Artifact of the Day for May 9th, 2017 — Dr Thomas’ Eclectric Oil bottle

We have several examples of these from other sites we have excavated on campus, and a couple fragmentary ones have come off site already. So I was happy to see someone recover this complete bottle of Dr Thomas’ Eclectric Oil, as it is a product that always brings a smile to my face. It seemed to tickle everyone’s fancy as it was voted today’s Artifact of the Day.

This is one of my favourite quackery medicines, and indeed, was Canada’s most popular snake oil medicine of the late 19th century.

What is “Eclectric Oil”?

This was a patent medicine originally formulated by Dr. S.N. Thomas of Phelps, New York in the late 1840s. It contained spirits of turpentine, camphor, oil of tar, red thyme and specially processed fish oil.

Dr. Thomas made like Colonel Sanders and licensed his secret recipe to other producers. Northrup & Lyman was a very successful Canadian pharmaceutical firm who acquired the Canadian licensing rights from the Foster, Milburn & Co., Buffalo, NY.

Northrup & Lyman were established in 1854 in Newcastle, Ontario, and moved to Toronto in the mid-1870s.

The name seems to have piggybacked onto the fascination with electricity and how it related to health. This ad seems to indicate Eclectric is a portmanteau of Electric (or “Electrized” which sounds much fancier) and Selected.

Eclectric oil ad
Entirely different than anything ever before made!

This is a tooled-finish bottle, which means it was mouth-blown into a mold and then the mouth was finished by hand. This means this bottle is no younger than about 1915.

It tells you right on the bottle you can use it Externally
It tells you right on the bottle you can use it Externally
And internally!
And internally!


If you are interested in reading more about this medicine, please read Catherine Sullivan’s excellent Parks Canada Research Bulletin No. 218.

Artifact of the Day for May 8th, 2017 — Bull Dog comb, and 1852 Half-Penny Token

Today’s student choice was a comb recovered from what is looking like a midden context, or in other words, the garbage dump! We started work on this midden area today which is located beside the structure and found all sorts of curious things including the door of a wood-fired kitchen stove, many mouth-blown bottles, parts of shoes, dishes, and lots of bones.

They also recovered this comb, which evidently was thrown out as it was missing a lot of teeth! I like how there are different grades of teeth separation from the left side of the comb to the surviving middle section.

Bakelite comb with "Bull Dog".
Bakelite comb with “Bull Dog”.

Frustratingly, I have not been able to find out much about this company. The comb does appear to be made of Bakelite, which means it can’t be any older than 1907. If I had to guess my impression would be late 1920s or early 1930s but that is just a hunch based on the lettering style.

As a bonus, here is what would have been my choice for Artifact of the Day. This was found in the structure, near where the tinnie was found.

Bank of Upper Canada, 1852 Half-Penny Bank Token
Bank of Upper Canada, 1852 Half-Penny Bank Token    Photo: James Conolly

Under a 1819 charter granted by the Province of Upper Canada, The Bank of Upper Canada was established in the city of York (now Toronto, Ontario) in 1821. In 1841, Upper and Lower Canada were united to form the Province of Canada. It was decided at this time that only the bank that held the government accounts had the right to issue copper tokens. The bank that held these rights from 1841 to 1848 was the Bank of Montreal.

Rioting in Montreal resulting from the passage of the Rebellion Losses Bill in 1849 ended up with the parliament buildings burning down, and the capital of Ontario was moved to Toronto. As a result, the right to issue tokens passed to the Bank of Upper Canada.

The building which housed the bank, constructed in 1825, still exists in Toronto’s Adelaide St East and has been designated a National Historic Site of Canada.

An extreme shortage of coins meant the Bank of Upper Canada issued copper penny and half-penny tokens between 1850 and 1857. The 1852 penny shows St. George and the Dragon on the obverse, and is based on Benedetto Pistrucci’s design for the 1817 British sovereign.

1817 British gold sovereign
1817 British gold sovereign

Here is a less-worn example of the 1852 half-penny token so you can see the finer detail:

The reverse is the Coat of Arms of Upper Canada, which by this time was obsolete!

As a final point of interest, there were two issues of tokens in 1852. Most of the coins were struck at the Royal Mint in London, UK, and were shipped to Canada. Due to a heavy schedule and time pressure, the dies and planchets were transferred to Heaton’s Mint in Birmingham, UK. You can tell which striking you have because of how the dies and planchets were arranged.

These coins have been nicknamed “St. George Pieces” by collectors because of their obverse design.

The Royal Mint issued tokens have the dies in medallic alignment, which means that even if a medal flipped sideways on its ribbon so the back side was showing, it would still be right-side-up. Therefore, both the top of the obverse and the top of the reverse are pointing in the same direction. This is how our modern-day Canadian coins are oriented. The Heaton’s Mint issue have the dies in coin alignment, which means the image on one side of the coin is upside-down relative to the other (this is how US coins are oriented).

The coin recovered today has a medallic  alignment, which means it was struck in the first pressing at the Royal Mint in London!

By 1852, Charles Perry had bought this parcel of land from Blayney Mitchell. Perhaps some of this assemblage dates to his early tenure while the mill was being constructed.


Artifact of the Day for May 4th, 2017 — Nazi party ‘tinnie’

Each day on site we decide upon the Artifact of the Day, which is voted on by the students. Other notable finds that didn’t make the cut were a carved bone knife handle, a porcelain doll’s leg, and a pocket watch case.

Today’s artifact was a bit of a surprise, to say the least. It is what is known as a ‘tinnie’, which is a general term for a commemorative medal, badge, or pin made from a non-precious metal such as tin, aluminum, zinc, or even plastic.

Back side of the badge recovered from the excavation. Front of the badge recovered during excavation.


Back side of the badge from a very good condition badge.




Front side of the badge from a very good condition badge.



These articles were meant to be worn on clothing, and were commonly given away or sold at public events to build and reinforce group cohesiveness. The “golden age” of the tinnie was around the Second World War, and USSR and the Nazi party in particular were the most prolific producers of these items.

This particular example is made from aluminum, and is to commemorate the Tag der Deutschen Seefahrt [Day of German Seafaring], a nautical event which occurred in Hamburg, Germany on May 25-26, 1935.

Poster from the Day of German Seafaring, showing the day badge design and "Hamburg Ruft!" [Hamburg Calls!] underneath.
Poster from the Day of German Seafaring, showing the day badge design and “Hamburg Ruft!” [Hamburg Calls!] underneath.
To contextualise this artifact, and what the symbolism means, we can break it down into elements:

The design features the national emblem of Nazi Germany, the Reichsadler [Imperial Eagle], an eagle holding a wreath with a swastika in the center.

The motto SEEFAHRT IST NOT is really interesting. This concept was first attributed by Plutarch to the Roman military leader Pompey (Gnaeus Pompeius Magnus). As Plutarch relates, Pompey was in charge of organizing Rome’s supply of grain from other parts of the Empire. During a severe storm, the sailors coming from Africa did not want to set out due to the danger. Pompey then told them “navigare necesse est, vivere non est necesse” [to sail is necessary; to live is not necessary].

Johann Kinau published a novel under the pseudonym Gorch Fock in 1913 called “Seefahrt ist Not!”, which can be both translated as “seafaring is necessary” but also ambiguously as “seafaring is hardship”. This novel describes the life of the deep sea fishermen of his home island. Fock died on the cruiser SMS Wiesbaden in the Battle of Jutland in 1916. This motto was then taken by the Nazi party and heavily featured as a propaganda concept.

Johann Kinau was born in the fishing village of Finkenwerder, which is now part of Hamburg, Germany.

The ship depicted is likely the Gorch Fock class Nazi tall ship the Horst Wessel, launched 1936. The eponymous ship for the class, the Gorch Fock was launched 3 May 1933, and was the main training vessel for the German Reichsmarine. It is argued that the ship depicted on the badge can’t be the Gorch Fock, because there is an eagle decoration on the prow that the Horst Wessel had but the Gorch Fock did not.

The Horst Wessel was captured by the United States at the end of Word War II. It is now known as the USCG Eagle, and the US Coast guard trains all their cadets on this ship to this day.

Although I was able to uncover a bit of information about this day badge, these questions now remain: who owned this piece; how did it arrive in Nassau Mills from Germany; and how does it relate to the structure we are excavating?