well as finding out about the laypersons who dig old outhouses. Something I previously may have dismissed as trivial or uninteresting (or, let’s face it, kind of gross) became something I still Google. Plus, I got to take photomicrographs of seeds recovered from the nightsoil! Any excuse to put something under a microscope gets me excited.

Amy examining a seed from the privy under the microscope

Amy examining a seed from the privy under the microscope

3) Excavation in the historic greenhouse – I’ve had the opportunity to excavate a lot of cool places on campus thanks to CAP, but the historic greenhouse (now demolished) was certainly the coolest. The CAP crew walked around inside, taking measurements and checking out the overgrown plants and ruins. To be inside this abandoned place on an otherwise thriving campus was definitely surreal.

Amy explains an artifact at Bennett Woods Elementary School Science Fair

Amy explains an artifact at Bennett Woods Elementary School Science Fair

4) Public Outreach – Over the years, I’ve done a lot of public outreach activities with CAP where we speak to schools or community groups. I think the best part of these events is that we continually learn how to present archaeology to the public in a way that is accessible yet also underscores the importance of the field. It’s easy for uninformed people to dismiss archaeological materials as “just” old stuff, but public outreach allows us to articulate why and how these items are linked to the past (and, critically, why people should care). Seeing the public, especially children, start to think about the past as it relates to the present is so satisfying. Human curiosity and critical thought is definitely stoked when holding an artifact.

5) Working with Dr. Goldstein and the CAP fellows – Okay, I promise I didn’t put this on the list to be a brown noser. I have met and worked with people through CAP that I probably wouldn’t have interacted with otherwise – we were in different cohorts, never took classes together, had wildly different research foci, etc. But, CAP brought me and some of my best graduate school friends together. Dr. Goldstein has always fostered an inclusive and fun environment in CAP meetings and she made me feel like I was part of a research team. I’ll remember CAP meetings as full of laughs, good-natured ribbing, and lots of game planning. I really appreciate Dr. Goldstein treating us like we all had something valuable to contribute, as well as letting us in on the inner workings of a university (e.g. telling us about meetings she had with campus operations folks, guiding us through setting up and advertising public outreach events, helping us find funding, and more).

Amy and Sylvia Shovel Skimming

Amy and Sylvia Shovel Skimming

6) Collaboration with University Archives – I think that going to the Archives was one of my favorite parts of CAP. Sometimes it was frustrating and sometimes I would spend a couple hours there and come away with no valuable information, but the feeling of flipping through old photos and scrapbooks will always stay with me. As a lover of all things old, I enjoyed putting on the little white gloves and diving into the stacks to see what I could find. Going to the Archives, especially in the winter, was kind of like a non-field archaeology in a way. I still got to dig around in other peoples’ lives!

7) Hanging out in the lab – The CAP lab is bursting with artifacts. Seriously, go check it out sometime when Lisa is down there. Bags and bags of artifacts sit on the benches waiting for cataloging and analysis. I did a very speedy analysis of artifacts from the Gunson assemblage for my gender project and it was so fun to just sit in the lab and see what came out of the bags. I’ve now blogged about Listerine bottles, nail polish toppers, and old doll heads – all things I never knew a single fact about before CAP! Any lab rat can tell you that there is a great satisfaction in identifying, labelling, documenting, and researching – the breadth and quantity of the materials excavated by CAP ensures that the lab rats will be happy for years to come. As someone who generally only handles artifacts from places far removed in time and space from my own experience, it was so cool to identify and research artifacts used by students who graduated from my same university.

Well, I could go on but I’ll leave the list at lucky number seven. It has been a fantastic and fulfilling experience to work as a CAP researcher for the past five years and I hope that I can continue to be associated with the program in some form in the future. I encourage all MSU Anthropology students to consider working with CAP at some point during your college careers. I’ve learned so much more than just the historical archaeology of our campus. Thank you to Dr. Goldstein, my CAP cohorts, and the University Archives for a collegial academic experience.



Mable, Take a Bow: Piecing Together the Biography of a Doll

Mable Reconstructed

Mable Post-Reconstruction

If you follow us on Twitter, read this post about 3D printing, or if you came to the Apparitions and Archaeology tour last fall, you may have heard about Mable, the undisputed star of 2015 CAP excavations. During the excavation of the historic privy on campus last year, a fragmented doll’s head was recovered (creepy!). Luckily for CAP crew members, the excavation took place in broad daylight and no one has reported much psychological trauma…yet.

Made of china, or the material porcelain, the figurine sports a hairstyle known as a “flat-top”which became popular during the Civil War days. We can reasonably assume that the doll originated during this period and so Lisa Bright, Campus Archaeologist, named the doll Mable following a popular name of the 1860s. Mable does not have any maker’s marks aside from a hand-scripted numeral 7 on her inside bust. The holes in Mable’s bust would have articulated with a cloth body and at one time she would have had hands and feet made from the same china material as her head.

Hand scripted 7 inside Mable's bust

Hand scripted 7 inside Mable’s bust

Complete doll from 1860s - Mable would have been similar

Complete doll from 1860s – Mable would have been similar. Image Source

The first porcelain flat-top or “highbrow” dolls were styled after women in the 1800s, so called after the flat-top hairstyle of the dolls (1). Because early dolls did not usually have maker’s marks or mold numbers, they can be dated and distinguished by their hairstyles (1) – doesn’t sound like a bad way to date when you consider 80s hair VS. today’s hair! Initial manufacturing occurred in Germany and France by doll-makers who crafted unique faces and styles, before the mass production of porcelain heads, hands, and feet in later years (2). We can assume that Mable has German roots as the country led the manufacture of these dolls between 1840-1940 (3).

Putting Mable back together in the field - Privy can be seen in background

Putting Mable back together in the field – Privy can be seen in background

Due to Mable’s finely painted face, we suspect that she may have been a treasured item for her previous owner. China dolls like Mable enjoyed immense popularity with children for about 50 years (1840-1890) and were easily sourced (3). A rise in reproductions of the dolls occurred in the mid-1900s in the United States (3). I was not able to determine how much an original flat-top doll would have cost at the height of their popularity, but the figures now command upwards of $300 on the collector’s market.

We can, of course, only speculate about why Mable ended up discarded as trash. Perhaps her cloth body was damaged or she was no longer favored by her child owner. Maybe the child simply outgrew Mable. We welcome her here at CAP, resurrected from the privy and living on in our lab!

Mabel in pieces

Mabel in pieces

For more on dating hairstyles of dolls see: http://dollreference.com/china_head_dolls.html


(1) http://dollreference.com/china_head_dolls.html

(2) http://www.ebay.com.au/gds/The-Ultimate-Porcelain-Doll-Buying-Guide-/10000000177627406/g.html

(3) https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/China_doll

Myrtle Craig: Artifacts, Race, and Gender at Michigan Agricultural College

This is the first entry of a two part blog by Blair Zaid and Amy Michael about Myrtle (Craig) Mowbray, one of the first African American graduates of Michigan Agricultural College, and the climate and culture of college life in the first decade of 1900s. The first part below introduces Myrtle and some of her early experiences on campus as an African American woman. The second blog discusses her within the larger experiences of African American students across the country.

Myrtle Craig Portrait

Myrtle Craig Portrait – Image on Ancestry.com

Myrtle Craig arrived at MAC in 1902 as a sub-freshman in the Woman’s Program. She would learn domestic sciences as a coed on campus. While Myrtle has the distinction of being the first African American woman to arrive on campus, her story is not unique. When viewed from a historical perspective Myrtle’s significance demonstrates broader change in the country. It highlights racial tensions and conversations that university students and administrators, as well as governmental bodies, were working out on a national scale at the turn of the twentieth century, and in some places, still to this day.

While it is difficult for modern students to envision restrictions put on students in the past, it is even more difficult to conceive of what campus life would have been like for Myrtle. For Myrtle Craig, like African American students who had the elite privilege of attending university at the dawn of the twentieth century, campus was one more place of segregation and discrimination. In 1896, the same year the Woman’s Program began at MAC, the Supreme Court ruled in Plessy v. Ferguson that racial segregation in public facilities across the US was legal. The “separate but equal” ruling also applied to college campuses. Myrtle would not have the right to eat with her classmates or sleep in the shared dorm, bathe in the bathhouse, attend social functions, and was most likely excluded from the privy we found last summer during CAP excavations. She was restricted from participating in campus life simply because she was a different race. Her ability to pay her way, scholastic aptitude, and gender did not protect her from the federal laws of racial segregation of the time. She was, by federal law, not allowed to participate in the college experience outside the confines of the classroom.

Female class of 1907

Female class of 1907 – Image courtesy of MSU Archives

Myrtle arrived at MAC in 1902, at a time when there were very few women on campus. The university had only recently started to incorporate white women on campus through the formation the Women’s Program and the construction of Morrill Hall (a dedicated space for female students). In previous blogs I have addressed the physical restriction of women on campus; we know that all females were limited in their usage of the overall campus and chaperones were required for women to walk the campus grounds. Also, most of female students’ activities were restricted to Morrill Hall. Here, women ate together in the dining clubs, studied in the library, slept in their dorms and lived in unity. Nonetheless, as an African American woman, Myrtle would have been forbidden from these activities and spaces.

Female students in dorm

Female students in dorm – Image courtesy of MSU Archives

MAC however, had a different plan for Myrtle as well as the three other students of color on campus at the time. Historical documents from MSU Archives reveal that during her first two years as a student, she boarded with Addison Brown, a secretary for the college, and Professor Newman, an assistant professor of drawing and design in mechanical engineering. It is unclear why these two were chosen. Brown, a long serving secretary, was a part of the college during the formation of the Women’s Program. Newman, a founder of the city of East Lansing, also helped found the People’s Church which still stands today. These circumstances may have been why these two were selected to accommodate Myrtle on campus. Either way, MAC saw to it that she had manageable accommodations, despite federal laws to the contrary.

Within these conditions, Myrtle paid for her room, board, and tuition through cosmetology services and as a domestic. We can tentatively link Myrtle to CAP through artifacts given the potential roles she had on campus. While we do not have direct archaeological evidence for Myrtle’s experience, it is interesting to note that we have found examples of women’s cosmetics throughout campus. The making and preparing of food is read in the archaeological record through historical artifacts like butchered animal bone and old plates and dishware. While further research is needed to establish data linked to Myrtle, she was a part of the female body on campus and involved in these trades. We can use the historical archives information and the presence of these artifacts to conclude that she likely left some of these items behind as well.

Myrtle Craig at class outing, 1907

Myrtle Craig at class outing, 1907 – Image courtesy of MSU Archives

A century later, Myrtle’s imprint is more than an archaeological tale. This photograph was found in a student scrapbook and we are speculating that Myrtle is pictured at left.

There are a handful of other photographs of her, but they are all staged. This is a candid picture snapped during a class outing in 1907. If this is indeed Myrtle, she is pictured here as engaged with her friends, an active participant in college life regardless of the norm of segregation. With this potentially candid photo, and later enquiries from fellow graduates, we can infer friendships and bonds did develop as Myrtle traversed campus life to become an Aggie!

Myrtle’s story, shared by many other’s across the country at the time, reminds us of the strides and strife of developing an inclusive and diverse campus. When Myrtle returned to campus as an adult in the latter half of the century, she considered how MSU had developed with the installation of Clifford Wharton, the first African American president of a major public university. Follow Part 2 of our blog for a glimpse into some of the experiences Myrtle shared with her coeds and faculty and how these experiences reverberated throughout the country.

Done Up and Polished: The Brief History of a Nail Polish Topper

The Gunson/Admin assemblage continues to reveal gendered historical items linked to early females on campus. Most recently, Lisa Bright alerted me to the presence of a glass nail polish bottle stopper in the collection.

Dr. Jay Parker Pray Bottle Top - Gunson Unit D

Dr. Jay Parker Pray Bottle Top – Gunson Unit D

Luckily, the logo remains intact and, after some Googling, it was determined to be manufactured by the Dr. J. Parker Pray Company (established 1868). The New York City based company specialized in manicure and medicinal goods. Dr. Parker Pray began his career as a chiropodist, a hand and foot doctor, before transitioning into selling ladies’ cosmetic products.

In 1874, Dr. Parker Pray met Mary E. Cobb who had moved to New York City following the end of the Civil War. The two married that same year and Mary allegedly went to France shortly after to be trained in the techniques of manicure (1). Although Mary learned the traditional French manicure method, American women at the time did not greatly desire the French style. In 1878, she opened Mrs. Pray’s Manicure shop in New York City where she practiced a revised process of manicure that modern women are familiar with today (2). By all accounts, the shop and manufacturing businesses were wildly successful and the Prays are even credited with the invention of the emory board.

After the couple divorced in 1884, Mary returned to her maiden name and invested her energy into the expansion of her business through mail order and increased retail exposure (1). Mary even began to train women in the manicurist trade so that they could secure independent income. By 1900, Mary was in charge of one of the largest female-owned business operations in the world (as well as the largest manufacturer of pink and red nail polish) (1).

Boxes containing the polish were sold for 25 and 50 cents (3). While the bottle has not yet been found in the assemblage, just the discovery of the top is pretty cool! I was not able to secure dates (besides post-1868), but if the bottle is recovered we may be able to determine better manufacturing dates. If only Mary Cobb could have seen the variety of polish colors worn by women on campus today!

Dr. J Parker Pray Ad Circa 1905 - Source

Dr. J Parker Pray Ad Circa 1905 – Source



  1. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mary_E._Cobb
  2. http://blackcatnails.com/nails-story-modern-manicure-book-review/
  3. https://books.google.com/books?id=1zrnAAAAMAAJ&pg=PA109&lpg=PA109&dq=dr.+j+parker+pray+manicure+bottle&source=bl&ots=8icjsRHIsg&sig=I7hv_6vcKneI84-XDFSVhVK5Mt0&hl=en&sa=X&ved=0ahUKEwiep-m61LbKAhWmsIMKHQRaCtUQ6AEITjAK#v=onepage&q=dr.%20j%20parker%20pray%20manicure%20bottle&f=false

From Surgical Theater to Trash Pit: The Resurrection of a Listerine Bottle and What It Can Tell Us About Campus Activities

Listerine Bottle from Admin/Gunson Level B

Listerine Bottle from  Level B

Lisa Bright, the reigning Campus Archaeologist, wrote to me recently to say that she had discovered a Listerine bottle in the Admin/Gunson assemblage that was excavated during the CAP field school this past summer. While a Listerine bottle may seem like a fairly innocuous item (especially when found in the context of the extremely large Admin assemblage), the bottle actually tells us quite a bit about past activities on campus. Or, rather, it gives us a clue about the past activities. Part of the fun of archaeology is detective work, and this bottle is a great example of how historical archaeologists can use a blend of archival information and historical advertisements in their assessment of artifacts.


Vintage Ad

Vintage Ad

What makes this bottle particularly useful for interpreting past activities is that the hand blown maker’s mark indicates that it was made by the Obear-Nester glass company of East St. Louis in Illinois between 1895-1914. According to the Listerine website (www.listerine.co.za), Dr. Joseph Lister entered the history books as the first surgeon to operate in a sterilized chamber; following this operation, sterilization became a critical component in surgical theaters, leading to a significant reduction of infections and deaths. Having been inspired by Dr. Lister’s work, Dr. Joseph Lawrence formulated a compound in 1879 that could be used as a disinfectant for surgical rooms as well as a wash for abrasions and wounds. Named after Dr. Lister, Listerine was used for surgical and dental purposes until around 1914 and could be attained only through prescription. After 1915, Listerine re-branded their product and changed their marketing focus to combatting bad breath, enabling sales of the solution over the counter (a first for a prescription product in the United States). We can even thank Listerine for coining the term, “halitosis” (www.listerine.com.za/history/brand-heritage).

Listerine Ad from 1950s

Listerine Ad from 1950s

So, what does a surgical and bad breath antiseptic mean for archaeology (and for early MSU students)? Because of Lisa’s research, we are able to position the Listerine bottle from the Admin/Gunson assemblage within that first wave of prescription Listerine products. The fact that it was found in this collection of materials is interesting – and its presence makes us question what activity (or mishap!) led to need for the prescription. In contrast, CAP has found another Listerine bottle at People’s Park that was made after 1915. Because Listerine was widely available then as an anti-bad breath agent, we can confidently infer its usage. The Admin/Gunson bottle, however, will have to be understood within the context of the rest of the assemblage. It will be exciting to see if more medical bottles are located in the artifacts excavated this summer.

A Google search for historical Listerine ads will result in a many images of advertisements that center around a common theme of women looking forlorn that they have such horrible breath. In modern context, they are quite funny. Imagine a student at MSU viewing one of these ads then rushing out to buy Listerine! If anyone has access to Listerine ads that ran earlier than 1914, please let us know.


Vintage Listerine Ad

Vintage Listerine Ad