Another day, another mystery in the CAP lab…
While cataloguing artifacts from Service Road, we stumbled across an intriguing piece of a milk glass jar featuring an applied color label with bright red and blue hues. I say it was intriguing because many of the artifacts we have left from Service Road are unlabeled or small fragments, providing few clues beyond their shape of what they once held or were used for. So it was no surprise that the faint etchings of letters and color on this container drew my eye – however, my intrigue quickly turned into bewilderment when I couldn’t for the life of me figure out what those letters said!
The mix of fading and unique font produced the perfect storm, which wasn’t helped by the fact that the bottle was missing most of its bottom, with only “DE / .A.” still visible. While this did clue us in that this bottle was “MADE IN U.S.A.”, if a maker’s mark existed, it was lost along with the whole back side of the jar. So we knew the letters were the key to solve this puzzle!
After some debate with another CAP fellow on whether the last two letters were a “ZA” or were not letters but “2A,” and the use of some eye drops to see if that would help clear up my vision, we decided it was time to try another strategy. First, we tried using the UV light method that Aubree, another CAP fellow, introduced in her blog last year – however, while we have seen great results on other artifacts, it wasn’t able to do the trick for us with this particular label. So we moved on to Plan B: holding up a good ole iPhone flashlight behind the label to provide some back light. And it worked!
We could now make out what we thought was an “R U T M Z A.” Although Plan C, or a quick google search, helped us realize we were a little off, as google suggested that what we were really looking for was in fact “NUTMEG” – and it was right! (And maybe a bit too smart for its own good!) And with that, our now our artifact is no longer a mystery, but one of a set of Dutch stylized spice jars, often purchased by collectors today.
To complement our struggles reading the label, our archival research similarly led us down a few rabbit holes, as these jars have been attributed to a few different companies, including McKee Tipp City and Hazel Atlas. However, after matching our artifact to a picture of a spice jar for sale online with its brand label still in place, we realized that they were likely made as part of Frank’s Dove Brand, by the Frank Tea and Spice Company, which produced spices, food extracts, food colorings, apple butter, sauces, olive oil, and olives – quite the array of goods! Originally started in 1896 by three brothers in Cincinnati, Ohio, who aimed to replace the purchase of bulk goods with smaller, self-sized products, you might be more familiar with their Frank’s® RedHot® buffalo sauce, a popular product still in stores today!
As for our artifact, and the production of nutmeg jars of the Dutch style, the trademark logo dates between 1938 and 1996. Although a big range, this overlaps with other dates we’ve found of other Service Road artifacts and gives us some insight into ingredients used for cooking – we can only imagine some of the nutmeg recipes used by the person who threw away this jar!