Four Seasons Bottle Collectors 12 June 2010 Club Dig

The morning of 12 June 2010 appeared grey and overcast. Perfect for digging bottles. The Saturday had been set aside by Dumpdiggers all over the city, earmarked as a day of discovery in the Four Seasons Bottle Collectors 2010 ‘Club Dig’. The secret location was an old dump in the heart of the city of Toronto.

Old and new diggers gathered together to make the trip. The story is recorded in excruciating detail in a story entitled Digging Bottles with The Four Seasons Bottle Collectors in Toronto.

Carl Parsons is a storyteller and venerated member of the FSBC. He’s been an antique dealer specializing in Canadian glass bottles for over thirty years and he knows his way around a couple hundred old dumps in Ontario. He led the tour down into the day’s dig site and alongside ‘Indian” Al Pothier they selected the exact spot based on shade more than anything else… nobody could remember if the exact spot in this site had been dug before, as the dump is one of the oldest in the city, and the terrain is constantly changing.

The crew got busy right away and dug out a large hole. The soil was soft and light, a gentle mixture of sand and ash with fragments of dump – broken china and bits of brick were visible on the shovels.

Tex and Mac were the new diggers and they worked hard sinking the hole down to a six foot depth. Then the guys got busy with hand trowels and garden forks. Carl put on a demonstration to show how he often uses a hoe with holes cut in the blade (to let water out), but today’s dump was dry as a bone. The hole wasnt very deep, about six feet from surface, when Al Pothier declared that they’d hit bottom and now they’d best look to the sides.

Al had a pocket of good dump to the south of his position and Mac and Tex found some hard packed virgin dump to the north of their spot in the hole… but sadly it was under the day’s dirt pile and so any excavation in that direction meant moving the dirt pile on the surface. all the same some old sauce bottles were discovered and there were a few exciting moments when some soda shards and stoneware bottoms were spotted in the virgin dump tract at the bottom of the hole.

You can read more of the day’s adventure in Digging Bottles with The Four Seasons Bottle Collectors in Toronto in the Shovel Guild Library on

Crisp Beavers on Canadian Fruit Sealer Jars

So just before the holiday that Dumpdiggers calls Christmas started, Tim Braithwaite (stonebottles) bought a beautiful beaver jar at a local auction sale and posted this close-up photo of the crisp embossing in the Dumpdiggers discussion forum, and of course this caused me to wonder about fruit sealers and crisp beavers in general, and how they came to be so coveted? … and what about those ‘left facing beavers’? What’s the story behind those?

Early Food Preservation in Europe and the USA

Let’s start at the start… In France, in the early 1800s, the process of hermetically sealed cooked food was developed by François (Nicolas) Appert, who was by trade a pickler, an expert confectioner, a brewer, a distiller, and a chef. He established the principles for the preservation of certain foods in hermetically sealed glass containers, (which he himself designed for the experiment). Basically he was the first person in the history to prove that air tight containers could preserve food.

Appert really had no explanation for the success of his experiment. He believed the exclusion of air and the application of heat were the major factors in keeping the foods in his experiments from spoiling.

Across the channel, an Englishman named Peter Durand patented the idea of airtight tin-plated iron cans, instead of glass jars, for food preservation. Cooked meat, fruit, and vegetables could now be hermetically sealed in metal containers. The British had lots of tin on their island and were the world leaders of brass munitions, but their first tin cans were actually made out of iron and were terribly heavy and hard to open. Here’s one found a few years ago that was made in 1837 and when opened was found to contain perfectly edible veal.

For some reason however the first tin cans were actually patented in the United States in 1825, and by 1839 tin cans were common in General Stores all over the continental US.

The Rise of Home Canning

US patent history records hundreds of successful fruit jar designs, but probably the most well known is the Mason jar. In 1858, John Landis Mason, a twenty six year old tin smith developed and patented a shoulder-seal jar with a zinc screw cap. The “Mason jar” had a threaded neck which fit with the threads in a metal cap to screw down to the shoulder of the jar and in this way form a seal. In 1869, a top seal above the threads and under a glass lid was introduced to the jar. The screw cap pressed tightly against the inverted lid, with rubber seal underneath, thus effecting an excellent seal. Preserving food in a glass home canning jar had now been taken a step further. A type of this closure still is in use today, although augmented with various other closure designs.

In 1861, Louis Pasteur used a microscope to show that microorganisms in un-sterilized food were responsible for food spoilage. Up until this time, even though people boiled the vessels in which they canned their food, nobody really knew why it worked. The common belief was that air caused spoilage and removing the air from vessels prevented spoilage. However, once Pasteur’s discovery was understood, scientists, manufacturers and home canners began developing better preservation methods usually by sterilizing the food as well as the container.

The manufacture of glass fruit jars for home canning accelerated after the US Civil War. Mason’s patent expired in 1875 and many other companies began manufacturing fruit jars around that time. Many of these other glass manufacturers capitalized upon the familiarity of the Mason name (or brand) and used it liberally on their own product names and logos.

Fruit Sealer Jar Lids
A multitude of different closures were developed and used throughout the years, which included variations on the screw top lid as well as different designs of clamps, wire bails and wax devices to hold the lids in place. Dumpdiggers has kept a ‘Safety Seal’ brand jar of aromatic coffee beans above the stove for almost ten years – that vessel has a good hinge clamp closure device that sandwiches the lid and bottle together and locks in that delicious smell behind a rubber seal.

Why so many different colours?
While contemporary canning jars are made of clear glass, their ancestors are found in a variety of colors and shades: aqua, clear, amber, cobalt blue, green and occasionally even milk glass. Different colours appealed to different markets and shopkeepers would order exotic varieties based on the population’s economic affluence, the popularity of the brand, the growing season’s potential for a bumper crop, and the type of fruit in the region. Colors were used just like ‘fancy packaging’ is today. I suppose it’s similar to the great beer bottle debate we have today. Are beers packaged in clear bottles more susceptible to spoilage? Do amber coloured bottles better protect their contents from the adverse effects of sunlight? Some say it’s just a marketing gimmick.

And that brings us to the left facing beaver jars. Phil Murphy, an avid collector of fruit jars and host of The Fruit Jar Collector Web Site thinks maybe the left facing beaver jars are something of a marketing gimmick too.

When I emailed him and asked about this, Phil returned this pearl of wisdom, ‘…according to fruit jar researcher Dick Roller, these jars were made after the newly designed Frank O’Neill machines had been installed in the Kingsville (Ontario) plant in the spring of 1901. By September 28, 1901, it was reported that D.A. Gordon, of Sydenham Glass Co., had dismantled the Kingsville plant and taken the tools and machinery to Wallaceburg (where the Sydenham Glass Co. existed). The short span of time that the machines were used at the Kingsville plant may account for the rarity of these jars. So far, all of the left-facing Beaver jars checked have been machine-made…”

Phil goes on to write, that he reckons the ratio of right facing beaver jars to left facing beaver jars to be about 100 to 1, respectively (in the Pint versions anyway) if not higher. They must be rare because I can’t find a picture of one to include here in this post.

Fruit Jar Manufacterers
Dumpdiggers would be happy to find fruit sealers from any of these American (and Canadian) glass jar manufacturers. If you’re a fruit jar collector, then this is your mission statement:

Adams & Company, Pittsburg, PA
Ball Brothers Glass Mfg. Co., Muncie, IN
Brookfield Glass Company, Brooklyn, NY
Brushwick Glass Company, Brooklyn, NY
A. & D. H. Chambers Company, Pittsburg, PA
Clyde Glass Works, Clyde, NY
Consolidated Fruit Jar Co., New Brunswick, NJ
Co-operative Flint Glass Co., Ltd., Beaver Falls, PA
Corning Glass Works
Crowleytown’s Atlantic Glass Works, Crowleytown, NJ
Crystal Glass Co., Bridgeport, OH
Cumberland Glass Mfg. Co, Bridgeton, NJ
D. Cunningham Glass Co., Pittsburg, PA
Decker’s Iowana, Mason City, IA
Edward H. Everett, Newark, OH
Flaccus Bros.
C. L. Flaccus Glass Company, Pittsburg, PA
A M Foster Co., Chicago, IL
Gayner Glass Works, Salem, NJ
S. George Co., Wellsburg, WV
Gilchrist Improved Jar Co., Philadelphia, PA & Elmer, NJ
Glass Containers Corp., Fullerton, CA (Golden Harvest)
W. Glenny Glass Co., Cincinnati, OH
Greenfield Fruit Jar & Bottle Co., Greenfield, IN
Hawley Glass Company, Hawley, PA
Hazel Glass, Washington, PA
Hazel-Atlas Glass Co., Wheeling, WV, & Washington, PA
Hemingray, Cincinnati, OH
Hemingway Glass Co., Covington, KY
Hero Fruit Jar Co., Philadelphia, PA
Hero Glass Works, Philadelphia, PA
Hermetic Fruit Jar Company, Portland, OR (Kerr)
Hermetical Closure Co., San Francisco, CA
Louis Hollweg, Indianapolis, IN
Illinois Glass Co., Alton, IL
Illinois Pacific Glass Company
Kearns-Gorsuch Bottle Co., Zanesville, OH
Kerr Glass Manufacturing Company, Sand Springs, OK
Keystone Glass Works, Philadelphia, PA
Knox Glass Bottle Co., Knox, PA
Lamb Glass Co., Vernon, OH
J. A. Landsberger Co., San Francisco, CA
Lynchburg Glass Corp.,
Lyndeboro Glass, Lyndeboro, NH
W. W. Lyman
Mannington Glass, Mannington, WV
Marion Fruit Jar & Bottle Co., Marion, IN
Mission Mason
Moore Brothers Glass Co., Clayton, NJ
Mountain Mason, Midvale, UT
National Glass Co., Pittsburg, PA
Ohio Container Co., Columbus, OH (Mom’s)
Ohio Valley Glass Company
Owens-Illinois Glass Co. – Toledo, OH (Presto) & San Francisco, CA
Pacific Glass Works
F. H. Palmer, Brooklyn, NY
Penna Glass Co., Anderson, IN
Port Glass Works, Bellville, IL
Poughkeepsie Glass Works, Poughkeepsie, NY
Putnam, Bennington, VT
Putnam Glass Works, Zanesville, OH
Red Key Glass Co., Red Key, IN
Root Glass Company, Terre Haute, IN
Safe Glass Co., Upland, IN & Chicago, IL
San Francisco and Pacific Glass Works
Schram Glass Mfg. Co., St. Louis, MO
Skillin-Goodin Glass Co., Yorktown, IN
A. G. Smalley & Co., Boston
Smalley-Kilvan-Onthank, Boston
J. P. Smith, Pittsburg, PA
Sneath Glass Co., Hartford City, IN
Swayzee Glass Co., Swayzee, IN
Terre Haute Glass Mfg. Co., Terre Haute, IN
Thames Glass Works Company, New London, CT
Upland Cooperative Glass Co., Upland, IN
Vacuum Jar & Fruit Package Co., San Francisco, CA
Victor Jar Co., Detroit, MI
Weightman Glass Co., Pittsburg, PA
Wellsburgh Glass and Mfg., Wellsburgh, WV
Western Flint Glass Co., Eaton, IN
Weston Glass Co., Weston, WV
Whitall Tatum
Whitney Glass Works, Glassboro, NJ
Woodbury Bottle Works, Woodbury, NJ
Wormser Glass Co., Pittsburg, PA
R. G. Wright & Co., Buffalo, NY

A Primer on Fruit Jars is an interesting article by Dave Hinson with a good overview on the history of glass fruit jars that have been used for home food preservation in the past.

How To Find Old Dumps #1

When ordinary people wrap their minds around the possibility of digging up antique glass bottles and pottery in forgotten heritage sites outdoors, their first question is usually, Is it legal? and that’s soon followed by, How do you find the best places to dig?

These two prime questions are uniquely connected; amateur archeology on private property is legal enough, and finding the best places to dig on privately owned land (and with the permission of the owner) is the highest art of the Dumpdiggers’ subculture. For only by conducting extensive research and on-site observations, which includes probing and digging countless test pits, can a veteran digger harness his intuition (born from years of experience) and embrace the possibility of finding buried booty.

As per the Dumpdiggers’ Handbook, there are six different types of dump:
1. Town Dump – most towns have more than one dump site.
2. Privy Pit – the old latrine is considered a dump of sorts.
3. Farm Dump – farmers dump here to halt soil erosion.
4. Swamp Road – when nobody’s looking, people dump here.
5. Railway Dump – trains stop here to sweep cabin cars of debris
6. Camp Dump – Hunting, mining and forestry camp dumps

Town Dumps are generally the best and most rewarding places to dig, and that’s because they contain the highest quantity of household trash. How old can such a dump get? That’s a good question. It depends on the town, but on average in Upper Canada, and I think this is also true of many American states, the oldest town dumps date back to the 1870’s. That’s the age when the first ‘chartered towns’ recognized the need for, and legislated local property as, the Town Dump. Do you remember watching the scene in episode #8 of the first season of the HBO’s classic Deadwood, wherein Sam Bullock approves the location of the dump on one of the empty lots in the camp? The land is selected and appropriated because there’s rubbish already accumulating in what sounds like a river gulch.
Recorded minutes from century old meetings in the Town Hall will sometimes chronicle counselors voting to make a salary available for a ‘Dump Attendant’ and or perhaps detail funds for the purchase of a special ‘dumping wagon’.
The Dump Attendant was paid to watch the property on burning days and organize a weekly trash collection. Research this individual’s family and you may find pictures of their ancestor in the town dump in front of navigable landmarks that you can use to find the same location today.
The above picture details trash collection in the City of Toronto in 1903. It’s interesting to note here how two wagons work in tandem – this is a precursor to our modern recycling program. The wagon behind the sled is filled with furnace ash which has a variety of municipal applications, not the least of which is road paving material.

The sled in the foreground is loaded with sacks full of glass bottles, clay pottery and tin packaging – household waste. Notice how the garbage man wears a backpack, and I wonder what he puts inside his backpack everyday? I suspect that this individual removed local brewed beer and pop bottles that he knew were refundable – sadly, and perhaps consequently, these are the bottles that are the most collectible today.

The Health Inspector, often called the ‘medical officer’, or the ‘town doctor’ also made reports on early dumps. His primary concern was ground water contamination. There are circumstances in which he would report an infestation of rats or wild dogs at dumps. Often times he ordered the bulldozing and burning of dumps as a solution to exterminate such vermin.
Unfortunately for Dumpdiggers, even the oldest and most secluded town dumps were likely subject to burning and bulldozing at some point in their existence. It was considered civilized to burn dumps and thereby reduce ‘the spread of germs’. Municipalities used heavy machinery to compact dump sites in the early 1920’s and 30’s. Before this horse drawn ‘dump scrappers’ were used to flatten the piles. The horse’s weight and the weight of the operator helped compact the garbage to allow the next day’s wagons a hard surface on which to dump their contents. Early Dumping Wagons are themselves now very collectible because of their scarcity. One hundred years ago the Watson Bottom Dump Wagon was the finest dump wagon in America; today less than ten examples remain, and most of these are in pieces.
In 1886 David Watson moved his wagon manufacturing company to Canastota, New York where he bought what was then known as the “mop handle factory” on the west side of the town. The Watson ‘dumping wagon’ was the first and best of its kind – his vessel dominated the market in residential garbage pick-up and disposal. As testament to its versatility and reputation, it was the wagon of choice in the First World War when 15,000 units were shipped to France to help Allied Command support the men in the trenches.And finally, here’s a Dumpdiggers’ secret; every town’s first municipal dump was usually located less than a mile away from the historic main intersection, and almost always on inclined or boggy terrain, and never windward (which means North West here in Ontario).

An Urban Gulch

It was an ugly, damp, fog covered morning in Toronto on Thursday 27th September 2007, but that’s ideal weather for digging up old dumps.

Marked by Timbits as a ‘sure thing’, the day’s secret location was tucked away behind some factories on the east side of the city near Lake Ontario. Tim had driven past the gully a few times earlier in the summer, and had wondered about its historic past; now he was sure it was an old dump.

I could see why. The prescribed dig zone was at the base of a small hill where a chain link fence had once kept animals and debris from emerging onto a busy road. The fence is gone, washed away, and the ever expanding washout now shows furnace ash peppered with glass and broken bits of pottery. The grass on the surface of the site was littered with plastic water bottles and cursed with stinging nettles. These feisty weeds scratched my legs real bad before I donned my dirty pair of ‘dump pants’. Tim used his shovel to define the hole; together we would spend the day digging the 5×5 portal to early industrial Toronto. Digging here was easy at first. The ash was like wheat flour and gave no resistance, but unfortunately, yielded no treasure. Only when Tim used a pick axe to expand the sides of hole, did anything interesting emerge… Tim recovered a small blue Bromo Seltzer and an unusual face cream jar. I found a medicinal vial that could have contained cosmetic oil or perhaps an exotic fragrance… or opium. All of this ‘crap’ was discarded to the right, and it was in that spot that our ‘stash’ started to grow. After crumbling the sides and digging straight down into the ash, we encountered a dark layer filled with charred metal. Underneath the heavy black strata the ash continued again, and below that, Tim spotted egg shells. This was a good sign. White egg shells preserved in rust colored dust are all that’s left of century old kitchen trash. After Tim dredged up a clear Lydia Pinkham’s vegetable compound, he knew we were getting close to domestic refuse.

Minutes later, Tim’s shovel punctured a rich ‘goody vein’ filled with century old bottles – this was pay dirt at the bottom of the hole. One after another Timbits found three crown top Toronto soda pop bottles from approx 1910-15. In order, Tim found AMERICAN SODA COMPANY / TORONTO; JJ McLaughlin / Toronto; Union Soda Manufacturing / Toronto. All these bottles are relatively common, but the thrill of finding them encouraged us to continue our ash mining operation. When it was my turn in the hole, I went even deeper – right down into a maelstrom of burnt bricks and cobble stones. These yellow red cobblestones were hand carved and imported from England in the late 1880s. Old English cobble stones are very valuable, ironically they’re probably worth more than all the bottles we had so far discovered… But who cares? Sure old cobble stones are highly prized by landscape decorators, sure they can sell for a thousand dollars a truck load, but who would dig all day for stones? Tim pointed down into the hole. ‘What’s that beside your boot?’ I saw the top of an ink crock buried in the red ash clay – the fragile neck just inches away from my steel toed work boots.. Carefully I knelt down and excavated the relic – it was a four quart jug in absolute mint condition. Sadly, it contained no embossing. When Tim got back down in the hole (getting in and out of the hole was becoming more and more of a problem) we started finding stuff again. Broken dishes gave way to broken milk bottles, and two came up intact. Fortunately, both were embossed. One very common milk bottle reads ACME DAIRY / TORONTO and the other, more valuable vessel has twenty or so half inch panels all around the circumference and is embossed with the words OAKLAND DAIRY / JOHNSON BROS / COLL. 638. As we expanded the hole, we encountered more material in the carbonized layer – more evidence that the dump was burnt off early in its life and the buried garbage had reached high temperatures… The charcoal fossilized remains of wooden boxes, lamp shades and paper cups could easily be identified, but just one touch and these objects would crumble to dust. Tim stopped digging when he struck a block of burnt newspapers. These had been packed together and then perfectly incinerated. When I cracked the block open I could read the headlines (from the Globe and Empire) that was world news almost one hundred years ago. Have a look at December 12th 1915 – Allied bombing exploits make the front page. On the other side of the block were Christmas ads for fur coats, and ‘well chosen blouses and shoes’. None of these items cost more than twelve dollars.

My favorite finds of the day must include the short square American drug bottle from the apothecary of Mary T Goldman / St. Paul Minn. and a near worthless Canadian drug bottle embossed NERVALINE / PREPARED BY THE CATARRBOZOHE CO / KINGSTON ONT which I like because its an old school Canadian patent medicine that succeeded in becoming world famous . In the future I’ll clean this bottle and write a piece on the history of the Catarrbozohe company.

At the end of the day, Timbits declared the entire stash to be worthless junk. He was disappointed that so much of the site was burnt. It’s obvious that this gulch was a fire pit in 1915, and the tiny ribbon of household trash at the bottom of the crevice was just one or two family’s winter cleaning – it was just the old newspapers and bottles from one or two houses. Someone back there was taking Nervaline, and used Lydia Pinkham’s Vegetable Compound. Someone else enjoyed a variety of common soda pops, and another dumper tossed in a couple of milk bottles. Someone who lived around here in 1915 migrated from St Pauls Minneapolis. They brought their personal medicine. But it all ended up under a century of Toronto’s ashes. When we photographed the hoard Tim acted disappointed, but I was proud of our work– it was trip back in time with a bucket full of glorious keepsakes. Monetarily, these relics are almost worthless. The Johnson Bros milk bottle would probably be the only bottle worth taking home, and I’m sure Timbits wouldn’t bother… He raised no objection when I stuffed the piece in my duffel bag along with the others. To me every relic is a word or a sentence in the story of that particular place, one hundred years ago.