Precursor to the Porcelain Throne: The Chamber Pot Lid from Saints’ Rest

The Saints’ Rest Dormitory has a foundational history with Michigan State University, acting as the first dormitory for the fledgling college, and with the Campus Archaeology Program itself, being the first large-scale excavation and archaeological fieldschool on campus.  Built in 1856, Saints’ Rest was the second building erected on campus for the new school and was known as “the House”, “the hall”, or “old hall” [1].  The building acted as the primary dormitory on campus until 1870 when Williams Hall was built.  Unfortunately, Saints’ Rest burned down in the winter of 1876.

The site was originally excavated in 2005 as part of the Sesquicentennial Celebration and has been revisited for excavations in 2007, 2008, 2009, and 2012.  Throughout these digs, CAP has uncovered numerous artifacts relating to early campus life including items of personal hygiene, such as the lice comb that Lisa described in one of her earlier blog posts.  Another item relating to hygiene found at Saints’ Rest was a fragmented, but reconstructed, chamber pot lid (Figure 1).

Figure 1 – Saints’ Rest chamber pot lid. A: exterior surface; B: interior surface

Figure 1 – Saints’ Rest chamber pot lid. A: exterior surface; B: interior surface

Close up of raised floral design on chamber pot lid.

Close up of raised floral design on chamber pot lid.

Measuring about 12in in diameter, the ceramic chamber pot lid has some kind of floral motif on the exterior surface; however, it is unclear as to what it exactly depicts (if you have any suggestions or recognize the pattern let us know – it’s previously been described as a thistle and leaf pattern). The dark blue color of most of the fragments is a result of burning during the fire.

Evidence for the use of chamber pots stems all the way back to ancient Greece, dating to the 6th century BCE [2, 3].  The use of chamber pots became more common, and more necessary, as areas of the world became increasingly urbanized.  With settlements becoming larger and more organized and planned, sanitation became a major concern for many densely populated areas [3].  Although extensive plumbing systems were installed in ancient Rome, indoor plumbing did not become readily available for small-scale buildings and for residents until the 19th century with chamber pots being used even into the 20th century [4].

Figure 2 – The Saint’s Rest dormitory (c. 1857) with students on the roof and in the foreground. The building was later destroyed in a fire in December 1876. Image source.

Figure 2 – The Saint’s Rest dormitory (c. 1857) with students on the roof and in the foreground. The building was later destroyed in a fire in December 1876. Image source.

The presence of this chamber pot lid in an early campus archaeological context highlights some of the realities of life on campus.  These first students did not have the (then) luxury (but now commonality) of using a restroom inside the dorm that is separated from other rooms or is regularly sanitized; their only options were to use the privy just south of the building or to use a chamber pot inside their room.  Chamber pots were often stored under the bed or in cabinets, and then emptied into designated dumping areas [5].  Even with a lid covering the pot (and its contents), exposure to pathogens and diseases that travel through fecal matter was exponentially higher than it is today.  Of course chamber pots were not the only reason that diseases relating to poor sanitation jumped easily from person to person, but the use of these vessels didn’t truly help to eradicate the problem.  In 1886, there was an outbreak of typhoid fever (which is directly linked to fecal contaminants) on campus which resulted in one student death.  It wasn’t until the 1890s that the college had modern plumbing installed after epidemics of diphtheria and measles, and after numerous student and parent complaints [1].  These outbreaks even resulted in the college creating a 7-room hospital building to quarantine infected people as soon as possible.

Although we recognize that our lives as MSU students today are different from those of 150 years ago, sometimes we don’t realize by just how much.  The presence of the chamber pot lid at Saints’ Rest highlights one of these aspects that may have contributed to serious health crises that broke out on campus.  Books and movies have a tendency to romanticize the past as formal and proper, but studying this chamber pot lid, while fascinating, has only reinforced my gratitude for modern amenities and hygienic practices, e.g. indoor plumbing.

 

References:

[1]       Kuhn, Madison. Michigan State: the first hundred years, 1855-1955. Michigan State University Press, 1955.

[2]       Kravetz, Robert E. Chamber Pot. The American Journal of Gastroenterology, 2006, 101: pp. 1414-1415.

[3]       D’Agostino, Mary Ellin. Privy Business: Chamber Pots and Sexpots in Colonial Life. Archaeology, 2000, 53(4): pp. 32-37.

[4]       van der Linden, Huub. Medals and Chamber Pots for Faustina Bordoni: celebrity and Material Culture in Early Eighteenth-Century Italy. Journal for eighteenth-century studies. 40(1): 23-47.

[5]       Cunningham, Zac. “Of Chamber Pots and Close Stool Chairs”. Web blog post. Lives and Legacies Blog. 15 July, 2015.

The Life of a Bed: Not as Boring as One Might Think

Take a long look at the objects in the picture below. What do you think they are?

"Mystery" artifacts from Saints' Rest

“Mystery” artifacts from Saints’ Rest

I bet that your first guess was just a little bit off. They are not small hand-cuffs (as they were originally labeled in the lab!), buckles, or tiny horseshoes. They are actually hardware from a little discussed, yet constantly used, object found in every home: a bed stand! If you were wrong, don’t feel bad, I did not know the correct answer either until Campus Archaeologist Lisa Bright pushed me toward the solution.

Beds have been around for a very long time. They can be found in most households, and are used every day, yet they are rarely discussed unless you have back problems (Wright 1962).  Especially in college dorms, where beds are one of the few pieces of furniture present, they are essential for every day life. Everything from eating to studying, writing, relaxing, or posing for photos with eleven of your best friends all take place on a bed. They are also the perfect platforms for pranks. Speaking from experience, nothing is better than waking up your friend once he has been thoroughly plastic wrapped to his bed. As such, beds have a story to tell about the past, a perspective that helps us to understand the experiences of early students at MSU.

Several college friends posing for a photo in an Abbot Hall dorm room, 1901.

Several college friends posing for a photo in an Abbot Hall dorm room, 1901. Image Source.

Recovered during excavations at Saint’s Rest, the objects above provide one of our few glimpses of early beds on MSU’s campus. These “D”-shaped fixtures, typically made from cast iron, were one half of a two-part system to hold pieces of a bed stand together. The circular end was fitted into a similar shaped slot in the side rail, so that the short square protrusions faced outward. These protrusions then slotted into a metal face plate attached to the bed post, forming the first tool-free bed stand (Taylor 2016). This technology, invented after the civil war, made bed stands more portable, as they were easy to break down and re-build in a different location. But, since the hardware was made of heavy metal, it was costly to ship. By around 1900, a lighter version, similar to those used today, was invented (Taylor 2011).

Example of how this “D”-shaped hardware system works

Example of how this “D”-shaped hardware system works. Image Source

In these early days, dorm rooms were often filled to the brim with students. Up to 4 students would sleep in a room in Saint’s Rest, using only two beds. Two young men would share one bed, continuing (I assume begrudgingly) the family tradition of sleeping together (MSU Archives Exhibit 2012; Wright 1962). Unfortunately, few images from within Saint’s Rest exist, so it is unknown what type of mattresses these bed frames supported, or what other activities may have taken place on them.

Image of two gentlemen admiring their handy work after stacking another student’s room. 

Image of two gentlemen admiring their handy work after stacking another student’s room. Image Source

While it is clear that they were used for sleeping, easily dis-assembled bed frames also aided in at least one early MSU tradition, room stacking. An ingenious form of initiation, freshmen new to the campus would occasionally return to their rooms to find all of their things stacked into one large tower of furniture and personal belongings (MSU Archives Exhibit 2012). Not only were their possessions stacked, but it was done in such a way as to make re-assembling the room and sleeping in it difficult.  As one student who returned to a stacked room recounts, “It was past twelve o’clock that night before I got my bed down so as to sleep on it” (MSU Archives Scrapbook Page, 1902).

Oh, the tales these beds could tell if we could only re-create a bit more of their life histories!

References Cited

MSU Archives and Historical Collections:
2012   Exhibit- Dormitory Life: The First One-Hundred Years of Students Living on Campus. Created by Kim Toorenaar.  http://onthebanks.msu.edu/Exhibit/1-6-D/dormitory-life/
1902    Scrapbook Page about Room Stacking Pranks, 1902. Created by George Newnes.  http://onthebanks.msu.edu/Object/1-4-1156/scrapbook-page-about-room-stacking-pranks-1902/

Taylor, Fred
2011   “Furniture Detective: Hardware on Vintage Beds Crucial to Its Design and Function” http://www.antiquetrader.com/antiques/vintage_brass_bed_hardware_design/
2016   “The Nuts and Bolts of Bedding Down Through the Ages” https://www.liveauctioneers.com/news/columns-and-international/fred-taylor/nuts-bolts-bedding-ages/

Wright, Lawrence
1962   War and Snug: The History of the Bed.  Routledge and Kegan Paul, London.

Lice Lice Baby

For my personal research I study issues related to health and disease, so whenever I see something health related in the CAP collection I jump at the opportunity to do a blog post about it. That happened recently when I came across this seemingly simple comb recovered from excavations at Saints Rest in 2012, but I knew immediately that this was more than an average comb, this is a lice comb.

Comb recovered during 2012 Saints Rest excavations.

Comb recovered during 2012 Saints Rest excavations.

Now I’ll give you a moment to stop your skin from crawling when you think about lice. While lice aren’t something we tend to think about regularly today (unless you have young children), that wasn’t always the case.  Dealing with pesky varmints in the home and on your body was just a part of life.

Lice have been bothering humans for a long time. Humans are parasitized by two genera of lice: one shared with chimpanzees and the other shared with gorillas. By using DNA to figure out when the lice diverged between the species, scientists are working to piece together part of our evolutionary history (Reed et al. 2007). Researchers have also looked at clothing lice to reveal when they may have diverged from head lice, giving us a better idea of when clothing when first used by anatomically modern Homo sapiens (Toups et al. 2011).

Combs recovered from a Roman Fort. Image Source.

Combs recovered from a Roman Fort. Image Source.

Archaeologically lice have been found in Greenland, Iceland, on Dutch combs, Egyptian mummies, and in Israeli cave deposits (Bain 2004). The oldest direct archaeological evidence of head lice are from a human louse egg recovered in Brazil dating to over 10,000 years (Araujo et al 2000). Lice combs (and the lice that come with them!) have been recovered all over the world, in including from sites in Egypt (c. fifth-sixth century AD (Palma 1991)) and Israel (c. first century B.C. – eighth century A.D. (Zias 1988)). They are also routinely recovered at historic archaeological sites.

Today to get rid of lice you wash all of your linens in hot water, apply a medicated shampoo to the unlucky individual, and use a very fine-toothed comb to remove any bugs/eggs from the scalp. This comb style is the epitome of “if it ain’t broke don’t fix it” as the general form has remained unchanged for hundreds of years.

1895 catalog advertisement for India Rubber Company Comb. Image Source

1895 catalog advertisement for India Rubber Company Comb. Image Source

Our double sided fine tooth comb was produced by the India Rubber Company. “I R Co Goodyear 1851” can be seen stamped on one side of the comb. A similar version is found in the 1895 advertisement seen to the right. 1851 is not a production date, but rather is the patent year for the Goodyear hard rubber vulcanization process (see Amy’s blog post on the comb from the outhouse for more info!). Combs were some of the earliest products made of hard rubber that were produced on a large scale (Fox 1899).

Manufacturers mark on Saints Rest lice comb - lower image enhanced by author

Manufacturers mark on Saints Rest lice comb – lower image enhanced by author

This tiny comb provides a glimpse into the health and hygiene routines of MSU’s earliest students.  Campus records and diaries/correspondences in the archives discuss larger health related issues on campus (like diphtheria, measles, or typhoid fever outbreaks), the minutia of everyday hygiene habits tends to go unrecorded, but of course, this is where archaeology comes in.

 

Sources:

Reed, David with Jessica Light, Julie Allen and Jeremy Kirchman
2007 Pair of lice lost or parasites regained: the evolutionary history of anthropoid primate lice. BCM Biology 5(7) – https://bmcbiol.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/1741-7007-5-7

Melissa Toups with Andrew Kitchen, Jessica Light and David Reed
2011 Origin of Clothing Lice Indicates Early clothing Use by Anatomically Modern Humans in Africa. Molecular Biology and Evolution 28(1):29-32.

https://www.licedoctors.com/blog/history-of-head-lice-treatment.html

Palma, Ricardo
1991 Ancient Head Lice on a Wooden Comb from Antinoe, Egypt. The Journal of          Egyptian Archaeology 77:194.

Zias, Joseph
Head lice, Pediculus humanus capitis (Anoplura: Pediculidae) from hair combs excavated in Israel and dated from the first century B.C. to the eighth century. Journal of Medical Entomology 25(6):545-547.

https://www.smithsonianmag.com/science-nature/cootie-catchers-say-lice-reveal-lots-about-early-humans-34883996/

Bain, Allison
2004 Irritating Intimates: The Archaeoentomology of Lice, Fleas, and Bedbugs.   Northeast Historical Archaeology 33:81-90.

Araujo, A. with F Ferreira, N Guidon, N Serra Freire, Karl Reinhard, and K Dittmar
2000 Ten Thousand Years of Head Lice Infection. Parasitology Today 16:269.

https://blogs.scientificamerican.com/guest-blog/of-lice-and-men-an-itchy-history/

Mumcuoglu, Kosta
The louse comb: past and present https://watermark.silverchair.com/ae54-0164.pdf?token=AQECAHi208BE49Ooan9kkhW_Ercy7Dm3ZL_9Cf3qfKAc485ysgAAAbswggG3BgkqhkiG9w0BBwagggGoMIIBpAIBADCCAZ0GCSqGSIb3DQEHATAeBglghkgBZQMEAS4wEQQM_PXl7w2JzGNcRujgAgEQgIIBblHIP7oC0UV__MYXk1ngxxH_mfI1Om7WjPa2ymveG4sEef7kE8KxycNlII2jRePwEKddbmMNzviLhWvWL5a_AckqfWODGLegXbp5VJ9csuSjkMmeFSUJkQJPp6NO45y_UhAKhlv-Q7Q351kBnnhhYBj_YzPmlcGMmnwZ_HEy1Px_REs4M4992RVH-c6oaXUghJ-rOC5YghpM-NzaYto9E-BurLp516x5-1fzFQu-t_bl_AHKy-TNwAoDCgR-nhPIgplNJqvAkWJbGU23oEgpfgzNtZf9KXInccVoYYxmX3ZCq0KXhnLrTzA5vUrPSAwWmqO5HHxU5pSYpaKZMHl1FLpNHVksDRxntJFucPgz5NfoBJ1y_z-6JD901x2c7xarbsEoR9pRXULxLTZClop8wO1q3vQ8EJQtF__r0J2xU2j6usWZGuCID54C3i94JCbwaHUpJSaKCr5pdtA00DSNjW4x4IjoPX9cBX3yqCWBnA

Fox, Irvine (editor)
1899 The Spatula Volume 6 (https://books.google.com/books?id=FhhOAAAAMAAJ)

 

Another Persons Trash (Midden) is an Archaeologists Treasure

As you may know from my previous blog posts, I have been working on analyzing the faunal remains from Campus Archaeology excavations. My current research project focuses on the Saints’ Rest trash midden, excavated in several seasons by CAP near the location where Saints’ Rest once stood. Because of the sites’ use as a small public dumping area, the artifacts recovered are expected to reflect the daily life of those living at and nearby Saints’ Rest dormitory. The end goal of this research project, in conjunction with research by Lisa Bright, Amy Michael, Jeff Painter, and Susan Kooiman, is to better understand the everyday lives of the early MSU students.

Continue reading

All Over the Board: Student Discontent and Agency in the Historic MSU Boarding Halls

I’ve written at length about the foods purchased by the early campus boarding hall (aka dining hall), as well as the dishes they likely served. However, what we do not know is what the students thought of this food. Did they like it? Or did they find the boarding hall offerings unsatisfactory? Items such as diaries and student newspapers can provide students’ perspectives on the meals they were served. In the case of early MSU, student dissatisfaction with food eventually led to widespread changes in the early boarding system in the 1880s.

Saints' Rest, the original boarding hall and site of illicit late-night feasting activities

Saints’ Rest, the original boarding hall and site of illicit late-night feasting activities. Image courtesy of MSU Archives & Historical Collections

Edward Granger was among the earliest students at the Agricultural College, and luckily wrote in great in detail about food served in Saints’ Rest, the first student dorm (ca. 1858-1859). Granger occasionally expressed positive feelings about the food, stating on Christmas Day that he “had a fine Christmas dinner considering that it was in the Agricultural College.” The next day, he wrote “After meeting we had a feast… Chicken and peaches, brown bread and ginger snaps. Everything was first rate, and we had a glorious meal.” (1)

However, Granger generally wasn’t the biggest fan of the food served by “the Institution,” as he refers to it. He mentions frequently skipping dinner and despairingly declares “[I] finished my supply of good things and suppose I shall have to live on the Institution or starve.” To cope, Granger and his friends ate snacks from home in their rooms or occasionally stole food from the kitchens. One late night he recounts that “Mr. Charley and Bush have just returned from an expedition to the lower regions. The booty consists in about a peck of fried cakes, to a portion of which we have been giving ample justice.” Another evening, a snack of eggs led Granger to observe, “Where Charley procured the eggs I don’t know. We asked no questions for conscience’s sake.” (1)

Cover of the first issue of The College Speculum

Cover of the first issue of The College Speculum. Courtesy of MSU Archives & Historical Collections

Student discontent with food increased over the following decades as the college grew. The students expressed their anger through the establishment of a student newspaper, The College Speculum, and dissatisfaction with food served in the boarding hall is indicated as one of the principal arguments in favor of starting the paper (2). The first issue of The Speculum contains a lengthy treatise on the “question of the students’ board”. The author notes:

“Our system itself is no doubt at fault. Two hundred different tastes and dispositions can never be satisfied with the same food. The wholesale preparation of victuals is objectionable. Food cannot be well prepared in large quantities, and with the haste that necessarily attends such preparation. The wholesale use of canned and prepared goods, which are nearly always unwholesome, is a feature which has been overlooked. The finest vegetables are now growing in the garden, and are literally wasting as fast as they become eatable. Canned beans, peas, corn, tomatoes, etc., take the place of fresh food in the dining hall. With these facts before us we do not wonder that so many students complain of ill health, and so many leave college on that account.” (3).

Holy mackerel! Was Emory Fox charging his luxury food items to the students?!

Holy mackerel! Was Emory Fox charging his luxury food items to the students?! Image source.

This treatise may have been laying the groundwork for a student movement against the boarding hall steward, Emory C. Fox. The boarding hall stewards purchased supplies, oversaw food preparation staff, and presided over the tables in the dining hall (4). Fox was the steward from 1877-1881, and was extremely unpopular with students. In 1881 they charged him with fraud, claiming that Fox purchased lemons, oysters, mackerel, and oranges but that these items were never served to the students, implying that Fox purchased these items for himself (5). The students accused Fox with several other acts of fraud, as well (6).

After a review of the charges against Fox, the college Board of Trustees found that the alleged illicit food items were actually served to sick students in their rooms, and they found Fox to be an overall competent steward (7). However, on August 15, 1881, President Abbot notes that Fox resigned following the backlash but that “there was some hesitation about allowing him to resign” on his part (8).

This was not the end of student discontent, however. The Annual Catalogue of the State Agricultural College listed average weekly boarding costs for the prior academic year. During Fox’s tenure as steward, the average cost was between $2.27-$2.38. Under his successor, Conroy B. Mallory, this cost rose to $3.15 in the Spring of 1882. Students appreciated the improved menus under Mallory’s tenure, but not the increased cost (9).

Professor Rolla C Carpenter (c. 1885 pictured with his surveying equipment) was instrumental in bringing about the boarding clubs at the College.

Professor Rolla C Carpenter (c. 1885 pictured with his surveying equipment) was instrumental in bringing about the boarding clubs at the College. Image courtesy of MSU Archives & Historical Collections

The idea of boarding clubs was inspired by Professor Carpenter, who, after observing the boarding system of the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, painted a “bright picture” of the advantages of the club-boarding system, including better food at less cost (4). The Speculum supported this idea, suggesting the establishment of cooperative boarding clubs which would be under the control of the students. The establishment of smaller clubs would also serve to resolve the “boisterous conduct” seen in the solitary boarding hall (3).

The College, likely weary of student complaints, was quick to acquiesce to this plan. Cost effectiveness and practical concerns for feeding the increasingly large student body undoubtedly also played into the decision to do away with the traditional centralized boarding system. The transition is mentioned once in the Board meeting minutes:

“Prof. Carpenter presented the petition of the from the students of the College asking the Board to allow them to adopt the System of Boarding in clubs & made recommendations regarding the carrying out of this plan… It was resolved that the Secretary be Authorized to have the College Carpenter construct moveable partitions according to the plans of Prof. Carpenter in the basement of Wells & Williams Halls for five clubs at a Cost not to exceed $150.00 dollars.” (10)

The College Catalogue for 1882-1883 includes the first formal proof of the establishment of such clubs, stating, “A new plan of boarding in clubs has lately been put into operation. Separate kitchens and dining halls have been provided, and five clubs have been organized, by which the students are divided into groups not exceeding forty persons” (11) The average cost of board was $2.45, much less than the previous year.

Following this move, The Speculum reported that “not a word of complain was heard as to [the club system’s] price or quality,” marking a drastic change from prior discontent (2). However, this level of satisfaction would not last forever, and the boarding club system would see critiques, modifications, and eventual dissolution. But that’s a story for another time…

This account of MSU’s early food services is full of the kind of drama that makes for exciting history. More importantly, it exemplifies the power of unified student voices in times of great discontent, and just how much food-related issues can drive people to question and challenge powerful institutions.

 

References:

  1. Diary of Edward G. Granger, 1859 (MSU Archives UA10.3.56, Folder 1)
  2. The College Speculum (1883) Vol. 3 No. 2, p.12
  3. The College Speculum (1881) Vol. 1, No. 1, p.7
  4. Beal, W.J. (1915) History of the Michigan Agricultural College. Agricultural College, East Lansing (p. 216)
  5. State Agricultural Board of Trustees Meeting Minutes, 15 August 1881 (MSU Archives)
  6. The College Speculum (1881) Vol. 1, No. 2
  7. State Agricultural Board of Trustees Meeting Minutes 28 July 1881 (MSU Archives)
  8. Diary of Theophilus Abbot, 15 August 1881 (MSU Archives UA.2.1.3, Box 861)
  9. Kuhn, Madison (1955) Michigan State: The First Hundred Years. The Michigan state University Press East, Lansing.
  10. State Agricultural Board of Trustees Meeting Minutes 27 November 1882 (MSU Archives)
  11. The College Catalogue for 1882-1883 (1883). Agricultural College, East Lansing (p. 38)

In Sickness and Health: Dr. Sage’s Catarrh Remedy Bottle

Dr. Sage's medicine bottle from Saints Rest.

Dr. Sage’s medicine bottle from Saints Rest.

Today the non-prescription medicine we can buy at the drug store is heavily regulated yet readily available. But in the 19th century patent medicine was dominant. Patent medicines are proprietary (i.e. secret formula) mixtures that were unregulated, advertised widely and sold directly to the public. The popularity of the patent medicine industry is tied to issues with the 19th century medical industry. Qualified doctors were sparse and expensive. Medical knowledge was also undergoing profound changes during the 1800s. Prior to the 1880s most people subscribed to the miasmic theory of disease transmission. It held that diseases like cholera or the Black Death were caused by poisonous vapors or mists (called miasmas). According to the theory, illness was not passed between people, but would only impact people that were near a miasma. In the 1870s and 1880s the work of Joseph Lister and Robert Koch were instrumental in moving the germ theory of disease forward (1,2).

A family member relying on home remedies, the recipes for which were often found in cookbooks, generally provided routine health care.  However treating many of the terrible diseases that became widespread during the 19th century (typhoid, yellow fever, cholera) were beyond the skills of the average citizen. The fear of these diseases directly resulted in the incredible success of the patent medicine industry. Medicine became big business and entrepreneurs began selling all manner of completely unregulated medicine. During the 19th century any drug could be included in the formulas (like Heroin cough suppressant or cocaine toothache drops!), and any claim about the benefits and effectiveness of the medicine could be made.

Dr. Sage's Catarrh Remedy ad. Image Source.

Dr. Sage’s Catarrh Remedy ad. Image Source.

Our patent medicine bottle was recovered from the Saints Rest dormitory during excavations in 2012. As a quick reminder, Saints Rest was the first dormitory on campus and it unfortunately burned to the ground in December of 1876. This small square bottle is embossed on four sides and reads: “Dr Sage’s”, “Catarrh Remedy”, “Dr. Pierce Propr”, “Buffalo”. So what’s the story with this bottle you might ask?

Catarrh is an excessive discharge or buildup of mucus in the nose or throat – i.e. a very very stuffy nose with drainage. Today we would think of this condition as a symptom of a cold or allergy. The bottles sold for 50 cents (3). 

Figure 12 from “The People’s Common Sense Medical Adviser”, illustrating use of Dr. Pierce's Nasal Douche. Image Source.

Figure 12 from “The People’s Common Sense Medical Adviser”, illustrating use of Dr. Pierce’s Nasal Douche. Image Source.

The directions for use were published in newspaper advertisements as well as Dr. Pierce’s immensely popular book “The People’s Common Sense Medical Adviser”, which was essentially an advertisement for his various patent medicines. This book sold millions of copies and included patient testimonials touting the near-miraculous cures provided by his medicine. The Catarrh Remedy could be administered in several ways. After the powder was mixed with water, it could be snorted. Or, it is recommended that the best way to ensure that the remedy reaches all impacted areas is via hydrostatic pressure by means of Dr. Pierce’s Nasal Douche. Yes, a nasal douche.  Think of it as the great grandfather of todays neti pot. The nose is first flushed out with a saline solution, and then the Catarrh remedy fluid (4). Dr. Pierce’s remedies dominated the patent medicine market. Pierce was a master of marketing, using newspapers, broadsides, and billboards to saturate the market (5).

Advertisement for Dr. Pierces Family Medicines. Dr. Sage's Catarrh Remedy can be seen. Image Source.

Advertisement for Dr. Pierces Family Medicines. Dr. Sage’s Catarrh Remedy can be seen. Image Source.

By the beginning of the 20th century blind faith in patent medicine was beginning to waiver. A scathing exposé series, “The Great American Fraud“, was published in Colliers Magazine in 1905-1906.  The journalist, Samuel Hopkins Adams, revealed the dubious practices of the patent medicine industry, and highlighted the many shocking ingredients (6).  These articles created an immense public backlash and helped pave the way for the 1906 Pure Food & Drug Act.  The patent medicine industry, spearheaded by Dr. Pierce, fought viscously against the legislation, but eventually lost the battle.  The 1906 act dealt a substantial blow to patent medicine.  While it did not outlaw the use of alcohol or opiates in the products, the new labeling laws meant that consumers were no longer kept in the dark.  Sales of patent medicine declined rapidly (1).

This tiny bottle tells quite an interesting story that provides a glimpse into the everyday life of an early M.A.C. student.  Perhaps he suffered from allergies brought about by the abundant campus plants, or had contracted a severe head cold while out pilfering fruit from the orchard. Either way it’s a fun peek into the medicine cabinets of the past.

References:

  1. http://www.pilgrimhallmuseum.org/pdf/Patent_Medicine.pdf
  2. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Germ_theory_of_disease
  3. The Current Publishing Company. July 23, 1887. No. 188: page 128.
  4.  Dr. Pierce “The People’s Common Sense Medical Adviser” 1895. http://www.gutenberg.org/files/18467/18467-h/advise.html
  5. https://www.nyheritage.org/collections/nickell-collection-dr-rv-pierce-medical-artifacts
  6. https://www.gutenberg.org/files/44325/44325-h/44325-h.htm

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

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.

http://collections.museumvictoria.com.au/articles/3590

http://collections.museumvictoria.com.au/items/1606241

Wedgwood Ceramics on MSU’s Historic Campus

Last week I spent some time in the CAP lab with Campus Archaeologist Lisa Bright resorting and accessioning artifacts from the 2008 and 2009 Saint’s Rest rescue excavation. This excavation uncovered many ceramic artifacts (among other items) including plates, bowls, and serving dishes. Among the many fragments of whiteware, Lisa showed me one fragment that stood out: part of a plate, embossed with a pattern of figs and bearing a Wedgwood maker’s mark.

Wedgewood blue jasperware. Image Source

Wedgewood blue jasperware. Image Source

If you’ve ever found yourself deep in the throes of an Antiques Roadshow binge-watching spiral, chances are you’ve heard of Wedgwood china. Perhaps you’ve seen pieces of Wedgwood’s iconic blue jasperware decorated with Greek figures in white bas-relief. Or, perhaps you’ve seen one of Wedgwood’s Fairyland Lustre Art Nouveau vases, opulently adorned with jewel-toned elves and dragons. Since the founding of the company in 1759, Wedgwood has graced the tables of such dignitaries as Queen Charlotte, consort of King George III, Catherine the Great of Russia, and President Theodore Roosevelt (1). And, as the Saint’s Rest bowl fragment indicates, Wedgwood also graced the tables of MAC. For my blog post, I researched Wedgwood to get a better idea of how a piece of the ceramic dynasty made its way to our campus.

The story of the CAP Wedgwood begins in the 17th century in the rural English county of Staffordshire. The soil in Staffordshire wasn’t much for farming, but the region was rich in clay, salt, lead, and coal – key ingredients for making pottery. The use of coal for fueling kiln fires gave Staffordshire potters an advantage over other rural workshops that still depended on timber for fuel (2). For centuries, Staffordshire was known as a prominent center for pottery production and innovation.

Josiah Wedgewood. Image Source

Josiah Wedgewood. Courtesy of National Portrait Gallery (source)

The Wedgwood dynasty began with a Staffordshire potter named Josiah Wedgwood (1). Born into a family of potters, a leg amputation left Josiah unable to work as a “thrower” in his family’s workshop (3). Instead, he developed an interest in experimenting with formulas and design. Wedgwood developed a durable, attractive, cream-colored type of earthenware that gained favor with Queen Charlotte (3). The serving set he made her pleased her so much, Charlotte agreed to allow Wedgwood to call himself the “Queen’s Potter” (1). This celebrity endorsement set Wedgwood’s sales booming.

Over the years, Wedgwood continued to innovate. He developed two new types of stoneware known as Black Basalt and Jasperware (3). Both are known for their matte, biscuit finish. Jasperware was produced in a variety of colors, though light blue was the most iconic. White ornamental appliques were molded separately and baked onto the pottery in emulation of Roman cameo glass vases. In 1773, Wedgwood developed a method of transfer printing enamel (4). This decorative technique reduced inconsistencies, eliminated the need for hand-painting decorations, and gave customers a wider array of customization options (3). Perhaps Wedgwood’s greatest innovation was as a businessman. Wedgwood sold his products via printed catalogs and advance orders (5). Since he knew which pieces his customers wanted, he was able to reduce waste and therefore costs.

So how did we get from the elegant designs of the Staffordshire Potteries to the humble piece of CAP Wedgwood? The answer is in the design: white ironware, to be precise.

Wedgewood plate base with makers mark and RD stamp.

Wedgewood plate base with makers mark and RD stamp.

The ceramic game changed in 1813 when a Staffordshire potter developed a new type of vitreous pottery dubbed “ironstone china” or, sometimes, graniteware (6). In the 19th century, ironstone quickly gained popularity as a cheap, mass-producible alternative to porcelain. It was especially popular in the America. In the 1840’s, undecorated white ironstone headed for America comprised the largest export market for Staffordshire’s potteries.

Wedgewood fig design fragments.

Wedgewood fig design fragments.

In contrast to England, where customers favored elegant designs, American consumers preferred plainer tableware (6). In the 1850’s and 60’s, however, English potteries (including Wedgwood) decided to introduce some whimsy into the American market. Potteries began embossing designs inspired by the American prairies. Stoneware from this era were commonly embossed with grains such as wheat, corn and oats, or fruits such as grapes, peaches, berries, and— like the CAP Wedgwood—figs. Because of its durability and popularity in rural America, this china became known as “farmer’s” or “threshers’” china (6).

So, there we have it. The CAP Wedgwood fragment from Saint’s Rest may have made its way to campus as a piece of thresher’s china. Its durable form and folksy fig design likely appealed to someone living at a rural Michigan college.

In parting, I’d like to leave you with some (non-alternative) facts about Josiah Wedgwood, a fascinating figure in his own right.

Fact 1: We may have Josiah Wedgwood to thank for theory of evolution. Wedgwood was the grandfather of both Charles Darwin and Darwin’s wife, Emma (7). Inheritance from the Wedgwood fortune is often credited for allowing Darwin the leisure time to sail on the S.S. Beagle and formulate his theory of evolution.

Fact 2: Apart from his pioneering efforts in the ceramics industry, Wedgwood was a prominent abolitionist (8). In the late 18th century, he commissioned and paid for a series of iconic cameo medallions that became the emblem for the abolitionist movement. The design depicts a kneeling slave beneath the inscription “Am I not a man and a brother?” The figure is prepared in Wedgwood’s own Black Basalt against a white background. It became fashionable for men and women to wear these medallions, which helped popularize the abolitionist cause.

Anti-slavery medallion (courtesy of the Smithsonian Museum of American History)

Anti-slavery medallion (courtesy of the Smithsonian Museum of American History)

 

References

  1. https://www.wedgwood.co.uk/history/
  2. http://www.thepotteries.org/six_towns/index.htm
  3. http://www.thepotteries.org/potters/wedgwood.htm
  4. http://virtual.parkland.edu/lstelle1/len/archguide/documents/arcguide.htm
  5. http://www.apartmenttherapy.com/quick-history-wedgwoodretrospe-131733
  6. http://www.thepotteries.org/types/ironstone.htm
  7. http://www.thepotteries.org/misc/Darwin.htm
  8. http://www.abolitionseminar.org/the-eighteenth-century-atlantic-world/wedgwoodmedallion/

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!