A sweet discovery: a Bavarian sugar bowl in the East Lansing dump

Tea has a long tradition as both a beverage and a social event (1). In turn of the 20th century America, tea was enjoyed both at home and in public tearooms, by men and by women (1, 2). At a time when women were typically excluded from other public dining rooms, it was considered acceptable for women to go to tearooms with or without male escorts (1). Whether taken at home or in public, teatime was an event requiring several pieces of equipment. For a respectable tea, etiquette and cookbooks from the 19th and early 20th centuries list non-negotiable items as a teapot, teacups and saucers, a jug for cream, and a bowl for sugar (2). Tea services were often beautiful objects made of fine china or silver, intended to be displayed and admired by guests.

Z.S. & Co Sugar Bowl from the Brody/Emmons Complex.

Z.S. & Co Sugar Bowl from the Brody/Emmons Complex.

CAP archaeologists recovered one of these beautiful objects, a flowery porcelain sugar bowl, during excavations at Brody/Emmons complex, the former site of the East Lansing city dump. Luckily for us, the bowl is nearly intact and displays a backstamp on its base reading “MIGNON Z.S.& Co. BAVARIA.” This stamp provides several key pieces of information about the item, starting with the name of the manufacturer. Z.S. & Co refers to Porzellanfabrik Zeh, Scherzer & Co., a German company that produced porcelain tableware, coffee and tea sets, and other decorative items from the time it was founded in 1880 until 1992 (3). The backstamp also gives us a clue as to a date. Manufacturers often changed the design of their backstamps to reflect new ownership or updates. Z.S. & Co. used the plain green mark with the name of the company and place of manufacture divided by a wavy line between 1880 and 1918 (3).

Makers mark on base of Z.S. & Co Sugar Bowl from the Brody/Emmons Complex.

Makers mark on base of Z.S. & Co Sugar Bowl from the Brody/Emmons Complex.

The backstamp also tells us where the bowl was made: the German state of Bavaria. Until the 1700s, the best quality china was made in, well, China (4). In the early 18th century, German manufacturers in Saxony discovered the secret to producing high quality porcelain using a combination of kaolin and alabaster. The Meissen porcelain factory near Dresden was the first European company to successfully manufacture and market hard paste porcelain. By the height of china production in the late 1800s, there were hundreds of porcelain factories and workshops in Germany. German china gained a formidable reputation for its quality and beauty. Starting in 1887, many companies began stamping their wares with the label “made in Germany” to differentiate them from competitors, primarily the English workshops in Staffordshire. The inclusion of this phrase served as a proxy for quality (4). Some German porcelain simply includes the region of manufacture, such as Saxony, Bavaria, or Prussia (3). Until the 20th century, many porcelain items were imported from Germany. However, anti-German sentiment at the beginning of World War I reduced demand for many German goods in America.

Mignon style sugar bowl.

Mignon style sugar bowl. Image source.

Finally, the word “Mignon” on the backstamp refers to the name of the series. Z.S. & Co. produced various styles of dishes including the Mignon, Orleans, and Punch series (3). Dishes in the same series had the same shapes, but were available in a wide variety of patterns. The Mignon sugar bowl recovered from the Brody dump has the same shape as a Mignon sugar bowl I found on Ebay, but it is painted in a different pattern. The CAP sugar bowl is decorated with pink and white flowers and green leaves and flowery gold fleur-de-lis near the rim. The pattern itself actually tells us about how the piece was made. The flowers are crisp, multi-colored and multi-dimensional in that they exhibit shading. This indicates the use of ceramic decals, a technique involving the transfer of an image printed on special paper onto a ceramic object (5). This process is much faster and requires less skill than hand painting. The advent of this technique in the 19th century allowed for mass production of affordable china (5).

It is impossible to say for sure why the sugar bowl ended up in the East Lansing dump, but a likely explanation is that it was broken. Delicate pieces of a tea service get picked up and passed around quite a bit, leaving ample opportunity to drop, chip, or smash them. The sugar bowl recovered from the dump is mostly intact, though it is missing two handles and is chipped in several places around the base. It is possible some of this damage came from being buried in a landfill. However, it is easy imagine that its owner decided to discard it after a few too many exuberant tea parties rendered it no longer fit for display.

References

  1. Smith AF. 2013. Tea. In The Oxford Encyclopedia of Food and Drink in America. Retrieved from http://www.oxfordreference.com/view/10.1093/acref/9780199734962.001.0001/acref-9780199734962.
  2. http://www.foodtimeline.org/teatime.html#americantea
  3. http://www.porcelainmarksandmore.com/germany/bavaria/rehau-01/index.php
  4. https://antiques.lovetoknow.com/Antique_China_Made_in_Germany
  5. http://www.jefpat.org/diagnostic/Post-Colonial%20Ceramics/Less%20Commonly%20Found/DecalDecoratedWares/index-DecalDecoratedWares.html

Archaeology and the Age of Plastics: Bakelite in the Brody Dump

Mirror from the Brody/Emmons complex.

Mirror from the Brody/Emmons complex.

Take a moment to think about what kinds of materials you’d expect to find in a garbage dump from 2018. Did plastic immediately spring to mind? About 300 million tons of plastic are produced globally each year, only about 10% of which is recycled (1). Since mass production of plastic took off around 1950 an estimated 6.3 billion metric tons of plastic waste has been produced, much of which has ended up in landfills (1). We don’t encounter much plastic at the oldest sites on MSU’s campus. At sites dating to the 19th century, like Saints’ Rest and College Hall, we more frequently find glass, metal, and ceramics. At more recent sites, however, we begin to see more plastic in the archaeological record, reflecting the increased availability and use of plastic in everyday items. Several plastic artifacts were excavated at the Brody-Emmons Complex, the site of the East Lansing city landfill in the early 20th century.

Humans have long used natural substances with plastic properties, such as rubber and shellac, but man-made plastics are a fairly recent innovation. The first man-made plastic is attributed to British chemist Alexander Parkes (2). In 1856, Parkes acquired a patent for a product made from a plant material called cellulose treated with nitric acid and other chemicals. The product, called Parkesine, exhibited many useful properties: when hot it could be easily molded into various shapes, but when cool it was sturdy and durable. Unlike rubber, it could be industrially produced in large quantities (2).

Early plastics such as Parkesine and its successor, celluloid, involved the addition of chemicals to naturally occurring polymers (3). The first fully synthetic plastic wasn’t invented until 1907 when American chemist Leo Baekeland produced a plastic material through a condensation reaction of phenol with formaldehyde. He called his phenolic resin “Bakelite,” polyoxybenzylmethyleneglycoanhydride to the chemistry nerds out there. Unlike celluloid, Bakelite is thermosetting; once molded, it retains its shape even if heated again (3).

Baekeland patented Bakelite in 1909 and formed the General Bakelite Company around 1910 (3). The company adopted the infinity symbol as its logo to match its slogan “a material of a thousand uses.” In fact, Bakelite did prove to have many uses. Due to its resistance to heat and electricity, it was particularly useful in the automotive and electrical industries. The earliest commercial use of Bakelite was in insulating bushings manufactured for the Weston Electrical Instrument Corporation in 1908. During World War I, Bakelite was used in everything from electrical systems to airplane propellers. As plastic began to be incorporated in electronics such as telephones and radios, these products became cheaper and thus more widely accessible (3). There were also many decorative and aesthetic uses for Bakelite. Blocks of Bakelite could be carved to create items like pipe stems, cigarette holders, and even jewelry (3). The look, weight, and sound of Bakelite pieces struck together are similar to ivory (4). For this reason, phenolic resins are still used in items such as billiard balls, dominos, and chess pieces (3).

One of the plastic artifacts associated with the East Lansing landfill is a small hand-held mirror we suspected might be made of Bakelite. People who have handled a lot of Bakelite can make an assessment based on subtle clues like sound and feel. Since I have not handled much of it myself, I turned to some of the other “tests” for Bakelite.

Testing with Formula 409

Testing with Formula 409

First I tried the smell test. This method involves heating the object – either by running it under hot water or rubbing it vigorously–and sniffing. Bakelite gives off a telltale formaldehyde smell (4). As I wanted to avoid damaging the artifact, I tried the rubbing approach. The mirror definitely smelled “weird” to me, but it was too faint for me to discern a specific scent.

Next I decided to try one of the visual methods for testing Bakelite. These methods involve swabbing a Q-Tip or white cloth dampened with certain chemicals against the object in question. If the object is Bakelite, it will turn the Q-tip yellow (4). Other early plastics, such as Lucite, do not produce this result. Chemicals typically used for testing Bakelite are Formula 409 and Simichrome metal polish (4). I couldn’t find Simichrome at my local hardware store, so I opted to try Formula 409. After gently cleaning the mirror to remove any dirt, Campus Archaeologist Lisa Bright and I swabbed a Q-Tip sprayed with 409 against the back of the mirror. The Q-Tip turned faintly yellow, which seemed promising. After a bit of research, I discovered that some people have successfully used baking soda to test for Bakelite (5). I decided to try this method too, and added a bit of baking soda to a damp white paper towel. Voila! The paper towel turned yellow where it contacted the plastic. These tests seem to indicate that the mirror is Bakelite, which makes it the second Bakelite artifact identified in the Brody assemblage. A Sengbusch Self-Closing Inkstand with a Bakelite lid was also recovered in 2011.

Testing with baking soda

Testing with baking soda

Bakelite was designated a National Historic Chemical Landmark by the American Chemical Society in 1993 (3). As the world’s first synthetic plastic Bakelite is credited with ushering in the Polymer Age, also called the Age of Plastics (3). It is interesting to observe that we can see this landmark—and evidence of the dawn of the Age of Plastics —in the archaeological record of our campus.

 

References

 

 

Not Ready for this Jelly Juice Glass

Mason jars are having a moment. If you’ve attended a wedding (particularly the barn variety) or eaten at a brunch establishment in the last decade, chances are you’ve consumed a beverage out of a Mason jar. What the youngest among us may not realize is that drinking out of jars isn’t a radical new trend. Look no further than the Mason jar’s less Instagrammable cousin: the jelly juice glass. Perhaps you remember drinking your morning OJ out of a repurposed jelly jar printed with characters from Howdy Doody, the Peanuts, or Pokémon. Perhaps you’ve always wondered why those were a “thing”. If so, read on to explore the ingenious marriage of packaging and marketing that led to the jelly glass, including one CAP recovered from the site of the former East Lansing city dump during excavations at the Brody Complex.

Swanky Swigs tumblers produced by Kraft. Image source

Swanky Swigs tulip pattern tumblers produced by Kraft. Image source

In 1916, America’s first self-service grocery store, a Piggly Wiggly, opened in Memphis, Tennessee (1). Before self-service stores, customers went to their local grocer and handed the clerk their shopping list (2). The clerk then retrieved these items behind the counter and packaged them for the customer to take home. Self-service stores allowed customers to peruse aisles of pre-packaged items before making their selections. As this business model boomed, point of sale factors such as the appeal of a product’s packaging became increasingly important in influencing customer purchases (2). As such, packaging became a key point of interaction between mass production and modern supermarkets (3).

Commercial glassmakers played an important role in producing appealing packages. Before the rise of plastic, mass-produced products such as jam, jelly, peanut butter, and dairy products were packaged in glass containers called packers. After these products were consumed, packers could be reused as drinking glasses (4). Knowing this, glassmakers designed packers that doubled as attractive tumblers. Small tumblers such as those for jams and jellies were the perfect size for juice (5). Products packaged in tumblers were an appealing choice to consumers who were more likely to buy if they were getting a premium with their purchase (3).

In order to make them more marketable, packer tumblers were often decorated in eye-catching and collectible designs. Early tumblers were molded into different patterns. Later designs were hand-painted or applied using a silkscreen process (5). In the 1930s, Kraft spreadable cheeses were famously packaged in tumblers marketed as “Swanky Swigs” (6). Swanky Swigs were decorated with pretty, neutral patterns such as bands, stars, and flowers. Brand loyalty was encouraged as customers repurchased products to acquire a complete set. This was an effective marketing strategy during the Depression, when companies had to adapt to sell products to a nation with little money to waste (6). In the 1950s, companies like Welch’s began featuring cartoon characters (5, 7). Various character glasses have been produced since.

Capstan tumbler from Brody/Emmons Complex.

Capstan tumbler from Brody/Emmons Complex.

In contrast to Swanky Swigs, the tumbler from the Brody dump is plain, the only decorative element being a small band of vertical ridges below the rim. The bottom of the glass is embossed with an image of a capstan, the spool-like machine used to haul ropes and cables on ships and docks. This distinctive logo belonged to the Capstan Glass Company, a subsidiary of the Anchor Cap & Closure Corporation from April 1918 until February 1938 (8). Anchor Cap purchased the Ripley & Co. glass factory in South Connellsville, Pennsylvania in 1917 and replaced all the old equipment for hand-blown and pressed glassware with new automatic machinery (9). Capstan’s operations at the plant began in 1919 with the first load of tumblers shipped on June 9 of that year (3). By 1927, Capstan’s plant employed 500 workers with shipments averaging from seven to twelve carloads a day (3,9). Business was so strong that Capstan’s president claimed the operation to be the world’s largest exclusive manufacturer of commercial packers’ glassware (3). After a series of mergers between 1928 and 1937, Anchor Cap and Closure acquired Capstan and became the Anchor Hocking Glass Corporation. Container production continued at the South Connellsville plant under the Capstan name until February 18th, 1938, when it reopened as Anchor-Hocking (3).

Bottom of tumbler showing Capstan makers mark and date stamp.

Bottom of tumbler showing Capstan makers mark and date stamp.

The history of Capstan Glass indicates that the tumbler from the Brody Dump dates between 1918 and 1938. These dates are consistent with other items recovered from the same context. The bottom of the Brody glass features the Capstan logo with “1C” above and “5” below. According to Barry Bernas, who has written substantially about Capstan, the letter C was used to identify their line of plain tumblers (3). Bernas writes that this line came in twenty sizes ranging in volume from one to sixteen ounces and was advertised from at least 1922 until January 1935 (3). The American Stores Company employed plain Capstan tumblers of this style as jackets for ASCO brand products peanut butter (3). However, these tumblers were likely used for a variety of brands and products, as they were not marked with a particular brand name.

Jelly juice jars are simple, yet fascinating items. They are located at the nexus of mass production and consumption, yet they are also a brilliant example of reusable packaging. Jury’s still out on whether you can expect to start seeing jelly glasses replace Mason jars at wedding receptions. If you do, now you’ll have an instant conversation topic. You’re welcome.

 

References

  1. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Piggly_Wiggly
  2. http://americanhistory.si.edu/blog/2011/10/food-culture.html
  3. http://www.fohbc.org/PDF_Files/CapstanTumblersJarsBottlers4AmerStoresCo.pdf
  4. https://www.collectorsweekly.com/glassware/hazel-atlas
  5. https://www.thespruce.com/what-makes-a-swig-swanky-149101
  6. https://retroreclaimations.com/blogs/vintage-glassware-history/vintage-glassware-swanky-swigs
  7. http://www.jellyjammers.org/index.html
  8. https://sha.org/bottle/pdffiles/CapstanGlassCo.pdf
  9. http://theantiquarian.us/Hist.%20Ripley%20Glass.htm

Campus as Museum: A Campus Archaeology Mobile Experience

Here at CAP we think a lot about different ways of sharing our research. We can—and do—present at conferences, give public lectures, and publish site reports and journal articles. While these avenues are great for communicating our work to other experts, they are probably not the most effective ways of engaging the MSU community and the public. This blog is one way we communicate with the public about the campus heritage we uncover through our work. But how can we take this one step further and make the connection between campus heritage and campus space? One idea is to create an experience that turns MSU’s campus into a museum anyone can visit, with exhibits that not only showcase what we’ve discovered through archival and archaeological research, but also the processes involved in uncovering this knowledge.

The first iteration of this idea of campus as museum was msu.seum, a free mobile app that uses geopositioning to identify a user’s location on campus, point them to the nearest site of interest, and provide information on the history and archaeology of the site. Msu.seum was the outcome of collaboration between the Campus Archaeology Program, the Cultural Heritage Informatics (CHI) Initiative, and MATRIX: The Center for Digital Humanities and Social Science. The app was first designed and developed as part of the 2011 CHI Field School led by CHI director and MATRIX associate director Dr. Ethan Watrall. Content for msu.seum was developed by Dr. Goldstein and former Campus Archaeologist Terry Brock.

For my CAP project I have been working to update and help build a Campus Archaeology mobile experience on a new and improved platform that alleviates technical issues with the original msu.seum app and offers exciting new features. The new platform we are using is mbira, an open-source tool specifically designed for building and managing location-based and mobile cultural heritage experiences designed by MATRIX. The site we are building in mbira can be accessed as an app for Android and Apple devices, on mobile web browsers, and as a browser-based web app.

A screenshot of the editor view of the interactive map showing five location points organized within the permanent exhibit "Beginnings." This exhibit covers the first era of MSU's history from 1855 to 1870.

A screenshot of the editor view of the interactive map showing five location points organized within the permanent exhibit “Beginnings.” This exhibit covers the first era of MSU’s history from 1855 to 1870.

So, what exactly will the new Campus Archaeology mobile experience look like? The site has three major levels of organization: locations, exhibits, and explorations. Locations are the most basic level of organization. They appear as pins on an interactive map and are tied to real locations, including past and present campus buildings and sites CAP has excavated. When a user selects a location pin, they are provided with a description of the site’s history, similar to an artifact label in a traditional museum. Unlike traditional museums, locations also include a “Dig Deeper” section exposing the archaeological research that helped generate knowledge about that location, as well as a comment section. Our hope is that eventually users will be able to participate in conversations with us and other users to ask questions, share reactions, and contribute to our knowledge of campus sites.

A historic photo of College Hall, the first building erected on campus and one of the locations users can explore on the Campus Archaeology Mobile Experience. It held classrooms, labs, a museum, a chapel, and administration. This photo taken in 1857 shows the landscape of felled trees that had to be cleared to build campus. (Photo courtesy of MSU Archives, A000157.jpg).

A historic photo of College Hall, the first building erected on campus and one of the locations users can explore on the Campus Archaeology Mobile Experience. It held classrooms, labs, a museum, a chapel, and administration. This photo taken in 1857 shows the landscape of felled trees that had to be cleared to build campus. (Photo courtesy of MSU Archives)

Exhibits provide one option for users to experience locations. Exhibits connect several locations together based on an underlying theme. To date, we have created five permanent exhibits for the mobile experience. Four of these correspond to eras in campus history including Beginnings (1855-1870), Foundation (1870-1900), Expansion (1900-1925), and Legacy (1925-1955). Our fifth permanent exhibit, Discovery, includes locations associated with CAP’s archaeological investigations from 2005 to the present. Explorations provide another way for users to experience locations. Unlike exhibits, explorations join together locations intended to be experienced in a particular sequence. This feature could be used to create a self-guided tour.

A photo of the foundations of College Hall, excavated in 2009 during sidewalk replacement around Beaumont Tower.

A photo of the foundations of College Hall, excavated in 2009 during sidewalk replacement around Beaumont Tower.

So far, my work on this project has primarily focused on building the permanent exhibits. Last semester I updated content previously featured on msu.seum with findings from new investigations. I have also created new content that reflects more recent field schools and sites excavated since 2011. I am now putting the finishing touches on the permanent exhibits including attaching historical photos from MSU Archives and photos of artifacts and archaeological investigations to each of the 27 locations currently added to the site.

As we develop this Campus Archaeology mobile experience, we are continuing to think of new ways to build and expand. We hope to create temporary thematic exhibits and explorations that can be featured at different times throughout the year. One idea is to highlight and connect current CAP research—including research on sustainability, food, and gender—to locations on campus. Another idea is to create a Halloween exploration to coincide with the Haunted Tour Campus Archaeology cohosts with the MSU Paranormal Society.

While this project is still in development, we are looking forward to launching the site soon. In March, Dr. Watrall will be presenting a beta version at the Digital Humanities in the Nordic Countries conference in a paper titled “Towards an Approach to Building Mobile Digital Experiences for University Campus Heritage and Archaeology.” He will also be presenting on building mobile experiences for heritage and archaeology in this invited lecture. Stay tuned for the full launch of the CAP mobile experience later this year!

 

Think Like an Archaeologist: Reflections on Outreach Using Site Kits

Given one hour, how do you teach 300 7th graders to think like archaeologists? This was the challenge presented to us when a group of teachers contacted CAP about doing an interactive event to introduce their 7th grade social studies students to archaeology. Although CAP regularly does activity-based engagement with elementary school children, we did not have a ready-made activity appropriate for older students.

Students work in groups to answer questions about artifacts

Students work in groups to answer questions about artifacts

This event presented us with an opportunity to consider which aspects of archaeology we most wanted to share with young members of the public. Since we couldn’t teach 7th graders how to do archaeology in one hour in a classroom, we decided to focus on getting them to understand how archaeologists use material and contextual evidence to draw conclusions, and how archaeology can contribute unique information to our knowledge of the past.

Over the past few weeks, we developed a “site in a box” activity designed to give students an opportunity to think like archaeologists. We assembled boxes containing artifacts, site photos, and maps, with each box representing a “mystery” archaeological site. Lisa wrote in detail about our process in assembling these boxes on the blog last week. Students were instructed to work together, using all available evidence to complete two tasks. The first task was to identify the artifacts and discuss their potential uses. The second task was to use these answers to make larger inferences about the site: What type of site was it? What was the time period and geographic location of the site? What do the artifacts say about the people associated with the site? For example, how did they eat and procure food? How did they dress? Did they see any evidence of belief systems?

Students discussing artifacts and looking at the site map representing a Maya cave site.

Students discussing artifacts and looking at the site map representing a Maya cave site.

We debuted the new activity last Friday at the middle school. On the day of the event, we divided nine CAP representatives including Dr. Goldstein, Dr. Camp, all six CAP fellows, and one undergraduate volunteer across three classrooms to help run the activity. Each classroom of students was divided into five groups, each assigned a different box representing containing the materials from one of the mystery sites.

Each class was 55 minutes long. We typically took the first 10 minutes to explain the activity and answer a few questions. After this introduction, students had about 30-35 minutes to work in groups to complete the activity. During this time, CAP representatives walked around the room answering questions, helping stimulate discussion, and guiding students in identifying some of the trickier artifacts. During the last 15 minutes of class, each group presented their findings, selecting a few artifacts to share along with their conclusions about the site. Finally, they compared their answers with the site descriptions in the answer key.

We found this time frame short enough to keep students engaged throughout the entire class period, but long enough for them to answer most of the questions. Left to their own devices students tended to spend most of their time describing artifacts, so CAP representatives learned to help steer discussions toward interpretations at the halfway mark to keep them on track. While the students did well with most of the physical artifacts, we noticed we needed to clarify what to do with images of artifacts, as students often overlooked or struggled to identify these. In the future we might consider replacing these with physical artifacts or clearer images, along with explicit instructions to look at artifact images.

CAP fellow Susan Kooiman helps guide discussion.

CAP fellow Susan Kooiman helps guide discussion.

Overall, we felt that the activity was a success. The students were engaged, enthusiastic, and seemed to enjoy piecing together the puzzle we presented them. They asked thoughtful questions and came up with interesting interpretations about their sites. We were especially impressed with some of the connections they made based on what they had previously learned in social studies. Several students asked if the presence of corn and eggshells meant the people at their site were domesticating plants and animals.

Although preparation for this event took considerable investment of time and resources, it also presented an opportunity to develop a quality activity we could use for other events. These kits would be appropriate and interesting to audiences from middle school students to adults. Looking forward to our planned outreach events, this activity could easily be used for Grandparents’ University. Finally, putting together this activity made us think about how to convey what makes archaeology a unique and relevant source of information in a meaningful, yet manageable way.

 

 

Jadeite: the (Negligibly) Radioactive Kitchenware for the Nuclear Age

Jadeite bowl fragment from the Emmons Amphitheater assemblage

Jadeite bowl fragment from the Emmons Amphitheater assemblage

Avid readers of the CAP blog might remember our excitement last year when we discovered a piece of yellow-green vaseline glass in the Gunson assemblage. The glass glowed bright green under black light, indicating it contained uranium. This week as we continued to sort through the large quantity of glass from the Brody/Emmons Complex assemblage we came across another piece of glowing glass: part of a horizontally ribbed bowl in a striking jade green color. If you’re a collector or a frequenter of antique stores, you’ve probably already guessed the identity of our second piece of glowing glass: jadeite, another type of uranium glass.

Jadeite bowl fragment under black light

Jadeite bowl fragment under black light

Before we continue we should probably address the radioactive elephant in the room: why would people put uranium in stuff we eat and drink from? It might sound strange, but uranium was once a common colorant added to glass and ceramic glazes. Uranium glass was particularly popular in the early 20th century, when large quantities of uranium salts were being produced as byproducts of the radium extraction industry (1). The addition of yellow uranium oxide during the initial glass melting process produces colors ranging from yellow to green, though other hues including pink, blue, and white can be obtained by adding other colorants to the mix (2). Glass colored with uranium salts is easily identified because uranium fluoresces bright green under ultraviolet light (3). Luckily, since these items emit only negligibly tiny amounts of radiation, they are safe to handle, eat and drink from (3). Uranium fell out of use after World War II when it became critical to the war effort (think: the Manhattan Project). From 1942 to 1958 civilian use of uranium was heavily regulated, so glassmakers had to find different ways of achieving similar colors (3). The fact that the fragment from the Brody/Emmons Amphitheater assemblage glows green under black light tells us it contains uranium and therefore that it dates prior to 1943.

So what’s the deal with jadeite? Or is it Jadite? Jade-ite? All of these terms refer to the opaque, milky green colored glass originally manufactured by one of three glass companies: McKee, Jeanette, and Anchor Hocking (4). McKee Glass Company of Jeannette, Pennsylvania was the first to make kitchen and dinnerware from this material. Beginning in 1930, they produced opaque green dinnerware they marketed as “Skokie” green (5). Jeannette Glass Company, also located in Jeannette, began manufacturing a similar glass product starting in the mid-1930s (4). Jeanette coined the term “Jadite” in reference to the product’s resemblance to the semi-precious stone. The Fire-King division of Anchor Hocking was the last of the three companies to start making this product, which they called “Jade-ite” (4). After World War II, Fire-King began selling jadeite kitchen and dinnerware similar to those made by Jeannette and McKee (6). They also made a highly successful line of restaurant ware that was thicker, heavier, and sturdier than the products intended for home use (6). Fire-King Jade-ite was manufactured and sold between 1945 and 1975 and is highly collectable today (6).

(3)Reproduction of a Jeannette ribbed bowl. Source:

Reproduction of a Jeannette ribbed bowl. Source

The discerning reader will notice that these later dates of production mean that Fire-King Jade-ite could not have contained uranium. This tells us that our jadeite was probably made either by McKee or Jeannette, which both used uranium in their production during the 1930s and early 1940s (3). While the fragment we recovered unfortunately does not have a maker’s mark, there are many examples of ribbed jadeite products produced by Jeanette during this period.

Fire-King ball jug – the holy grail of jadeite collectables. Image Source.

Fire-King ball jug – the holy grail of jadeite collectables. Image Source.

Today, jadeite is highly sought after by collectors. While the more common pieces are fairly affordable, rare pieces like the coveted Fire-King Jade-ite ball pitcher or the handled soup cup can sell for hundreds of dollars (4,7). At the time it was produced, however, jadeite was not a high-end product (8). Jadeite wares were sold at five and dime stores and were often given away as promotional items. Citrus reamers were given away to customers for free with the purchase of boxes of fruit (5) and smaller jadeite items were included in bags of flours or boxes of oatmeal in hopes of enticing consumers to buy the complete set or larger, more expensive items such as dinner plates (8).

Jadeite could be sold cheaply is because it was cheap to make. It was originally made with green scrap glass added into milk glass mixtures (8). Additionally, most jadeite items were made using presses, which allowed for mass production. Pressed glass is made by pouring molten glass into cast-iron molds either by hand or by automated machines (9). Pressed glass was particularly popular in the Depression era because this mode of production made it possible to produce a large quantity of items quickly and in a range of patterns and styles (10). These inexpensive pressed glass items carried many glass companies through the Depression (10,11).

Despite its low cost, jadeite is very durable, which explains why it can still be readily found intact in antique and vintage stores (5). Jadeite has many enthusiastic fans, including Martha Stewart and her daughter Alexis (5). Martha’s jadeite collection was featured prominently in her cooking show, which helped drive up the popularity—and prices—of vintage jadeite in the 1990s (7). Avid collectors can be very particular about their jadeite. Purists consider only McKee, Jeannette, or Anchor Hocking products authentic jadeite (4). However, jadeite’s newfound popularity has inspired production of a variety of new pieces. Martha Stewart’s company, Martha by Mail, and Cracker Barrel make jadeite reproductions that are fairly close approximations of old pieces (4,7). You know… if you’re looking to start collecting.

References

 

Photo Captions

Out in the Wash: Laundry Products from the East Lansing Dump

Little Boy Blue Bluing bottle from the Brody/Emmons Complex

Little Boy Blue Bluing bottle from the Brody/Emmons Complex

For many of us today, laundry is a pretty simple affair: separate the lights from the darks, add detergent, and let the washing machine do its work. Before the advent of automatic washing machines and newfangled detergents with optical brighteners, laundry was more of an art form involving many complicated steps. Housekeeping books often contained lengthy descriptions of the best way to do laundry. Mrs. Christine Frederick’s Household Engineering book, published in 1920, contains a 55-page chapter on laundry alone. Mrs. Christine Frederick may have been able to tell us immediately the purpose of two whimsically labeled bottles recovered during excavations at Brody/Emmons Amphitheater: a small, round, clear glass bottled embossed with “Little Boy Blue Bluing” and a large, oval, clear glass bottle embossed with “Little Bo Peep Ammonia.” Since none of us here at Campus Archaeology are laundry experts, we needed to do a little research to figure out the purpose and product history of these objects.

Little Bo Peep Ammonia Bottle from the Brody/Emmons Complex.

Little Bo Peep Ammonia Bottle from the Brody/Emmons Complex.

The question of purpose is easy to answer. Ammonia has various uses as a household cleaner. When added to laundry ammonia can help whiten whites, soften fabrics, and remove an impressive array of stains due to grease, food, ink, grass, rust, and even blood, urine, and sweat (1). Bluing is a product that can be added to laundry to make whites look whiter and brighter. Whereas bleach whitens fabrics by removing color, bluing creates an optical illusion that makes fabrics look whiter. Since blue is opposite yellow on the color wheel, small amounts of blue dye help neutralize yellowness. Trace amounts of dye also leave a bluish cast that our eyes perceive as brilliant white (2).

Historically, various substances have been used for bluing. Early bluing was sold in solid form. Blocks of indigo, a plant dye, were placed inside muslin bags and shaken into the laundry water during rinsing (3). Another type of solid bluing used ultramarine, a pigment derived either synthetically or from ground lapis lazuli (3). Ultramarine was mixed with baking soda and rolled into balls. For this reason, it was sometimes called ball bluing (4). Today most bluing is sold in liquid form (2). Liquid bluing is often made with Prussian blue, a synthetic pigment made from the suspension of ferric ferrocyanide (colloidal iron) in organic acid (5).

Research into the product history of Little Boy Blue Bluing and Little Bo Peep Ammonia took a bit more digging. These products can be traced back to a Chicago company called the Condensed Bluing Company. John Puhl, president of Condensed Bluing, applied for trademarks for Little Boy Blue laundry bluing in 1914 (6,7) and Little Bo Beep Ammonia in 1922 (8). In 1924, historical records show trademarks for Little Boy Bluing and Little Bo Peep Ammonia given to the John Puhl Products Company (9).

Advertising pamphlet featuring a Fuzzie Wuzzie Fairy Story and “Daddy Puhl and his kiddies”

Advertising pamphlet featuring a Fuzzie Wuzzie Fairy Story and “Daddy Puhl and his kiddies” Image Source

Advertisements for these products ran in newspapers in Midwestern and Central States from the 1910’s to the 1940’s (10). The products were often advertised together and contained cheerful imagery of the fairy tale characters for which they were named. These names were likely meant to evoke the fleecy whiteness of sheep—both Bo Peep and Boy Blue were caretakers of sheep. One series of advertisements featured short stories about cartoon bears named Fuzzie and Wuzzie, illustrated by Chicago artist Milo Winter. These “fairy stories” described Fuzzie and Wuzzie doing things like playing store, gardening, and cleaning, and they always featured Little Boy Blue Bluing and Little Bo Peep Ammonia products prominently. The use of fairy tales as a motif in advertising was particularly common at the beginning of the 20th century (11). According to Zipes, allusions to well known fairy tales were supposed to remind readers of magic, happy endings, and wish fulfillment (11).

Advertising pamphlet featuring a Fuzzie Wuzzie Fairy Story and “Daddy Puhl and his kiddies”

Advertising pamphlet featuring a Fuzzie Wuzzie Fairy Story and “Daddy Puhl and his kiddies” Image Source

This advertising strategy sometimes even pulled John Puhl himself into the fairy tale. Some ads featured a photograph of Puhl surrounded on either side by cartoon Bo Beep and Boy Blue, labeled “Daddy Puhl and his kiddies.” This takes on a somewhat sinister tone considering Puhl’s own record. An 1894 Report of the Illinois Department of Factory Inspection reports John Puhl, then manager of Puhl & Webb baking powder factory at 157 East Kinzie Street, was charged with illegally employing 4 children without affidavits (12).

Ownership of Little Boy Blue Bluing and Little Bo Peep Ammonia changed hands at least two times after 1924. Sterling Drugs purchased John Puhl Products in 1949 (13). In 1958, Purex purchased the John Puhl Division of Sterling Drugs (14). Both Little Boy Blue Bluing and Little Bo Peep Ammonia continued to be sold under the Purex brand name after the purchase (14). Unfortunately, we do not have precise dates on our Little Boy Blue and Little Bo Peep bottles. However, styles of the bottles are consistent with products featured in advertisements from the 1930’s and early 1940’s. These dates are also consistent with those of other artifacts found in the Brody/Emmons assemblage. This would suggest that the bottles date prior to the purchase of John Puhl by Purex.

Many times when we are looking at artifacts in the CAP lab we come across brand names or products that were once ubiquitous but that we don’t often see today. It is always an interesting time researching these objects, learning how and why they were used, and trying to trace their origins. Sometimes, you even learn a little something about laundry along the way.

 

References

  1. Frederick, Christine. Household Engineering: Scientific Management in the Home. American School of Home Economics: Chicago, 1920.
  2. http://mrsstewart.com/purpose-of-bluing/
  3. http://www.victorianpassage.com/2009/11/what_is_bluing.php
  4. http://www.oldandinteresting.com/laundry-blue.aspx
  5. Wailes, Raymond B. Analyzing Everyday in the Home. Popular Science, December 1934, pp. 56-57.
  6. https://www.trademarkia.com/little-boy-blue-71080638.html
  7. Official Gazette of the United States Patent Office, Volume 295. February 21, 1922.
  8. Practical Druggist and Pharmaceutical Review of Reviews, Volume 40. October, 1922.
  9. Official Gazette of the United States Patent Office, Volume 331. February 19, 1925.
  10. Printer’s Ink, Volume 120. August 31, 1922.
  11. The Oxford Companion to Fairy Tales, Second Edition. Jack Zipes, ed. Oxford University Press: New York, 2015.
  12. Record of Convictions. Second Annual Report of the Factory Inspectors of Illinois. 1894, p. 66.
  13. Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. November 30, 1949. Retrieved from https://www.newspapers.com/newspage/88841505/.
  14. Purex Corp., Ltd. V. Procter & Gamble Co. 419 F. Supp. 931 (1976). Retrieved from https://law.justia.com/cases/federal/district-courts/FSupp/419/931/1979114/.

Photos

Photos of bottles taken by Lisa

Advertising pamphlet featuring a Fuzzie Wuzzie Fairy Story and “Daddy Puhl and his kiddies”

https://www.ebay.com/itm/Advertising-Pamphlet-Fuzzie-amp-Wuzzie-Play-Story-Little-Boy-Blue-Bluing-Bears-/371079369173

Hair Today, Gone Tomorrow: Hair Care Products from the East Lansing Dump

Keeping with the theme of my last blog post on cosmetics, this week I dug into the history of some more grooming products recovered during excavations at Brody/Emmons Amphitheater, formerly the site of the East Lansing city dump from the 1920s to the early 1950s. Since my last post discussed cosmetic products most likely marketed to and used by women during this period, I decided to take this week to investigate hair care products that might have been used by men.

Wildroot bottle #1 from Brody Complex.

Wildroot bottle #1 from Brody Complex.

Four hair bottles of hair products were discovered in the Emmons assemblage. The bottles include 1) a tall, rectangular bottle with rounded shoulders and a long neck, embossed with the label “Wildroot” and vines on each side; 2) a square glass bottle with the remnants of a gold paper label reading “Wil—Brilli—”; 3) a small, squoval glass bottle with “Wildroot Company—Inc” embossed on one side and “Buffalo New York” on the other; and 4) a round glass bottle labeled “Vitalis” at the shoulder and base, with a metal cap.

Wildroot bottle #2 from the Brody Complex.

Wildroot bottle #2 from the Brody Complex.

To understand what these products were and how they might have been used, I first did some research into men’s hairstyles from the 1920s to the 1950s. In the 1920s, men almost always wore hats (1). Beneath the hat, the hair was kept pin-straight, slicked straight back, and shiny in a style sometimes nicknamed “patent leather” (1,2). In the 1930s, men wore their hair short around the ears and neck, with the longer hair at the top of the head parted to the side and kept sleekly in place (2). In the 1940’s, the short-back-and-sides hair cut remained popular (2,3). Practical, short-cropped military cuts were also common during and after World War II. The pompadour became fashionable in the 1940s and ‘50s, giving rise to the quiff made popular by stars like Elvis and James Dean (3,4). In order to wear these hairstyles, black men first had to undergo a painful process to chemically relax hair with congolene, a substance made from lye (5). Once straightened, the hair could be parted and combed flat or piled into a pompadour. These “conk” hairstyles (derived from the word “congolene”) fell out of favor in the 1960s with the Black Power era (5).

Wildroot bottle #3 from Brody Complex.

Wildroot bottle #3 from Brody Complex.

While the specifics of men’s hairstyles varied over the decades, the general principles of doing one’s hair remained the same. These styles involved keeping the hair neatly in place, often slicked back, and the shinier, the better. Hair tonic was often used to achieve these looks. The product held hair in place and made hair appear glossier, a look that was seen as a sign of health (6). Hair tonics were generally liquid with mineral oil, petroleum jelly, or wax as the primary ingredient. In addition to their use as styling products, hair tonics were advertised as hair care that was supposed to prevent dandruff and hair loss. Hair tonics lost favor in the 1960s with the introduction of gels and mousses that provided better hold with less grease (6). Two different brands of hair tonics are present in the Brody/Emmons trash context: Wildroot and Vitalis.

Vitalis bottle from Brody Complex.

Vitalis bottle from Brody Complex.

Wildroot was manufactured in Buffalo, New York from 1911 to 1959 (7). Wildroot hair tonic was oil-based, with ingredients including mineral oil, lanolin, and beeswax and was especially popular in the 1920s (8). So popular, in fact, that it had to protect its brand name from counterfeiters. A 1920 article from the Journeyman Barber chronicles a raid of Cleveland barbershops to confiscate counterfeit bottles of hair tonics, including Wildroot (9).

The tall, vine-embossed Wildroot bottle from the Brody/Emmons assemblage is most likely a hair tonic and dandruff remedy, similar to this one. The metal cap on the Emmons bottle indicates that it post-dates the 1920s, since advertisements for Wildroot hair tonic from the 1920s show a product with a glass stopper.

The square bottle with the gold label is Wildroot Brilliantine. I could find only few references to this particular product, but an advertisement from 1941 describes a product called “Wildroot Brilliantine” with added olive oil, probably for the purpose of increasing grease—I mean, shine. I have not yet found a good match for the third Wildroot bottle, so let us know in the comments if you know what this product is.

Advertisement for Wildroot: urging women to use Wildroot on their husbands to prevent baldness

Advertisement for Wildroot: urging women to use Wildroot on their husbands to prevent baldness. Image source.

Advertisements for Wildroot reveal an interesting history of gendered marketing. Early advertisements for Wildroot were aimed at women. An ad from the 1920s warned women that bobbed hairstyles and tight hats were sure to cause baldness—unless, of course, one applied Wildroot to prevent hair loss. An ad from 1924 urges women to use Wildroot hair tonic on their husbands to prevent dandruff and baldness. By the 1930s, however, Wildroot was directing advertisements specifically at men, such as this one.

TheBrody/ Emmons assemblage also included a bottle of Vitalis, a product made by Bristol-Meyers that became popular in the 1940s (8). In contrast to Wildroot and other popular hair products of the time, Vitalis was alcohol-based. Its formula with “V7” was supposed to make hair shiny but not greasy. Ads that ran in the 40’s and 50’s promoted the “60-second Workout”: men were supposed to massage their hair with Vitalis for 50 seconds and comb for another ten to stimulate the scalp, prevent dryness, control dandruff, and prevent hair loss (8). The Vitalis bottle from the Brody assemblage probably postdates 1938 and looks similar to the one shown in this 1946 advertisement.

The cosmetic and hair care products from the Brody/Emmons assemblage have provided an interesting look into how men’s and women’s beauty routines have—and in some cases haven’t—changed over time (here’s looking at you, everyone with an undercut). If you enjoyed this blog post, don’t forget to check out my last post about cosmetic products from this site!

 

References

  1. https://vintagedancer.com/1920s/1920s-mens-hairstyles-and-products-history/
  2. https://www.dmarge.com/2016/03/iconic-mens-hairstyles-history-1920-1969.html
  3. https://vintagedancer.com/1940s/1940s-mens-hairstyles-facial-hair/
  4. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hairstyles_in_the_1950s
  5. http://www.jazma.com/black-hair-history
  6. https://sharpologist.com/2014/06/hair-tonic.html
  7. http://www.forgottenbuffalo.com/forgottenbuffalolost/wildrootfactory.html
  8. “Tonic.” In Encyclopedia of Hair: A Cultural History. Sherrow, Victoria, ed. Greenwood Press: Westport, Connecticut: 2006, pp. 374-375.
  9. “Good News for the Barbers of Cleveland and Vicinity.” The Journeyman Barber, Volume 16, No. 1. February, 1920. Accessed here
  10. Wildroot Advertisement. The Chain Store Age, Volume 17. August 1941, p.123. Accessed here.

Beauty Junk(ies): Cosmetics from the East Lansing City Dump

A fun fact for freshmen: if you live in Brody, you might be living in a dump. To be more specific, from the 1920s to the early 1950s, parts of the area now occupied by Brody Complex once served as the site of the City of East Lansing garbage dump. Campus Archaeology investigated a portion of this site during construction near Brody in 2009 and the Emmons Amphitheater in 2011. The large number of artifacts recovered includes everything from food containers to medicines to cleaning products, providing insight into various aspects of East Lansing life during this period.

One category of artifacts that caught my interest includes several cosmetic and hair care products. As a regular makeup user (maybe she got enough sleep, maybe it’s Maybelline) I thought it would be interesting to research these objects and learn about beauty standards and cosmetic use in this era. For this week’s blog post, I focused on three cosmetic items from the Brody/Emmons site that were most likely marketed to and used by women. To provide some historical context for these artifacts, I researched how attitudes toward cosmetics have changed over time, how these attitudes might have affected the availability and forms of cosmetic products, and thought about how this might be reflected in the archaeological record.

In the 18th century, both men and women of the upper class wore makeup (1). Heavy paints and rouges helped to smooth complexions often marred by pockmarks. By the 19th century, however, changing gender norms and beauty standards made it socially unacceptable for men and women to paint their faces (1). For men, the use of cosmetics began to be seen as effeminate (2). For women, conspicuous makeup was considered vulgar due to its association with prostitution. Few cosmetics were commercially manufactured during this time. Instead, cosmetics were mixed at home and applied discreetly to achieve a “natural” look (1). Therefore, we can expect few commercial cosmetics from this era in the archaeological record.

The 20th century brought about another about-face (no pun intended) in attitudes. The influences of Hollywood and flapper culture made it more socially acceptable for women to wear conspicuous makeup (3). By the 1940s, makeup became not just acceptable but a key aspect of feminine identity (3). As women entered the workforce during World War II, bold makeup—particularly lipstick—helped signal femininity and counterbalance the short hairstyles and masculine clothing worn by female workers (1). This era of increased social acceptance, burgeoning production, and conspicuous consumption of cosmetic products frames the context of the Brody/Emmons artifacts and helps us think about how gendered ideals of beauty may have influenced what the people of East Lansing purchased and how they presented themselves.

Makeup compact recovered from Emmons Amphitheater

One of the cosmetic items recovered from the East Lansing dump is a makeup compact case that still contains a white powder puff and the remnants of a pinkish powder. This compact case provides an excellent example of the advent of conspicuous makeup consumption.

Before makeup gained widespread acceptance, cosmetic cases were hidden inside accessories such as walking sticks and jewelry for their owners to access discreetly when outside of the home (4). As it was unacceptable to wear makeup, it was also unacceptable to be seen applying it. Over time, both the use and application of makeup gained social presence and acceptability. Suffragettes of the 1910s applied lipstick in public to shock men (3). Flappers of the 1920s wore heavy makeup and made a show of applying it (3). Beautifully decorated, mirrored compacts became fashionable accessories to be pulled out in public and shown off like cigarette cases or purses (4).

Makeup compact recovered from Emmons Amphitheater

Makeup compact recovered from Emmons Amphitheater

The CAP compact represents such an accessory. Roughly teardrop shaped, made of a silver metal, and decorated on the outside with a geometric line pattern, the compact likely once held a mirror inside the top lid. The compact was refillable, as most compacts were until disposable plastic cases became the norm in the 1960s (5). The user would have filled a thin compartment in the makeup compact with loose powder, compressing it in place with an inner lid that snapped shut. Powder was applied with a thin cotton puff that fit between the mirror and the powder compartment (5).

 

Pond's cold cream ad from 1946. Image source.

Pond’s cold cream ad from 1946. Image source.

Another cosmetic product in the Brody/Emmons assemblage is a jar of Pond’s cold cream. Cold cream is a product made of an emulsion of wax, oil, and water that for centuries was made in the home (6). Around the turn of the century, commercially produced cold creams became available that boasted longer shelf lives than their homemade counterparts. As makeup use increased in the 20th century, these cold creams were marketed to women as a means of removing powders, lipsticks, rouges, and the rest of the makeup they were sold (6).

CAP’s cold cream jar is made of opaque white milk glass with the brand name, “Pond’s,” embossed on the bottom. The jar looks very similar to images of the product appearing in advertisements from the 1940s and 1950s (6,7). These ad campaigns show how cosmetics were marketed to women as means of attracting men. The slogan “She’s engaged! She’s lovely! She uses Pond’s!” accompanied by pictures of beautiful women and their equally beautiful engagement rings sent the clear message that women needed to use cosmetics to achieve a certain standard of beauty necessary to win husbands.

Pond's cold cream jar recovered from Brody

Pond’s cold cream jar recovered from Brody

The third item I examined from the Brody/Emmons assemblage is a clear, circular, glass perfume bottle decorated with concentric circles and embossed with “DeVilbiss” on its base. The embossing indicates the bottle predates the 1940s, as the company replaced bottle stamping with paper labels in the 1940s (8).

DeVilbiss perfume bottle recovered from Emmons Amphitheater

Like makeup compacts, perfume bottles of this era were refillable, decorative, and intended for display (9). The DeVilbiss name comes not from the perfume itself, but from the manufacturer of the atomizer. Dr. Allen DeVilbiss initially invented an atomizing spray nozzle to deliver throat medicines in 1887. In 1907, the atomizer was introduced to the perfume industry with great success. DeVilbiss Manufacturing Company produced perfume atomizers at its factory in Toledo, Ohio from 1907 to 1968, selling as many as 1.5 million per year during its peak years in the 1920s and 30s (9). Like other cosmetic products, perfume was also marketed with sexual and romantic overtones. Perfumes with names like “Mantrap” and “Irresistible” were marketed as product that increased women’s sexual desirability. Perfume was also marketed as an item that men were supposed to gift women: a 1929 ad for DeVilbiss perfume atomizers reads, “Ask her, she’ll say she wants a perfume spray” (9).

The cosmetic products in the Brody/Emmons trash dump provided an interesting opportunity to explore gendered artifacts and think about how these objects reflect the social norms of the era. If you enjoyed this blog post, my next post will focus on hair care products from the same trash dump that were likely marketed to and used by men. In the meantime, be sure to check out other CAP blog posts on personal grooming items like the beard comb found at the privy site and the nail polish bottle topper from the Gunson trash pit.

References

  1. http://americanhistory.si.edu/collections/object-groups/health-hygiene-and-beauty/make-up
  2. https://www.almanac.com/content/history-american-cosmetics
  3. http://www.americanpopularculture.com/archive/style/compact.htm
  4. Loalbo, S. 2009. Vintage Fashion Accessories. Iola, WI: Krause Publications.
  5. http://cosmeticsandskin.com/ded/compressed-face-powders.php
  6. http://cosmeticsandskin.com/aba/cold-cream.php – 1951 ad
  7. https://i.pinimg.com/736x/f4/b8/61/f4b861cdfe5edde595d484e1112b3394–cold-cream-mad-men.jpg – 1940s ads
  8. http://www.go-star.com/antiquing/devilbiss-perfume-bottles.htm
  9. https://perfumeatomizers.blogspot.com/p/devilbiss.html (ad)

Thirsty Throwback Thursday: A History of Ginger Beer

Today is the day! Campus Archaeology is throwing it wayy back with an 1860’s-inspired three-course meal. For my blog post this week, I thought I’d get into the spirit of historic food and drink with a little history—and some of my own, highly professional market research—on ginger beer.

Ginger beer bottle found at Saints’ Rest

Ginger beer bottle found at Saints’ Rest

Archaeology provides a unique opportunity to look at the physical evidence of past consumption. At MSU, archival documents tell us the official records of what the school bought for students and faculty to eat and drink. However, we can learn about what people were actually consuming on campus by looking at the archaeological record of things they threw away. This is how we learned that at least one thing people drank was ginger beer, as evidenced by a stone ginger beer bottle excavated from Saints’ Rest dormitory in 2005.

Ginger beer was a popular drink in Britain and North America from the 18th century until Prohibition. Technically speaking, ginger beer is not a beer. Whereas the production of beer involves the fermentation of a grain (typically barley or wheat) malted to turn its starch into sugar, ginger beer involves the fermentation of ginger and added sugar, typically molasses or cane sugar. Ginger beer is more likely related to the ‘small beers’ popular in Europe from Medieval times until Industrialization. Before the advent of sodas and modern soft drinks, these weakly alcoholic, fermented beverages were typically brewed at home and provided a safer alternative to often-contaminated water.

Ginger beer plant, the SCOBY responsible for fermenting ginger beer.

Ginger beer plant, the SCOBY responsible for fermenting ginger beer. Image source.

Why make a ginger drink? Humans have been drinking ginger beverages for thousands of years, often for medicinal purposes. However, the history of ginger beer is tied to the cultural and economic importance of its two main ingredients, ginger and sugar. Ginger and sugarcane, crops native to tropical regions of South Asia, were introduced to Europe via the spice trade. Europeans brought these crops and others to the New World, where they flourished in the tropical climates of the Caribbean. Powered by the labor of enslaved Africans, French- and English-controlled Caribbean plantations became the world’s biggest sugarcane producers. By 1655, England also controlled Jamaica, the Caribbean’s most prolific producer of ginger, with over two million pounds exported to Europe each year. Jamaican ginger was considered especially flavorful and was a prized ingredient in ginger beer.

Apart from ginger and sugar, ginger beer has two other traditional ingredients: lemon, and a special microorganism that aids in fermentation. The microorganisms responsible for the fermentation in ginger beer are a symbiotic culture of bacteria and yeast (a SCOBY) known by the more innocuous name of “ginger beer plant.” A culture of ginger beer plant is added to sugar water flavored with ginger. These microorganisms ingest the sugars and produce carbon dioxide and low levels of alcohol as waste products. While today’s ginger beers are typically non-alcoholic, prior to the mid-19th century, ginger beer was up to 11% alcohol by volume. In 1855, British Parliament passed an act that imposed export taxes on beverages with an alcohol content above 2%. After this, most ginger beer brewers reduced the alcohol content in their products (via reduction of the fermentation time) in order to keep them affordable.

An example of a plain, early stoneware ginger beer bottle. From diggersdiary.co.uk.

An example of a plain, early stoneware ginger beer bottle. Image source.

After it was brewed, ginger beer was corked inside stoneware bottles, like the one found at Saints’ Rest. Early stoneware bottles and those brewed locally in North America at were usually fairly plain, brown in color, and etched with the bottler’s name or city. The Saints’ Rest bottle seems to fit into this category. Beginning in the 1880s, however, sleeker gray bottles with colorful shoulder slips and stamped logos designed to attract consumer attention became more popular.

Part of the reason for packaging in stone rather than glass bottles was cosmetic: ginger beer was usually unattractively cloudy in appearance. However, packaging was also functionally important in the export of ginger beer. England shipped large amounts of ginger beer to the U.S. and Canada beginning in the 1790s through the 19th century. Though ginger beer was brewed regionally, England maintained market dominance in North America because English breweries used superior quality stoneware bottles that better maintained ginger beer’s effervescence and kept it cold. The bottles were sealed with liquid- and gas-tight Bristol Glaze and wired and corked shut to maintain carbon dioxide in solution.

Examples of later, more decorative stone ginger beer bottles

Examples of later, more decorative stone ginger beer bottles. Image source

During Prohibition, ginger beer dipped in popularity in favor of its cousin, ginger ale, and other soft drinks. Unlike traditional ginger beer, ginger ale is made by adding ginger flavoring and sweetener to carbonated water and does not involve the addition of a microorganism. Today, the difference between ginger beer and ginger ale is much less clear. Many modern manufacturers use this abiotic process to make or enhance ginger beer, adding flavoring and carbonation without the use of a microorganism. For this reason, modern ginger beers differ from ginger ales primarily in flavor; they are typically spicier and less sweet than ginger ales.

All this research got me excited to try some ginger beers. Naturally, Campus Archaeologist Lisa Bright and I had to do our own taste test, you know, for science. We picked four brands of ginger beer that I hadn’t yet tried at stores near us: Regatta, Barritt’s, Q, and Bundaberg. We tasted each ginger beer alone and for science—and because #gradschool—we added vodka and lime to make some Moscow Mules.

Modern ginger beer bottles from our taste test.

Modern ginger beer bottles from our taste test.

In no particular order, the first brand we tried was Regatta. It was spicy with a strong ginger flavor and made an enjoyable cocktail. Barritt’s was up next. This one was much less flavorful so it seemed disproportionally sweet, like a ginger ale. Third, we tried the Bundaberg. This was spicy and sweet and definitely enjoyable alone. Last, we tried Q ginger beer: spicy, very fizzy, but not at all sweet. According to the Q website, it is made with chili pepper and is specifically intended to be used as a mixer. Our highly scientific and definitive ranking put the Bundaberg in first place, Regatta in second, Q in close third, and Barritt’s in fourth.

If you have a favorite ginger beer, please tell us about it! We hope you open one up and think about early MSU students who might have enjoyed a ginger beer in their dorm after a long day of classes and farm work (although this was probably enjoyed in secret as alcohol was banned on campus).

References

http://www.ilovegingerbeer.com/ginger-beer-history/

http://americanhistory.si.edu/onthewater/exhibition/1_3.html

http://www.scienceinschool.org/2008/issue8/gingerbeer

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/04/20/ginger-ale-vs-ginger-beer_n_1438420.html http://gingerlibation.com/what-is-ginger-libation/

http://www.antiquetrader.com/antiques/antique-glass/bottles-antique-glass/collecting-ginger-beer-bottles

http://www.fohbc.org/wp-content/uploads/2014/07/GingerBeerRootBeerHeritage.pdf