Student blog — T.A. Lytle Bottle

Today’s student blog post comes from Selena Barre, and illustrates what happens to artifacts once we have dug them up! The most important part is taking these artifacts and situate them in the broader context of space, time, and human behaviour. — Kate

As we get into the later stages of investigation at our site, we’ve found a lot of artifacts. Many of us have been spending our days sifting through masses of clean ceramic and glass sherds. In lab, we can take our time to examine each small sherd carefully and – if we’re lucky – some may even fit together (like the spittoon)!

While sorting through massive piles of glass from context 6, Kate pointed out a particular pattern on some manganese-tinted pieces (a chemical present in the glass that gives it a purple tint). As you can see in pictures below, it’s a vine and leaf design, possibly with some berries. We decided to set them aside, and I got lucky in recognizing a piece of a base that refitted. It has embossed lettering! Individually, the lettering on the two pieces was not clear enough to track down this maker, but with the pieces together the name “T.A Lytle /  Toronto” is visible.

A view of the refitted base pieces, with the lettering somewhat visible. Glass is difficult to photograph! Photo: Selena Barre
A view of the refitted base pieces, with the lettering somewhat visible. Glass is difficult to photograph! Photo: Selena Barre
All the sherds belonging to the vessel(s) with this specific decoration. Photo: Selena Barre
All the sherds belonging to the vessel(s) with this specific decoration. Photo: Selena Barre

A quick Google search is often enough to find all kinds of information, and T.A Lytle is no exception. The company operated, as advertised on their bottle, out of Toronto. Mr. Lytle was an Irish immigrant who had first found work in Canada at a vinegar factory, and apparently he took to the trade because a few years later he created his own company in 1882. They had a factory (still standing!) on Sterling St in Toronto and sold vinegar, pickles, preserves, catsup, club sauce, and maple syrup.

T.A Lytle’s factory, now home to other establishments, but the sign remains.
T.A Lytle’s factory, now home to other establishments, but the sign remains.
An example of an advertisement for their Sterling brand pickles. I wonder if the factory’s location in the food producing district of Sterling St inspired this branding choice!
An example of an advertisement for their Sterling brand pickles. I wonder if the factory’s location in the food producing district of Sterling St inspired this branding choice!

All these products would have been essential in a turn-of-the-century era worker’s household like the one we are investigating. In times past, and in rural areas, many people would have made their own pickles, jams, and sauces. Preserved foods were essential for making it through the difficult Canadian winters. However, these were labour intensive processes and easy to get wrong. Processing fruits and vegetables would have been a long and difficult task to begin with. As well, mistakes could be costly. Bad jam, for instance, can harbour the bacteria that cause botulism – a seriously toxic illness. It is no surprise that people would have turned to factory made products to save themselves not only the labour but also the risks of home making preserved food.

Returning to our example, which we know was produced by the “pickle packers” at T.A Lytle’s factory, one might wonder what specifically it contained. Though we have many pieces with the same pattern, only the bases refit. That leaves us with the base as the best clue to the bottle’s size and shape. It is less than 10cm in diameter. Based on the curvature of the other sherds of glass we have, it seems likely to have been a tall, sort of narrow bottle. This means it was probably not for pickles, but perhaps for one of T.A Lytle’s sauces or other liquid products.

T.A Lytle’s maple syrup bottle is third from the left. Second from the left is a lime juice cordial bottle from another producer (Rose’s – it might be familiar looking since it is still in stores today!) with a motif that looks a lot like ours.
T.A Lytle’s maple syrup bottle is third from the left. Second from the left is a lime juice cordial bottle from another producer (Rose’s – it might be familiar looking since it is still in stores today!) with a motif that looks a lot like ours.

There are some pictures of examples of T.A Lytle’s bottles that had maple leaves in a similar sort of design. These bottles would have contained maple syrup, as indicated by their exterior. The design that looks the most like ours is one from a bottle that has been identified (on the internet, anyway…) as containing lime juice cordial. Although this bottle is from a different manufacturer, a similar product was reportedly produced by T.A Lytle & Co. Nowadays, lime juice cordial is used most commonly in cocktails, but it was originally invented to give to sailors to prevent scurvy on long sea trips! It was often mixed with a ration of rum, which probably gave it its original association with drinking. This drink seems to have caught on with the general population, because this particular Rose’s brand lime juice cordial has been produced commercially since 1867 in the U.K and the company is now owned by Coca-Cola.

While the pattern on our sherds seems to resemble the lime cordial bottle, we don’t have enough to be certain. Without an exact match, my guess is as good as yours as to the contents of this particular bottle!

— Selena Barre

 

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