Losing your marbles at Old Botany
After closing out excavation units 5 and 6 our team moved over to the old Botany building to do some survey work. The purpose of this survey was that construction workers were digging a trench on the North side of the building and we needed to see if there were any cultural materials present. Starting on the south side of the building one meter from the outer wall we started digging shovel test pits. This survey was a salvage operation, moving quickly to determine if we needed to do further excavations. Nothing too dramatic appeared in the first sweep of the area, but in the second things changed.
We began on our second sweep at the back of “Old Botany,” the eastern side. At the back of the building are some green houses connected to the building itself, and the survey area of this sweep was thought to possibly have some refuse “trash” pits. We began digging our shovel test pits and in the first one along with glass and flowerpot sherds we found a hard spherical object appearing to be made of clay. None of us could decide what it might be at first glance, but that it might be a stopper-ball for a Codd-Necked bottle, a glass bottle from the mid-to-late 19th century. These bottles were developed in England as a different method for keeping beverages carbonated. The neck of these bottles were indented and a spherical stopper prevented the carbonation from escaping through pressure pushing the ball into the bottle’s opening, creating a seal. I knew of these bottles because my sister used to buy them from antique shops. As I found out through some research later, the ball we had found was not in fact the stopper from a Codd-Neck bottle.
When I got home that evening I looked up these types of bottles online to determine the material of the stoppers. It turned out that the materials used to make the stoppers were glass or metal and neither fit what we had found. Randomly I thought, “Maybe it’s a clay marble. But had there been such a thing?” One quick Google search and I had the answer: yes, there were in fact clay marbles and the pictures revealed an almost exact match to what we had found. More research revealed that Akron, Ohio was the hub for clay marble production in the late 19th century.
In 1884, the process of making clay marbles had been patented by Sam Dyke. The patented “machine” was in fact no machine at all but the process of rolling marbles out by hand. Sam Dyke’s toy manufacturing company was the first to mass produce these marbles at an alarming rate, claiming 5 million a week. While this seems more a promotional stunt than actual fact the truth of the matter is that Sam Dyke was the first to mass-produce a toy in America. In the following decade, two other toy companies out of Akron became Sam’s competition, and Akron was THE manufacturing center for clay marbles. The information I found and MSU’s proximity to Akron, Ohio suggests that what we had found in the refuse at “Old Botany” was a lost marble from the late 19th century. ”Losing my marbles” so to speak in research of historic material culture reveals the past in a satisfying way that initiates questions first, and fosters the need to seek answers.