Keeping Clean in Charm City – The Rise of the Public Bathhouse in Baltimore


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Figure 1. Perfume bottle molded in the shape of a wicker covered demijohn.  Bottle dates c. 1845-1865.

This tiny and incredibly fragile perfume bottle, discovered in a Baltimore privy during the 1980 excavation at the future site of the Federal Reserve Bank, was made by the Boston & Sandwich Glass Company of Sandwich, Massachusetts (Boston and Sandwich 2017). The company operated between the years 1826 and 1888, producing blown and pressed glass containers (Barlow and Kaiser 1998).  Measuring only three inches tall, this bottle was molded in the shape of a much larger bottle called a carboy or demijohn. These bottles, ranging in size from 5 to 16 gallons and used to transport bulk liquids like vinegar or acid, were covered in woven wicker to prevent breakage. This little cologne bottle, with its wicker molded surface, dates between circa 1845 and 1865.

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Figure 2. Bathing before the advent of running water and plumbing involved hauling and heating large quantities of water. 

In Victorian America, personal cleanliness was viewed as a symbol of upstanding character and self-respect.  In America’s crowded cities, it was also an important public health matter.  Wearing perfume or toilet water could certainly help cover body odor, but there was much to be said for bathing as a way to improve personal sanitation and health. Before the days of running water and plumbing, many people kept clean through what we would call today a “sponge bath”, using basins of water or small hip baths.  In 1893, only 7.35% of the families in Baltimore lived in a house with an indoor bathroom. Fortunately for the rest of Baltimore’s citizens, public bathing facilities were soon to be a part of the city’s amenities.

Since at least Roman times, public baths have been a feature of urban life, but the public bath movement in North America did not begin until the mid-19th century and it gathered momentum late in that century. In fact, before the Victorian era, many western cultures actually believed that submersion in water would open the pores up to disease and sickness. Increasing immigration from Europe and crowded living situations in American cities created a critical need for public bathing facilities. North American cities were far behind their European counterparts in providing bath houses. The first year-round public bath opened in Yonkers, New York in 1896 (Piwinski 2011).   Baltimore lagged behind cities like New York and Boston, with its first public bath houses, administered by the city, not appearing until the turn of the 20th century (Williams 1991:28).  Continue reading

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An Amelung Decanter?


Perhaps Maryland’s most famous glass product

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Decanter discovered in a Baltimore privy filled  around the time of the Civil War.  Attribution to the Amelung New Bremen Factory is not certain, but it did produce similar decanters in the late 18th century.

ion facility was the New Bremen Glass Manufactory, which began operations south of Frederick in 1785. When owner John Frederick Amelung arrived from Germany, the United States was a new nation anxious to promote industry.  Encouraged in his endeavor by the likes of George Washington, Benjamin Franklin and Thomas Jefferson, Amelung brought 68 experienced German glass workers with him to staff the new factory (Lanmon and Palmer 1976).  Within five years, Amelung employed between 400 and 500 workers, who lived in a factory village named New Bremen.  In 1788, Amelung advertised a range of glass vessels for sale, including “1/2 gill to quart tumblers, ½ to 1 quart Decanters…Wines, Goblets, Glass Cans with Handles, different sizes.” (Maryland Journal and Baltimore Advertiser 1788).

Unfortunately, Amelung’s ambitious project failed to prosper and he sought financial assistance from Congress in 1790.  His petition, however, failed to convince Congress and the New Bremen industry collapsed around 1795 (National Register 1972).  Continue reading

Baltimore’s Canton Neighborhood


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Chinese porcelain “Canton” plate, painted in characteristic blue landscape motif.  From the Federal Reserve Site (18BC27). Maryland Archaeological Conservation Laboratory.

It might seem like a strange leap from a Chinese porcelain plate to a neighborhood in downtown Baltimore, but the distance is really not that great if you stretch your imagination a little.  In August of 1785, seafarer John O’Donnell sailed his ship, the Pallas, into Baltimore harbor (Scharf 1874:238).  Loaded with export goods like tea, porcelain and silk from China, this ship was the first to directly import Chinese products into Baltimore.  In 1786, O’Donnell purchased eleven acres to the east of the city and named his plantation Canton, after the Chinese city that was the source of his wealth.  Within ten years, O’Donnell had expanded the plantation landholdings to 1,941 acres.

This porcelain plate, in a style commonly known as Canton, was found along with three others just like it in a brick-lined privy discovered in 1980 during the construction of the Federal Reserve Bank on Sharp Street.  The privy had once stood on a tavern property operated by Robert Williams from the turn of the nineteenth century until the 1840s (Basalik 1994:356).  Tavern customers could enjoy their evening repast served on a plate that had traveled halfway around the world.  Who knows, perhaps this very plate arrived on one of O’Donnell’s ships! Continue reading

Thomas Dyott’s Selfie, 1826-Style


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Benjamin Franklin

In  April 2015, this blog featured a tea cup decorated with a motif that supported the nineteenth-century temperance movement in the United States. To read go to Maryland History by the Objects Archives. The object that is the subject of this current post had a decidedly more complex message with regards to alcohol.

The pale green pint flask was found in a privy filled sometime between 1830 and 1860 at the Schifferstadt Site (18FR134) in Frederick County, Maryland. Molded in a horseshoe shape, the flask was manufactured around 1826 by the Kensington Glass Works of Philadelphia.  One side of the bottle features the bust of one of Philadelphia’s most famous residents, Benjamin Franklin, with the inscription “WHERE LIBERTY DWELLS THERE IS MY COUNTRY”.  The reverse side shows a likeness of Thomas W. Dyott, encircled by his name.  Figural flasks like this one were produced in great numbers in the second and third quarters of the nineteenth century and often honor historical heroes and contemporary celebrities (Palmer 1993:385). Continue reading

Fort Frederick – Frontier Outpost in Washington County


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Bone buttons and button blanks from Fort Frederick.  Photo:  MAC Lab

In the mid-1750s, the Maryland frontier was a place of uncertainty and fear as the threat of war loomed large. French expansion from the north into the Ohio River Valley was at odds with Britain’s claims to control of the North American colonies as it spread ever-westward.  By the 1740s, British had begun trading with Native Americans in the Ohio Valley, infringing on previously-established French trade relationships. Tensions eventually erupted into armed conflict in May of 1754, with French forces defeating George Washington during a dispute over control of the French Fort Duquesne.  Several additional defeats the following year led the British to officially declare war on France in 1756 (Cowley and Parker 1996). The French and Indian War (also known as the Seven Years’ War) ended in British victory in 1763 with the French ceding New France east of the Mississippi to Great Britain.

Fort Frederick, located in Maryland’s Washington County, was built as an English stronghold during the French and Indian War. Serving primarily as a staging area for the British, the fort did not see any battles during the war, although provincial troops from Virginia and North Carolina, county militia groups and a company of royal regulars were garrisoned there for frontier duty.  In 1763 the fort was occupied briefly, both by troops and nearby residents seeking protection during the Pontiac Rebellion. During the American Revolution, captured British troops were imprisoned at the fort (Fort Frederick 2017).  The fort was eventually abandoned altogether and the land sold and farmed.  Today, the fort walls and some of the buildings have been reconstructed to their 1758 appearance and it serves as a state park. Continue reading

Keeping it Fizzy for Over a Century: the Crown Cap Closure


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Figure 1.  Dessicated cork from Oxon Hill Manor (18PR175). Photo courtesy MAC Lab.

Baltimore has been home to a number of important inventions over the last several centuries; among them rubber surgical gloves, telephone poles and the Ouija board.  Perhaps few of these innovations have had as widespread of an influence as the crown cap closure.  Invented in 1890 and patented in 1892 by William Painter as a device for capping carbonated beverage bottles, crown caps became one of the world’s first successful disposable products.  In his patent application, Painter stated “… I have devised metallic sealing-caps embodying certain novel characteristics which render them highly effective and so inexpensive as to warrant throwing them away after a single use thereof..” (US Patent Office 1890). Continue reading

Levering and Brothers, Baltimore Importers of English Ceramics and Glass


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This little advertising plate was found in the fill of Feature 30, a brick-lined privy that was used by the family of Nathan Mansfield, a Baltimore blacksmith.

This charming little 10-sided plate, measuring a mere 4″ in diameter, was discovered at the Federal Reserve Site (18BC27) in a privy filled with household garbage between 1850 and 1870.  It was most likely a giveaway by Levering & Brothers, located on Lombard Street in Baltimore. This business began as Levering Brothers in 1852 and later became known as Levering and Brothers (Walthall 2013).

The printed text in the well of the plate proudly proclaims Levering & Bro.  as “Importers of China Glass and Queens Ware also Window Glass & Stone Ware at Factory Prices.”  This little plate is not quite as elaborate as a circa 1856 Levering platter owned by Winterthur Museum; it shows a wide range of printed earthenware (jugs, coffee pots, tureens, and a chamberpot), a glass decanter and several lighting fixtures (Winterthur 1956.0015).  These two pieces may have been giveaways to stores who purchased their ceramics and glass for resale (Miller, personal communication 2016).

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An advertising platter from the Winterthur Museum collections. Clinton Levering’s import business, also shown as being on Lombard Street, is believed to have preceded that of Levering and Brothers.  This vessel has two small holes along its top edge, presumably for displaying it on a wall.  Winterthur Museum, Delaware.

Ceramics from Great Britain, and particularly earthenware produced in the Staffordshire region, had long graced the tables of American citizens. The two Baltimore advertising plates show that English pottery manufacturers still enjoyed a ready market in the United States in the second half of the 19th century. While a number of pottery manufactories operated in Baltimore in the 19th century, most produced more utilitarian earthen and stoneware, and not refined tablewares.  Therefore, it was necessary to maintain relationships with the British producers of ceramics and glass.

Ceramic importers, like Levering and Brothers, ordered wares they thought would be in demand with their American customers (Ewins 1997, Miller and Earls 2008:70).  Many of these wares would be resold to country stores.  In 1850, Baltimore was the second largest city in the nation, and its harbor served as an important point of entry for imported goods from all over the world.  With three railroad lines running from the city by 1850 and a fourth (the Western Maryland Railway) about to begin construction, it was also a major point of departure for those same goods to travel west and north to eager consumers. It wasn’t until the late 19th century that North American potteries in West Virginia, New Jersey and Ohio began to supersede the British hold on the American ceramic market.

References

Ewins, Neil.  1997 “Supplying the Present Wants of Our Yankee Cousins …”: Staffordshire Ceramics and the American Market 1775-1880. Journal of Ceramic History. 15 .

Miller, George L.  2016  Personal communication.

Walthall, John.  2013  Queensware Direct from the Potteries; U.S. Importers of Staffordshire Ceramics in Antebellum America, 1820-1860. The Illinois State Archaeological Survey Champaign-Urbana and the Transferware Collectors Club, San Francisco.  Studies in Archaeological Material Culture No. 1.