Artifact of the Day for May 29th, 2018 — Cockatrice Black Glass Button

Today’s artifact of the day is quite interesting, I think, and provides opportunity for all sorts of musings. It’s part of a black glass button that was found beside the north wall of the structure in a layer that had other domestic refuse. We’re still trying to sort out how that layer of material got there, and how it relates to the structure, the basement addition, and the midden, but hold that thought and let’s dive into what this particular artifact can tell us.

Black glass button half. Black glass button half.

Glass is an amazing substance that is worthy of many posts itself, but in a nutshell:

  • Glass is made from a mixture of silica sand, soda, and limestone.
  • By heating and mixing these materials together, you end up with a smooth paste that can be molded and shaped into a variety of forms.
  • The natural colour of glass is a pale aqua colour. By adding metal oxides, the glassmaker can change the colour of glass.
  • While one goal was to develop a recipe that was truly colourless, another goal was the development of colour recipes that resulted in glass that could be cut to resemble gemstones.

One gemstone in particular that was much copied was Jet. Jet is the fossilised remains of a certain kind of pine tree that lived 150 to 180 million years ago in areas that are now Spain and the coast of England. These two coastlines used to be much closer together, separated only by a narrow band of water. Over time, trees were washed out to sea and were buried in iron-rich muck at the bottom of the ocean. The iron went into the wood, and eventually pressure and time compressed these layers of iron-soaked wood into a mineral known as Jet.

Seam of Whitby Jet in cliff face. Seam of Whitby Jet in cliff face.

English Jet is prized as the best kind of Jet, and it is also known as Whitby Jet, as it is mined near Whitby, UK. Monks at the Whitby Abbey adorned their crosses and rosaries with carved Jet. Commercial mining of jet from the cliffs began in the early 19th century, and it became very popular with fashionable women for jewelry and fashion.

Silk and wool dress circa 1870. Photo from theAmerican silk and wool dress circa 1870. Photo from the <a href= American silk and wool dress circa 1870. Photo from the Met Museum.

Another little tangent here, for backstory. Men’s clothing changed fits in the 19th century. Instead of the earlier looser, heavily embroidered or woven jackets or coats with large buttons, tailors performed their magic in shaping woolen cloth to closely conform to the body. Buttons became much smaller and were usually made of gilded metal.

Women’s clothing follows another pattern. Pre-1820, most fashionable women’s dresses didn’t have buttons. Think of Regency fashions and Jane Austen films. The waist was just under the bosom (Empire waist) and the dress fell straight to the ground. This form changed to a lower waist closer to the natural waist, and a much more constricted body. A fashionable woman would employ a lady’s maid to do up the dozens of tiny hook-and-eye fastenings of these dresses.

Post 1840, Queen Victoria set a new fashion in the adoption of more sombre colours like dark blue, black, brown, and green. She also popularised high-necked dresses, and two-piece dress sets where there was a bodice and separate jacket, and a long, wide, skirt. These bodices and jackets were fastened with tiny buttons.

Jet-beaded mourning cloak. Jet-beaded mourning cloak.

How does Jet enter into this fashion? Well, I mentioned above that Jet had been prized since medieval times as decoration and ornaments.

Intricate mourning customs and symbology meant black was a very popular colour.

The new fashion for buttoned dresses was another factor, and finally, Queen Victoria’s adoption of lavish jet mourning jewelry and jet beaded embroidered clothing, and carved jet buttons after the death of her beloved Prince Albert in 1861 catapulted jet into the stratosphere of fashion.

It was obligatory in court circles to wear black gem/Jet buttons, and as court set the fashions of the day, the masses would follow suit. Jet was very expensive, but some enterprising glassmakers tinkered with various black glass recipes floating around and developed something that looked quite a lot like Jet, but cost a fraction of the price. Even better, items could be industrially produced by moulding or casting, instead of laboriously hand-carving each individual piece of Jet, or making each individual glass button using lampwork techniques.

This is what our button would have looked like when it was new. This is what our button would have looked like when it was new.

So now we know why Jet buttons and black glass buttons were fashionable, let’s turn to what is on the button. Picture buttons date to approximately the 1860s onwards. Our button has what appears to be a cockatrice, and indeed, some judicious internet browsing meant I was able to find a match.

What is a cockatrice? Well, it’s a kind of dragon-like monster that hatched out of a seven-year-old rooster’s egg that had been hatched by a toad. This beast had the head, chest and legs of a rooster, a serpent tail with a poisoned barb and wings. It is usually represented as being covered in feathers or scales.

I did a little browsing and there are three main interpretations of this beast. One is that it represents the infidelity of Pride, and another possibility is to avert the evil eye. The heraldic interpretation means “terror to beholders”, which kind of parallels the evil-eye aversion meaning.

So by wearing buttons with the image of the cockatrice, was this chosen to remind a woman about the evils of Pride? Or was it a bit of a talisman, where the dress will avert the evil eye?

Heraldic cockatrice. Heraldic cockatrice.

Who knows, but it is fun to think about! I also looked to see in slang if cockatrice meant anything, and in a 1905 book A Dictionary of Slang and Colloquial English which is abridged from a seven-volume(!) work by John S. Farmer and W.E. Henley, I found that cockatrice had this meaning: 1. A common prostitute ; also a mistress or ‘keep ‘ (1600). 2. A baby.

Unless there was some sort of secret uniform to denote prostitutes or a mistress, I find it unlikely that this meaning was secretly encoded into these buttons!

As I mentioned above, the peak production of black glass buttons came after the death of Prince Albert in 1861 and lasted until the end of the Edwardian era (c. 1910). By the 1880s, the market was completely saturated with black glass buttons, and people began to get tired of the sombre dark colours and crave the new brightly coloured textiles available. As a result, brightly coloured glass buttons became increasingly popular, and black glass buttons steeply declined in production post-1910. So likely our button comes somewhere between 1860 and the early 1900s.

As a final note of interest, I am sure that our cockatrice image is referencing some famous painting or sculpture as I have found several other versions made of different materials. It’s as if it is a meme of the time. Anyone know what it is referencing?

Two other copies of our button. Two other copies of our button.Metal cockatrice button. Metal cockatrice button.

Today as we were washing more artifacts from that area, we did find at least three other black glass buttons, but none of them were picture buttons like this one, they just had faceted designs on them to catch the light and sparkle like real Jet.

End of Penultimate Week and Friday I-Spy

The time is slipping away, we can’t believe we are almost to the last week! Lots of split groups today, as we tackle the to-do list of things to wrap up before the end of field school.

Anthony and Joel were conscripted to help with Jolyane’s crew, and at the Arch Centre we broke into washing groups and cataloguing groups. It was mayhem for a bit as we discovered and fixed some procedural errors, but we got everything sorted out and are on track to finish everything by the end of next week.

The dedicated washers Caedda, Brooke, Sarah, Dan, and Danny--even to the little bitty bits of glass!
The dedicated washers Caedda, Jodie, Katie, Sarah, Dan, and Danny–even to the little bitty bits of glass!
Charlotte and Emma working on cataloguing a context.
Charlotte and Emma working on cataloguing a context.
Mary and Stephanie work on bagging material from a context.
Mary and Stephanie work on bagging material from a context.
Wayne and Collette working on their context.
Wayne and Collette working on their context. Brooke is in the background entering our mapping data into a GIS program so we can see how it looks overlaid on a Google Earth satellite image.
Nic's head in process of exploding.
Nic’s head in process of exploding.



Here’s a super-size I-Spy to take us into the last week of this year’s field school.

Can you find: 1. A wrench; 2. A jaw harp; 3. Part of a metal door handle; 4. Three slate pencils; 5. A single-tongue buckle; 6. Part of a comb; 7. A tobacco tag.
Can you find: 1. A wrench; 2. A jaw harp; 3. Part of a metal door handle; 4. Three slate pencils; 5. A single-tongue buckle; 6. Part of a comb; 7. A tobacco tag.
Can you find: 1. A small piece of Rockinghamware pottery; 2. A fragment of mirror glass; 3. A Blue Willow plate; 4. A coral-pattern transfer print sherd; 5. Part of a stoneware ink bottle; 6. A pressed glass dish.
Can you find: 1. A small piece of Rockinghamware pottery; 2. A fragment of mirror glass; 3. A Blue Willow plate; 4. A coral-pattern transfer print sherd; 5. Part of a stoneware ink bottle; 6. A pressed glass dish.
Can you find: 1. Part of a scissor-style candle snuffer; 2. A bone button; 3. A coin (our 1854 penny token); 4. Fence staples.
Can you find: 1. Part of a scissor-style candle snuffer; 2. A bone button; 3. A coin (our 1854 penny token); 4. Fence staples.
Can you find: 1. A light bulb; 2. Three ketchup bottles; 3. A kidney-shaped bottle base; 4. Straw-tint glass.
Can you find: 1. A light bulb; 2. Three ketchup bottles; 3. A kidney-shaped bottle base; 4. Straw-tint glass.
Can you find: 1. An inkwell, 2. Medecine bottle; 3. Chicken bone; 4. Part of the strainer from a teapot; 5. Parts of the lid from a pressed-glass dish; 6. Part of a teacup where the handle attaches; 7. A pig tusk.
Can you find: 1. An inkwell, 2. Medecine bottle; 3. Chicken bone; 4. Part of the strainer from a teapot; 5. Parts of the lid from a pressed-glass dish; 6. Part of a teacup where the handle attaches; 7. A pig tusk.
Can you find: 1. A barrel ring; 2. A fuse; 3. Two slate pencils.
Can you find: 1. A barrel ring; 2. A fuse; 3. Two slate pencils.

Another week done, and Artifact of the Day for May 17th, 2018 — Snuff Bottle

We are coming to the close of the third week of the field school! Only two weeks remaining.

Everyone worked really hard and completed their assessment units (motivated perhaps by James who suggested that if they were all completed the students could have Friday off!).

Danny and Brooke well into starting their unit.
Danny and Brooke well into starting their unit.
Stephanie and Mary starting their unit.
Stephanie and Mary starting their unit.
Wayne and Collette starting their unit.
Wayne and Collette starting their unit.
Anthony and Joel finishing up the profile drawing for their unit.
Anthony and Joel finishing up the profile drawing for their unit.
Caedda and Sarah finishing up their profile and plan drawings.
Caedda and Sarah finishing up their profile and plan drawings.
Charlotte carefully excavating around the rocks lurking at the bottom of her and Emma's unit.
Charlotte carefully excavating around the rocks lurking at the bottom of her and Emma’s unit.
Emma screening the last of the cultural layer from her and Charlotte's unit.
Emma screening the last of the cultural layer from her and Charlotte’s unit.

Now on to today’s artifact of the day!

Marit found it in the midden, and we believe it to be a snuff bottle. Certainly the handful of tobacco tags and the spittoon suggest use of chewing tobacco at this site. The dozens of fragments of white kaolin pipes, and several Bakelite pipe mouthpieces tell us also that some people were smoking tobacco on the site.

Today’s find suggests yet another use of tobacco, this time consumed through the nose! Snuff is finely ground tobacco that was “snuffed” through the nose. Snuff-taking by the Taino and Carib Indigenous peoples in the Lesser Antilles was first observed in the 15th century by a Franciscan monk travelling on Columbus’s second voyage. He brought snuff back to Spain and the practice soon spread throughout Europe, in particular by the French ambassador Jean Nicot (where we get the name nicotine from!).

Snuff was often flavoured with fruit, spices, floral oils, or menthol.

A German ceramic snuff bottle.
A German ceramic snuff bottle.

The name snuff comes from the Dutch, who called it snuif and were using it by about 1560. It quickly became an important luxury commodity. It didn’t really catch on to colonial use in the Americas, although American aristocracy took up the habit, modelled after the English style of snuff use. The use of snuff in England gradually became more common during the next 150 years. Unlike Spain, at that time there were few mills in the country to grind the tobacco leaf into powder, and users therefore made up their own daily supply – so as to keep it fresh.

British royalty were big fans of snuff—King George III’s wife was known as “Snuffy Charlotte” and had an entire room at Windsor Castle devoted to her snuff stock. In 1843, Queen Victoria once gave a golden snuffbox to a French butcher who served her “particularly fine beef” on a visit to King Louis Philippe of France.

"A Pinch of Snuff" by Edwin Harris (1855-1906)
“A Pinch of Snuff” by Edwin Harris (1855-1906)

Snuff grew in popularity after the Great Plague of London, as it was believed to have valuable medicinal properties. Despite its popularity, the practice was not accepted everywhere. Writings by Pope Urban VIII in the 17th century ban the use of snuff in churches and threaten excommunication for snuff-takers.

By the 1700s, the use of snuff peaked in England during the reign of Queen Anne. At this time, domestic production of ready-made snuff blends was well underway in England, although home-blending was still quite common. A Mrs Margaret Thompson of Burlington Gardens, who died in 1776 stipulated in her will:

I desire that all my handkerchiefs that I may have unwashed at the time of my decease, after they have been got together by my old and trusty servant, Sarah Stuart, be put by her, and by her alone, at the bottom of my coffin, which I desire may be made large enough for that purpose, together with a quantity of the best Scotch snuff (in which she knoweth I had the greatest delight) as will cover my deceased body; and this I desire more especially as it is usual to put flowers into the coffins of departed friends, and nothing can be so precious and fragrant to me than that precious powder.

She went on to request that Ms Stuart walk in front of her pallbearers, scattering snuff into the crowd and on their path. The pallbearers were to be the “six greatest snuff-takers in St James”, and were asked to dress in brown instead of black, and take snuff freely as they liked.

Ad for Handysides' Electric Nervine SnuffSnuff was seen as less common than smoking tobacco, and thus was the tobacco product of choice among the elite. By Victorian times, snuff was often used in snake oil claims, such as published in a London Weekly journal called The Gentlewoman, which claimed taking a particular kind of Portugese snuff would cure poor vision and allow one to read without spectacles!

German engraved pewter snuff bottle.
German engraved pewter snuff bottle.

By the mid-1850s, snuff boxes and associated formality had been somewhat rejected in the North American colonies. Instead, new traditions such as dipping a twig into the ground tobacco and depositing an amount in the cheek (a precursor to dipping tobacco, which is essentially moist snuff) were popular. The mid-nineteenth century invention of cigarettes though was the main death knell to snuff.

Our artifact is a small metal bottle with an embossed design. Snuff became stale very quickly, so it was common for a snuff box or bottle to only have enough for a day or two’s use.

Snuff bottleSnuff bottle

It appears to have been made by stamping out each side and crimping them together at the seam. It looks like it was plated in some kind of shiny metal, which has mostly worn off.

A small neck was inserted into the bottle, and presumably there was a stopper of some kind, which is missing. The bottle does have what looks like ground vegetative matter still inside! It’s interesting that we found this artifact on site, I have some thoughts about what it could mean:

  • it could have belonged to someone who practiced snuff-taking past the mid-nineteenth century decline
  • it could have been someone who was following the more aristocratic idea of snuff compared to smoking to set themselves apart
  • or, it is just a family momento that was curated past the popularity of snuff
  • or, this could suggest the person was recently from Europe, where snuff-taking was still popular for longer

We’ll never know for certain, but certainly an interesting find!



Lab Update and Artifact of the Day for May 15th, 2018 — Bone Toothbrush

Heavier rain than expected drove us into the lab today, which was probably a good thing as we had a massive backlog of artifact washing to tackle. We had Marit join us again today to help with artifact processing.

I am happy to say our crew are superstars and we managed to record all the material we washed last lab day, and we have every single artifact recovered to date washed and drying on racks awaiting cataloguing. Hooray! It was also a good time to sort out some context issues and so Dan and Nic started to draw the Harris Matrix of stratigraphy for the site.

Emma works on cataloguing material from the midden.
Emma works on cataloguing material from the midden.
Sarah and Collette worked on cataloguing some surface finds.
Sarah and Collette worked on cataloguing some surface finds.
Jodie, Caedda, Stephanie, Marit, Dan, Katie, Wayne, Danny and Brooke kept the trays filled!
Jodie, Caedda, Stephanie, Marit, Dan, Katie, Wayne, Danny and Brooke kept the trays filled!
James retreated to the truck to do some work, as we took over all the rooms in the Arch Centre today, including his office!
James retreated to the truck to do some work, as we took over all the rooms in the Arch Centre today, including his office!

Charlotte cleaning the toothbrush.This discovery of this bone toothbrush sparked a lot of questions (and disgusted reactions) about dental hygiene in the past. I couldn’t resist a photo of Charlotte cleaning a toothbrush with a toothbrush, how meta is that?

While people have rinsed their mouths with water, wine, or vinegar or used rags to clean their teeth for millennia, the first “toothbrushes” were sticks that would be chewed on at one end to split the wood fibres into a brush-like end that could be used to clean the teeth.

The other end was often sharpened into a point to make a tooth pick. The next innovation was choosing aromatic or nice-tasting sticks that would be pleasingly astringent or flavourful. Toothbrushes similar to what we use today were made of bamboo and hog bristles and used for centuries in China, but for whatever reason they just didn’t catch on in the West.

Toothpaste in collapsible tubes was not available until the 1890s and didn’t surpass tooth powder in popularity until nearly 1920.

There are several recipes for tooth powders from the 18th and 19th century, but I don’t know if you would want to follow some of these recipes. Some were so caustic it was only recommended that they be used every few months! Others use chemicals like borax which we think of more as a laundry additive as opposed to a tooth-whitener. Still others had abrasives like chalk, charcoal and pulverised brick!

A 19th century London Times advertisement promised an assortment of wonderful results for those who used tooth powder:

For the TEETH. Patronized and used by his Royal Highness the Duke of Kent. TROTTER’s ORIENTAL DENTIFRICE, or ASIATIC TOOTH POWDER, had been for 20 years acknowledged by the most respectable Medical authorities, used by many, and recommended. The Powder cleanses and beautifies the teeth, sweetens the breath, posses no acid that can erode the enamel, and puts a beautiful polish on the teeth. From its astringency, it strengthens the gums, eradicates the scurvy (which often proves the destruction of a whole set of teeth), preserves sound teeth from decay, secures decayed teeth from becoming worse, fastens those which are loose, and proves the happy means of preventing their being drawn.

Tooth powder was often applied using rags until the first commercial toothbrush was made around 1780 by William Addis of Clerkenwald, UK. William Addis was a ragpicker by trade, which means he collected rags and cloth scraps which were then pulped and used to make high-quality paper, which was sold to scriveners and bookmakers.

History says he was arrested in 1770 for rioting in Spitalfields and thrown into Newgate prison, and while there decided that cleaning his teeth using a rag and some brick dust was not the best way. He saved a piece of bone from his prison slops, drilled holes in one end, and was inspired by watching the charwomen sweeping to get some bristles from his Keepers and thread them through the holes and glue them in place.

Now I think this story is pretty ridiculous, mainly because of access to drills and lengths of bone (which could be potential shivs!), and wire, and glue, and boar bristles while in prison! Nevertheless, when released he began to manufacture toothbrushes from a workshop in Whitechapel and later on Radnor St., Hoxton. While apparently there were 53 individual steps to manufacturing each toothbrush, here is a brief summary:

Addis would source the bone for the handles from lengths of the shaft of bullock or ox thigh bones purchased from butchers (the ends of the bones were sawn off and sold to make buttons!). Once boiled and bleached, they were cut into strips of different sizes (he was a master of marketing and had big ones for Men, smaller ones for Ladies, smaller still for Children, and an even teenier one called Tom Thumb). From there, the head and neck would be carved into shape, and the head drilled with holes for the bristles.

Badger hair was the mark of a true conoisseur, but Addis also imported boar and sow bristles from Russia, Bulgaria, France and Poland.

At this point, the blanks were sent out to be filled with bristles as piecework. He would contract to women working from their homes in Whitechapel and Spitalfields, and pay them only for each piece that passed his standards. This meant the burden of cost for tools, time, and materials was on the women workers up front, and they did not get paid unless the goods were deemed perfect.

Addis toothbrush ad.It is no surprise that he quickly became exceedingly rich, and there were Addis family members running the Addis and Wisdom brands in the UK until the late 1990s. A pretty good run!

Even though Addis was the first commercial toothbrush, others quickly jumped on the bandwagon and registered their own patent designs.

In general early toothbrushes all had cattle bone handles, and bored holes in the head. Bristles were held in place with a thin wire. The wire was either seated into grooves carved into the back of the head that would be filled by wax, or was fished through holes drilled into the top of the head. These holes were first drilled by hand, so they will tend to not fall in a regular, ordered pattern, and often the holes vary in size and shape.

Another way that toothbrushes can tell us about time is the shape of the handle in relation to the head and neck. Some researchers have created a typology, or system of sorting the shape of toothbrushes in relation to their rough time period of popularity.

The toothbrush we found on site. It says "EXTRA FINE" on the handle.
The toothbrush we found on site. It says “EXTRA FINE” on the handle.

Early toothbrushes are often “cranked”, which means they are either convex or concave. Convex cranking is when the horizontally-held brush has the head angling away from the user’s face. This was most common up until 1884, but drops out of favour by the 1920s. Concave cranking is rarely seen before 1884. Brushes with no cranking appear as early as 1840, but most appear to have been manufactured post-1870. Our piece is not cranked at all.

1857 Patent Application from the United States Patent Office registered by H.N. Wadsworth.
1857 Patent Application from the United States Patent Office registered by H.N. Wadsworth.
Boar and badger hair bone toothbrushes.
Boar and badger hair bone toothbrushes.

 Shortages in the availability of boar bristles caused by the war between China (the leading source of bristles) and Japan was solved by the invention of nylon in 1937 at the DuPont Laboratories. This quickly became the bristle of choice and we no longer have badger, horsehair, or boar bristle toothbrushes! Funnily enough, the Addis company was in on this deal and secured the licensing rights to make nylon and polymer bristles in the UK.

The final death knell of bone handled toothbrushes appears to have been World War II. Wartime rationing meant that bones were kept in the home to be boiled down to extract every possible ounce of goodness out of them.

So next time you are brushing your teeth, think a little about the lowly toothbrush and how far we have come!

Monday Update and Artifact of the Day for May 14th, 2018 — 1854 Penny Token

It was a bright and warm day today, perfect for shifting gears on site. We started diversifying, with some students beginning their assessment units. These are 1x1m excavations that are very typical in contract archaeology work.

Our project on the structure is a block excavation, which means we are excavating large areas of the site in order to answer particular questions of interest to us such as the sequence of wall construction, or the timing of the use of the site.

In contract archaeology, an archaeologist is contracted to perform an archaeological assessment because of proposed development. The archaeological investigations are divided into different stages.

Stage 1 is a background study of a site to determine the archaeological potential. Stage 2 is a sampling of the proposed development area by digging 30cm test pits every five metres into subsoil and collecting any artifacts that are present. Depending on what is found, the archaeologist can either recommend that no further heritage concerns are present, or it is necessary to gain more information by a Stage 3 assessment.

Stage 3 generally involves test excavations of 1x1m units over a five metre grid spacing in order to discover the nature and extent of a site, and to see if the site has enough cultural value to warrant a Stage 4 designation. Stage 4 means that either development plans are altered to avoid impacting a site altogether, or, the site must be completely excavated.

So, part of the students’ portfolio in this field school is learning how to lay out and excavate Stage 3 units, because that is often what you spend the summer doing if you are hired by a company to be a field tech.

Reaquainting themselves with the Pythagorean theorem to make sure their units are square.
Joel, Anthony, Katie and Jodie were reaquainting themselves with the Pythagorean theorem to make sure their units are square.
Luckily they have Jolyane and her team nearby so they can sneak a peek into the underlying stratigraphy!
Luckily, Caedda, Sarah, Emma, and Charlotte have Jolyane and her team nearby so they can sneak a peek into the underlying stratigraphy!

Back in the structure, we shifted some people over to drawing, in particular Stephanie and Collette were working diligently at drawing elevations for certain of our wall sections. James got in on the action as well and filled in some of the newly exposed walls in our master site plan.

Stephanie painstakingly drawing the south wall!
Stephanie painstakingly drawing the south wall!
Collette drawing the east wall.
Collette drawing the east wall.
James planning the newly exposed north wall.
James planning the newly exposed north wall.

That doesn’t mean that excavations had stopped completely, though!

Mary continued excavating a fill layer from the top of the midden deposit, so that midden is all ready to reveal its treasures tomorrow.
Mary continued excavating a fill layer from the top of the midden deposit, so that midden is all ready to reveal its treasures tomorrow.
Wayne continued to work on the basement entrance, and found some interesting glass bottles of a stomach remedy, among other things.
Wayne continued to work on the basement entrance, and found some interesting bottles of a stomach remedy, and a toothbrush among other things.
Brooke and Danny continued defining the interior of the north wall.
Brooke and Danny continued defining the interior of the north wall.
Dan and Nic started getting ideas about the basement, in particular how this complete bulb survived under a large boulder!
Dan and Nic started getting ideas about the basement, in particular how this complete light bulb survived under a large boulder!
1854 Bank of Upper Canada Penny Token
1854 Bank of Upper Canada Penny Token

Today’s artifact of the day was another coin (although it was a tie between that and a bone toothbrush so stay tuned for a special post on that because it deserves its own mention)!

Like the other 1852 Half-Penny Tokens, this coin was made for the Bank of Upper Canada. It’s in coin alignment, which means it was minted at Heaton’s Mint in Birmingham, UK. Like the Half-Penny, the face of this coin has St. George slaying a dragon. The 1854 coinage has two variants, one with a plain “4” and one with a crosslet “4”.  Ours is the plain “4”!

If you want to know more about every tiny variation in these coins, please check out this 1934 work by Eugene Courteau, M.D.

As I mentioned previously, a compromise Currency Act was passed in 1853 and proclaimed on 1 August 1854. This act meant that dollars and cents could be used in provincial accounts as well as pounds, shillings, and pence, and were recognized as units of Canadian currency. The final coinage struck by the Bank of Upper Canada was in 1857, as by then they were more seriously discussing the total adoption of a decimal currency. By 1863 the Bank was complaining bitterly that they were not able to disburse their remaining stock of coins due to the shift to the new system. Post-1867, some were able to reach circulation, but the majority of them had been bought by the government and stored as copper bullion! They were melted down in 1873 under government supervision.

If you are interested in the development of Canadian coinage, please check out this excellent booklet published by the Bank of Canada.

Unfortunately, this coin was found in the basement, in a disturbed context. So, even though it is from 1854, which is the year that Charles Perry opened his Nassau Mill, it doesn’t tell us too much other than that.

Artifact of the Day for May 9th, 2018 — Peterborough stoneware vessel

Such a beautiful day on site today. It’s hard to believe we have only been here for three full days! We made progress on all our open excavations, and started teaching some new skills to the students about how to map and record their excavation units. It’s looking like some thundershowers tomorrow, so we are going to head in to the lab to start processing some of the masses of artifacts we have been recovering!

Today’s artifact of the day is a little closer to home than some of the other ones featured. Often, we focus on the exotic imports of material from overseas, but we shouldn’t ignore the local domestic products as well, because they add to our picture of what the daily lived experience was of the people who lived in this house.

This is a little piece of a stoneware, which was the predominant houseware of the nineteenth century. Stoneware is a type of pottery that is fired at a relatively high temperature. It is not porous, which means it won’t soak up liquids. Before glass or plastic containers, a lot of foodstuffs came in stoneware vessels. These vessels could be in the shape of crocks, bottles, and jugs.

Our little fragment appears to be stamped as “Peterborough”, which suggests that this vessel was made locally, and circulated in the local economy. I did a little preliminary research and there were several companies that used stamped wares to sell their products.

One was William Croft, who made and sold ginger beer at 259 Reid St. I don’t think this comes from one of his bottles though, as his mark seems to use the “Peterboro” spelling.

Pair of stoneware bottles stamped "WM. CROFT/PETERBORO"Another, possibly better candidate is this vessel stamped J. Cameron, who was a wines and spirits merchant. The example pictured below is a 1-gallon molasses jug. Cameron likely sourced his jugs from a local potter, William Brownscombe, whose pottery was located on Murray Street (where the old YMCA is), opposite the “Old Graveyard” (which is now the Armoury/Cenotaph area). The glaze on this vessel looks very much like the “milky glaze” that Brownscombe-produced vessels had.

A newspaper ad from 1867 states that his pottery “Manufactures and keeps constantly on hand, Stone, Yellow and Rockingham Ware of every description”.

Stoneware jug stamped J Cameron

So even if our pottery piece isn’t a J. Cameron bottle, it probably was also manufactured in Peterborough, and contained some sort of foodstuff. Based on the thickness and curvature, it is probably a jug or a bottle as opposed to a crock.

We’ll keep an eye out for any more pieces in lab tomorrow that might come from our vessel that might give us more clues!

Artifact of the Day for May 8th, 2018 — Firkins, barrels, and tuns, oh my!

I am sure you have heard the phrase “More fun than a barrel of monkeys!”, but did you know how much fun that is? If you were in the UK, it would be more than 160L of fun (or 43 US gallons). Today’s artifact of the day is the hoop that bound a small cylindrical container that was originally made of wooden staves. The staves are long rotted and gone, but the hoop remains.

These barrels or casks were made by coopers, also known as barrel-makers. This is a bit limiting though, as barrels were only one type of cooperage. There were also buckets, tubs, butter churns, hogsheads, firkins, kegs, kilderkins, tierces, rundlets, puncheons, pipes, tuns, butts, pins, and beakers!

These types of containers were ubiquitous, and were used for storing liquids such as water, oil, spirits, wine, and beer. They were also used for storing butter, sugar, tobacco, flour, produce, preserved foods like salt pork and pickles, and salt. They were even used for nails, gunpowder, gold coins, and other bulk goods.

Drunkard's Cloak imageA barrel has a convex shape and bulge at the centre, which is known as the bilge. The reason why they are constructed like this is that it makes them more manoeuvrable than a cylinder. The convex shape of the bilge allows someone rolling a barrel to change directions with little friction. Barrels were the dominant form of shipping or transport container for nearly 2000 years!

I measured our little hoop and calculated the projected volume of the whole cask. I think our little cask represented here was about 20-25L, which suggests it was a pin cask, or a half-firkin. A firkin is one quarter of a barrel, which when filled with monkeys is apparently a lot of fun!

I have no idea what our little pin cask could have contained. It could have had liquor, beer, or some other consumable. It could have contained some other kind of bulk-transported food, or it might not have contained food at all!

Barrels were also used as punishment. The “Drunkard’s Cloak” was a punishment for being inebriated in public in the UK and Germany, and there are documentary sources from the US Civil War that recount the practice of making thieves wear a barrel with “thief” written on it as punishment:

While we were standing in the snow, hearing the abuse of Major Beal, some poor ragged Confederate prisoners were marched by with what was designated as barrel shirts, with the word “thief” written in large letters pasted on the back of each barrel, and a squad of little drummer boys following beating the drums. The mode of wearing the barrel shirts was to take an ordinary flour barrel, cut a hole through the bottom large enough for the head to go through, with arm-holes on the right and left, through which the arms were to be placed. This was put on the poor fellow, resting on his shoulders, his head and arms coming through as indicated above; thus they were made to march around for so many hours and so many days. Now, what do you suppose they had stolen? Why, something to eat. Yes, they had stolen cabbage leaves and other things from slop barrels, which was a violation of the rules of the prison.

At some point, the punishment aspect of the barrel became entwined with the idea of poverty, and we had the appearance of the “Bankruptcy Barrel”, where a person is in such dire financial straits they have literally ‘lost their shirt’ and has to wear a barrel instead of clothes.

Archie Comics No 131 cover showing Betty wearing a barrel, and Veronica wearing a dress made of 1000 dollar bill

And finally, who could forget poor the poor Duke of Clarence, who was drowned in a butt of malmsey!

If your last name is Cooper, Tonnelier, Tonnellier, Varelas, Bødker, Faßbinder, Böttcher, Fässler, Keiper, Kuiper, Cuypers, Mucenieks, Kádár, Bodnár,  Bednarz, Bednarski, Bednarczyk, Bednář, Dogaru, Butnaru, Bondarenko, Bondar, Bodner, Tanoeiro, Toneleiro, Cubero, Bačvar, Bottai, or Bacvarovski, you probably have an ancestor somewhere who made barrels!

The invention of pallet-based logistics and containerization in the late 20th and early 21st century was the downfall of using barrels for the transportation of bulk goods. They still live on, however, as an integral component to the aging of wines, spirits, and ales.

Artifact of the Day for May 7th, 2018 — (Another) 1852 Half-Penny Token

Today’s artifact of the day was a very surprising find! Almost exactly a year ago, we found another 1852 Half-Penny Token. I won’t repeat all the interesting information found in that post, but continue with some other interesting background to this coin.

The pound was divided into 240 pence, 60 of which, or 120 half-pence, were nominally equal to one dollar. In Canada, due to the coin shortage, these were represented by the only Canadian coins known at the time, which were these copper tokens issued by certain banks. By 1854, there was a lot of legislative grumbling about if a decimal currency should be adopted, and what changes to the system would arise from the switch.

Coins and currency were touchy subjects, as demonstrated in this passage from a comment in the appendix to the thirteenth volume of the Journals of the Legislative Assembly of the Province of Canada, which summarises the first session of the 5th Provincial Parliament of Canada from 5th September 1854 to 30th May 1855:

“Mr. Adam Ainslie, of Galt, complains (see his reply to the Committee’s Circular) that our progress in currency matters is slow. It is but a few years since, in the British Exchequer, the perplexing and barbarous custom in use before the Norman Conquest, of keeping the Accounts by Roman numbers, was steadily upheld. Now, however, Arabic numerals and the English tongue are permitted. Mr. Ainslie (see his answer, page 54) is of opinion, that, “While every petty state in Europe, and Republic in South America, can boast of a Currency of its own, it is at once marvellous and humiliating to think that a country filling so large a space in the Map of the World as Canada, possessed of a soil so fertile, such boundless and valuable forests, such magnificent inland seas, such noble rivers, such illimitable water power, such an extensive commerce, and containing such an enterprising and energetic population, with powers of self-government, should not (with the exception of the Penny-token of the Upper Canada Bank, and the Sou de Bas-Canada) have a single coin, it can call its own.”

I am struck while reading this of the colonial mindset of the Euro-Canadian settlers, who have broken the land down into resources to be consumed and land to be taken. In 1852, Charles Perry had bought the land that would make up the Nassau Mills complex. In 1854, when the above debate was taking place was when Perry’s Red Mill at Nassau first fired up its saws, the rushing Otonabee both the source of the motive power for the gang saws and also the vehicle to get the timber down from the highlands.

The fact then that this token, part of a larger economic system based on extraction and exploitation of Canadian resources was not “our own” is a reminder that the ties of globalism stretch deep into the past.

1852 Half-Penny Token
1852 Half-Penny Token

This particular coin, unlike the other one we found last year, is in coin alignment, which means the face and obverse are facing different directions. That means that this coin was struck at Heaton’s Mint in Birmingham, UK, whereas our other token was struck at the Royal Mint in London. Another interesting thing you will notice is that this coin has been pierced, probably because it was on a chain or string as a lucky piece. Unlucky for the person who lost it, but lucky for us!

Artifact of the Day for June 5th, 2017 — Turk’s Head effigy pipe

We made great strides in lab today, eliminating our backlog of washing and making sure everything is ready for cataloguing once dry. We also managed to knock out the catalogue of several contexts, which is thrilling! Check out the update to the spittoon post, as today’s lab session added a vital piece of information!

We also can’t believe we are in the last week of the field school. This week we are joined by some members of the Peterborough Chapter of the Ontario Archaeological Society. One of the places they are excavating is in the middle of the structure, where today they recovered:

Turk's head kaolin pipe bowl.
Turk’s Head kaolin pipe bowl.
Turk's Head kaolin pipe bowl.
Turk’s Head kaolin pipe bowl.

This is what is known as an effigy pipe or a portrait pipe. This version depicts a turbaned man with a long moustache. It is likely a representation of a Turk’s Head.

Turkey (especially the Turkish or Ottoman Empire) has long been associated with ‘exotic’ practices such as the Turkish bath, and consumables such as coffee, sweets, opium, and tobacco, especially by the Victorian Era.

The Crimean War during the 1850s popularized Turkish tobacco, and it was common in large private houses for gentlemen to retreat after dinner to a Smoking Room, usually decorated with Turkish themes, weapons, and heavy velvet curtains. The men would change out of their formal tail coats into velvet smoking jackets and caps, designed to absorb odours and protect clothing.

While this custom was likely not extensively practiced in the early Euro-Canadian settlement of Ontario, the association of the Turkish Empire with fine tobacco surely was present.

Illustration of a Turk's head pipe that closely matches the one recovered. Image from Kenyon and Kenyon, 2008
Illustration of a Turk’s head pipe that closely matches the one recovered. Image from Kenyon and Kenyon, 2008

Turk’s head pipes were most popular from 1820 to 1880. The other kaolin pipes we have found from this site have come from McDougall (Glasgow), and Henderson (Montreal). Henderson pipes date from 1846-1876. McDougall pipes date from 1846-1891. While I haven’t been able to pin down a manufacturer for our pipe, I have found references suggesting Henderson made effigy pipes.

This pipe was slip-cast in a two-piece mold, each half of the mold generating one half of the finished pipe. You can see in the illustration and in our artifact the seam line from the mold.

Artifact of the Day for June 2nd, 2017 — Spittoon

We had a split group today. Marit and I stayed back in the Archaeology Centre with some of the crew to wash and catalogue artifacts, while the rest of the crew went out on site with James to finish assessment units and continue with drawings and mapping in control points.

While cataloguing, we re-encountered pieces of a kind of ugly [ in my opinion…the decal poppies don’t do anything for me! –Kate ] ceramic vessel that came from the midden area. This thing had been quite puzzling from the moment it was first discovered, because pieces of it had a strange form that wasn’t easily resolved into a piece of tableware.

Now that we finally reached the stage of having the material from that context all washed and spread out, it was easy to locate other pieces that likely came from the same vessel. Jacob became mildly obsessed with the reconstruction.

Jacob after refitting the rim of the vessel.
Jacob after refitting the rim of the vessel.

And then we saw we had a spittoon!

Our spittoon!
Our spittoon!

This artifact is a perfect example of how quickly and comprehensively culture can change. It used to be extremely commonplace in the nineteenth century and earlier for people to spit on floors, streets, and sidewalks, wherever they happened to be. I am sure you can imagine how unpleasant this was, especially as a lot of people at the time primarily consumed tobacco by chewing it, and needed to dispose of large volumes of saliva and bits of tobacco generated through the process.

Spittoons were first seen as an improvement of public hygiene. Instead of spitting on the floor, one would spit into a special receptacle for the purpose. Spittoons were often made of brass, and had a flared rim to catch drips. You would find spittoons in banks, trains, barber shops, saloons, court rooms, and business offices.  You would think nothing of watching people spit into it, and there were people employed in the service of emptying and cleaning spittoons.

Here’s an excerpt about spittoons from a fascinating look at nineteeth-century American culture:

In houses, in clubs, in offices, one cannot help admiring the ingenious forethought, the wonderful care, with which the smallest wants and the slightest commodities of life have been studied: it seems as if there were nothing left to desire.

It is impossible, however, in speaking of American interiors, to pass over in silence a certain eyesore, which meets your sight at every turn.

The most indispensable, most conspicuous, piece of furniture in America is the spittoon. All rooms are provided with this object of prime necessity; you find one beside your seat in the trains, under your table in the restaurants: impossible to escape the sight of the ugly utensil. In the hotel corridors, there is a spittoon standing sentinel outside every door. In public edifices, the floors are dotted with them, and they form the line all up the stairs.

The Americans, used to these targets from the tenderest age, are marvellously adroit at the use of them: they never miss their aim. I saw some really striking feats of marksmanship; but perhaps the best of all at the Capitol, in Washington.

The Supreme Court of Judicature was sitting. As I entered, an advocate was launching thunders of eloquence. All at once he stopped, looked at a spittoon which stood two yards off, aimed at it, and, krrron, craaahk, ptu!—right in the bull’s-eye! Then on he went with his harangue. I looked to see the seven judges and the public applaud and cry “Bravo!” Not a murmur; the incident passed completely unnoticed. Probably there was not a man in the hall who could not say to himself: “There’s nothing in that; I could do as much.”

— excerpt from Jonathan and His Continent: Rambles Through American Society, by Max O’Rell and Jack Allyn, 1889.

Thomas Alva Edison, 1914, with a spittoon by his desk.
Thomas Alva Edison, 1914, with a spittoon by his desk.

The decline of the spittoon can be linked to the great influenza epidemic of 1918, when it became apparent that this practice (although better than spitting on the floor or street) wasn’t very hygienic! Interestingly, around this time is when chewing gum and cigarettes became very popular as well, redirecting people away from chewing tobacco.

Our spittoon is made of refined white earthenware, and has a molded decoration around the rim. The flower design is a decal, which is kind of like a sticker applied on top of the glaze. This gives us a date range of post 1890, and a mean age of around 1910. Decalware was popular into the 1930s and is even still manufactured today, however, we can use the fact about the decline of spittoons to suggest that our piece is probably not younger than the 1930s.

Today, one hundred years later, spitting is considered an unnecessary and repulsive act, as demonstrated by the fact that most places have anti-spitting laws in place!

[June 5th, 2017 update] – During a lab session on June 5th, Jacob and Trevor discovered another bag of ceramics from the same context, and excitingly, there were more pieces from the spittoon, including a mark! The mark indicates the spittoon was made by Unger and Schilde in Roschuetz, Thuringia, Germany.  The company was in business from 1882 to 1953. The particular mark, however, is really interesting. It is specific to items imported into the US and distributed by Jon H. Roth (trademark name Jonroth) of South Bend, Indiana between 1909 and 1916. The German connection continues! How it got to Peterborough county, to then be disposed of in a garbage dump is a mystery!

Three Crown China mark, John H. Roth, importer.
Three Crown China mark, John H. Roth, importer.