19th Century Bottle Diggers
         It's all about the history

               19th Century Bottle Diggers

                                                                  I'TS ALL ABOUT THE HISTORY




                        Pontil Marks on Bottles


Sometime late in the third quarter of the 19th century, glassblowers developed new methods to speed up and increase production. Semi-automated methods, and later fully automated methods left labor intensive hand production behind. One sign of a hand blown glass object, whether a bottle, a pitcher, vase or bowl, is a distinctive sometimes sharp mark on the base of the object. This mark is called a pontil mark or pontil scar.
It is important to know that modern hand blown glass often bears such marks so it is not a definite indicator of age. It can mean, however, a greater value for the object - for example, when comparing two otherwise identical bottles, the one with the pontil mark is almost always more valuable.

Why the Pontil?

A glassblower's assistant attaches a pontil rod to the object during manufacture to hold it in order to form a lip, attach a handle or complete other details.

Different types of Pontil Marks

Here are a few examples including an iron pontil, open pontil, ground pontil,sand pontil and pontil mark on a contemporary pitcher.


 Open pontil


A classic well-defined ring pontil or open pontil mark. The pontil rod was sheared off at this point after the glassblowers finished forming the lip of the bottle.
 This type of pontil mark - which was also called the "ring pontil" - was formed when a hollow blowpipe was used as the pontil rod, is at least as common on American made bottles as the glass tipped pontil mark This was likely done to both save on the number of tools used by the glass blower and to save time.  Blowpipe pontil scars were likely formed by two slightly different processes which would each be indistinguishable on the finished bottle.
 Here is a large deep open pontil. No mistaking this one.



 This 19th century bowl has a somewhat faint ring pontil. The glassblowers attached the pontil in order to roll the edge of the lip.



 Smooth Base


This bottle has a circular depression on the base and dates from the late 19th century. This is not, however, a pontil mark.
Iron Pontil




An iron pontil mark on the base of a Dr. Townsend's Sarsaparilla bottle. This mark is at times incorrectly called a graphite pontil.
This fascinating type of pontil mark is also referred to as simply an iron pontil or improved pontil.  It is also commonly referred to as a graphite pontil.  This is erroneous as there is no graphite (carbon) associated with any improved or iron pontil mark.  Apparently the term originated from the fact that the substance often looks like a graphite smear.  In actuality, the residual red, reddish black, gray, or black deposits are iron, typically oxidized iron - ferric (red) and ferrous (gray, black) oxides  One particularly erroneous interpretation of the iron pontil was that it was the residue left behind "...when the pontil scar (was) erased by an iron ball dipped in oxide.



 Wine bottle


This wine bottle has a deep depression or "kick up" in the base - the pontil ring can be seen in the bottom center.




 Sometimes the sand pontil is hard to distinguish. The sand pontil apparently conformed better than other pontil types to molded base shapes without distorting it too much  The base of a sand pontiled bottle will, however, often show some minor distortion made by the hot glass covered pontil rod head application to the bottle base which often more or less outlines the sand pontil area



                                     This is called a "rough" pontil.


  Please visit my "Bottle site links"  page for more information on pontil marks & scars.








What is "puce" or pooce as some call it ?


The Color Puce *





"Puce is the french word for flea?

Puce (often misspelled as ?puse?, ?peuse? or ?peuce?) is a color that is defined as ranging from light grayish red-violet (the version shown at left) to medium to dark purplish-brown, with the latter being the more widely accepted definition found in reputable sources. The Oxford English Dictionary dates the use of ?puce? (in couleur puce) from 1787. The first recorded use of puce as a color name was in the 14th century, in the French language. (Wikipedia)

Puce is the French word for flea. The color is said to be the color of the bloodstains remaining on linen or bedsheets, even after being laundered, from a flea?s droppings or after a flea has been killed. (Wikipedia)

Bottle collecting: In the vintage-bottle-collecting hobby, ?puce? is arguably the most desirable color. (Wikipedia) *I wonder how Wiki got this notion?





 Puce is probably the most misunderstood color in bottle collecting. I admit, I am just as guilty as most as I like saying puce and it adds mystery, intrigue and value to a reddish or pinkish amber bottle. The problem is, most of us do not feel like we understand the singularity of the color puce so we add a color description in front of it, a color we are familiar with to create the color description. I call it Puce Juices? because it is not uncommon to hear strawberry puce, raspberry puce, plum puce, orange puce, peach puce, apricot puce, cherry puce etc. to describe a bottle color. Crazy isn't it Then you have the nutty pronunciation. Many pronounce it "pooce" while another large group draws out the "u" and says "Puce" like Juice. I believe this is correct. Oh our crazy English language!



Puce Juice






Peach Puce ? Raspberry Puce ? Strawberry Puce ? Plum Puce ? Cranberry Puce ? Orange Puce ? Apricot Puce ? Cherry Puce

To name a few .




Puce Glass Gallery 





 My Dyottville Puce Eagle flask at the Original Dyottville Glass works factory in Philadelphia Pa. We visited the site on 2/17/12 Rick Weiner

19th Century Bottle Diggers




 Orange and Cranberry colored Inks  John April




Beautifully photographed trio showing a utility jar, hat whimsey and ink what might be called a copper puce.  photo Michael George 


 Puce Fells Point/Sloop half-pint flask





 Purple/wine type tone , pink 12 sided op, op puce ink (posted a few days back) and a smooth based lilac purple that looks like watered down welch's grape juice.




The same Washington Taylor portrait flask in a puce coloration, looks to be different colors with studio photography vs window photography. Glass Works Auctions

 Very dark puce H F & B NEW YORK . Meyer collection


 Double Eagle in pink puce


Rare puce soda


        Complements of   Peach Ridge Glass ----  http://www.peachridgeglass.com/




 Duffy's  Malt Whiskey













A plunge Into The Privy

Changing a crappy past



 I was contacted by a fellow digger in Lancaster Pa.He told me that a few young  kids emailed him and had some questions about privy digging. I asked "how old are these kids"? 14 and 15. Wow what a great age to start privy diving! It turns out they were 2 girls "Holly" & "Summer" doing a class project on "The history of the toilet" 

My friend Kerk asked me if I could talk to the kids and answer their questions because I was  closer. They lived 15 minutes from my house.  I was happy to help.But first I did a 10 question interview via email.I had fun with these  questions


(I like how they call it privy diving)

Here are the questions:
1) What is outhouse diving?
2) How long has privy diving been a hobby of yours?
3) About how many outhouses have you dug up?
4) How did you get started outhouse diving?
5) What is the most common artifact that you find in the privy?
6) Why do you think that so many things were dropped into the privy?
7) What are some of the most bizarre things that you have found in the outhouse?
8) Why does privy diving interest you so much?
9) Approximately, how much time does it take to dig up an outhouse?
10) And lastly, do you have another outhouse dive planned?



The kids are doing this as a class project then going to the state regional's.

(Holly) tells it better.

 At the regional History Day Competition in Jim Thorpe (3/16) we will be competing with other students from other schools in our area. There are many categories for the competition, ours an exhibit and we will be presenting our project in front of some judges. This years theme is ?Turning points in history: People, Ideas, Events. Our project title is "Plunge into the Privy" Changing a Crappy Past. We created an outhouse with information inside and out. Moving on from our school competition to regional's we are adding an "interview" panel and that is where you come in to be a resource for us! Talk to you soon.

Thank you for your willingness to be a resource for us!

They came to my house with Holly's father. I answered a lot of questions about "privy "diving" lol that's what they call it. I gave them a 5 gallon bucket full of  old bottles for their project and let them take some pictures of my  collection.

I  have never seen  2 kid that excited about old bottles. Except me  of course.


Here is the top of their Mock outhouse.



Here are a few views of the outhouse the kids made.  It is full size.





Holly and Summer 


      Holly holding my Puce Eagle. Don't drop it kid!!!   


Good luck   


                  "Have Outhouse Will Travel"

       From the pages of  AB&GC  Antique Bottle & Glass collector magazine.

             "Have outhouse with travel" by Holly and Summer.  June 2013.







                                   A little History of the toilet


                                           Toilets in the Ancient World


In the ancient world people were capable of designing quite sophisticated toilets. Stone age farmers lived in a village at Skara Brae in the Orkney islands. Some of their stone huts had drains built under them and some houses had cubicles over the drains. They may have been inside toilets.

In Ancient Egypt rich people had proper bathrooms and toilets in their homes. Toilet seats were made of limestone. Poor people made do with a wooden stool with a hole in it. Underneath was a container filled with sand, which had to be emptied by hand. (If you were wealthy slaves did that!)

In the Indus Valley civilisation (c.2,600-1,900 BC) streets were built on a grid pattern and networks of sewers were dug under them. Toilets were flushed with water.

On the island of Crete the Minoan civilisation flourished from 2,000 to 1,600 BC. They too built drainage systems, which also took sewage. Toilets were flushed with water.

The Romans also built sewers to collect rainwater and sewage. (They even had a goddess of sewers called Cloacina!). Wealthy people had their own toilets but the Romans also built public lavatories. In them there was no privacy just stone seats next to one another without partitions of any kind. Despite the public lavatories many people still went in the street. After using the toilet people wiped their behinds with a sponge on a stick.


                                              Toilets in the Middle Ages 


After the fall of the Western Roman Empire in the 5th century AD sophisticated plumbing disappeared from Europe for centuries. In Saxon times toilets were simply pits in the ground with wooden seats over them. (For ordinary people that remained the case for centuries afterwards).

However in the Middle Ages monks built stone or wooden lavatories over rivers. At Portchester Castle in the 12th century monks built stone chutes leading to the sea. When the tide went in and out it would flush away the sewage.

                            Toilets at Portchester Castle

In castles the toilet was called a garderobe and it was simply a vertical shaft with a stone seat at the top. Some garderobes emptied into the moat. People hung their robes in the garderobe because they believed the smell would ward off moths. In time the word garderobe changed to wardrobe.

In the Middle Ages wealthy people might use rags to wipe their behinds. Ordinary people often used a plant called common mullein or woolly mullein.

                                Toilets in the Modern World


In 1596 Sir John Harrington invented a flushing lavatory with a cistern. However the idea failed to catch on. People continued to use chamber pots or cess pits, which were cleaned by men called gong farmers. (In the 16th century a toilet was called a jakes).

However in 1775 Alexander Cumming was granted a patent for a flushing lavatory. Joseph Brahmah made a better design in 1778.

Thomas Crapper did not invent the flushing toilet. That is a Historical Myth.

However flushing toilets were a luxury at first and they did not become common till the late 19th century. Also popular in the 19th century were earth closets. An earth closet was a box of granulated clay over a pan. When you pulled lever clay covered the contents of the pan. In rural areas flushing lavatories did not replace earth closets until the early 20th century.

In the early 19th century working class homes often did not have their own toilet and had to share one. Sometimes you had to queue to use it.

In the 19th century toilet pans were made of porcelain. They were usually decorated, embossed or painted with attractive colours. Seats were of wood and cisterns were often emptied by pulling a chain. At first toilet bowls were boxed in but the first pedestal toilet bowl was made in 1884. Meanwhile the vacant/engaged bolt for public toilets was patented in 1883.


A toilet bowl from Weald and Downland Museum

However inside toilets were a luxury in the 19th century. In the late 19th century working class homes almost always had outside lavatories. About 1900 some houses were built for skilled workers with bathrooms and inside toilets. However it was decades before inside toilets became universal.

There were public lavatories in the Middle Ages and the 16th century. For instance we know there was one over the River Fleet at London. However public lavatories were rare at that time. Often people went wherever they could. In 1547 people were forbidden to go in the courtyards of royal palaces so presumably it must have been a real nuisance.

The first modern public lavatory, with flushing toilets opened in London in 1852. Meanwhile although toilet paper was used in ancient China toilet paper only went on sale in the west in 1857. At first toilet paper was sold in sheets. It was first sold in rolls in the USA in 1890. It was first sold in rolls in Europe in 1928. Soft toilet paper went on sale in 1942. However after it was invented in the west toilet paper was a luxury. In the early 20th century many families used newspaper.

Today in rich countries we take toilets for granted yet in poor countries millions of people do not have hygienic toilets.

Our word toilet is derived from the French word toilette, which means little cloth. In the 17th century it was a cloth cover for a dressing table, called a toilet table. If a woman was at her toilet it meant she was dressing and preparing her appearance. By the 19th century toilet room or toilet was a euphemism for a certain room.

Our word lavatory comes from the Latin lavare meaning to wash. In the 17th century a lavatory was a place for washing. Later it became a euphemism for a certain room.

On board a ship the toilets are called the heads. Originally they were just wooden boards with holes cut in them hanging over the sides of the ships. They were placed at the head of the ship.

On land there are many euphemisms for toilets. One is 'the smallest room in the house'. An old euphemism for going to the toilet was 'going to spend a penny' because public lavatories used to cost one penny to use.

Today many people in poor countries still do not have adequate sanitation. The World Toilet Organization was formed in 2001 to improve toilets in the developing world.


A timeline of toilets

A brief history of houses

A brief history of washing

A brief history of medicine

A brief history of surgery

A brief history of public health



History of Plumbing in America


Baseball fans take note. Arizona's Hohokam Park in Mesa, Ariz., may ring a bell as the spring training grounds of the Chicago Cubs baseball team. It is named for the far-flung, extinct Hohokam Indians who played their own brand of ball and worked those same fields centuries before.

They were the master farmers of America's Southwest, and engineers of great networks of irrigation canals in the Salt River Valley. They first appeared about 350 B.C., building canals of open ditches, gouged out with stone tools and wooden hoes. The canals spanned almost 250 miles, stimulating trade and commerce between communities of hundreds and thousands of people. No one knows why, whether by climatic upheaval, drought or floods, the Hohokams suddenly vanished in 1450 A.D., well before Columbus discovered America or the Pilgrims landed at Plymouth Rock.

Left: American water pipes originally
were made from bored-out logs like this artifact.

The Pueblo Grande ruins of this lost culture sit in ironic view of the jet planes taking off at the Phoenix airport. Located on East Washington Street, they provide a specter of dry bank canals 80 feet wide and 20 feet deep. Strange trash mounds offer clues of organic wastes, vegetation and shells. And multi-storied "apartment" buildings attest to a condo style of life. But there is no evidence of any piping, latrines or privies. Native Americans, it is explained, have always shunned communal spots for defecation.

New World settlers would copy the Indians casual discharge of waste and refuse in running water, open fields, shrubs or forests. Like their folks back home in Europe, the colonials would also toss garbage and excrement out the front door and windows onto the streets below. The country's first garbage disposers would be hogs and scavengers.

It would be more than midway through the 19th century before young America would develop reasonably efficient water and sewage systems, and for the great invention of the water closet to make an appearance. But our forefathers made up nicely for lost time.
Thanks to the plumbing industry, the United States would set standards in health and safety unsurpassed in the world today. At the forefront was the unsung plumber, the skilled craftsman of lead, expert bell hanger, blacksmith, tool maker, tin and sheet-iron worker.

Closet Lore: Over 2,800 years ago, the fabled King Minos of Crete owned the world's first flushing water closet, complete with a wooden seat. Lost for centuries in the rubble of the palace ruins, the invention did not materialize again until 1594. Then, Sir John Harington built a "prive in perfection" for his godmother, Queen Elizabeth, to use in Richmond Palace, and one for himself at his humbler estate. Once he published his pompous book of terrible puns and off color jokes about the new device in 1596, A New Discourse of a State Subject, Called the Metamorphosis of Ajax, the ridicule and scorn would hound him for the rest of his days, and he never built another one. ("Ajax" was the slang in those days for a privy or "a jakes.") To the world's misfortune, another 200 years would pass before the idea took hold again.

Thus, when the colonists packed for the New World, they probably tucked a chamber pot in among other crockery items and tinware. But to a backwoodsman or a bride of 14, the term "chaise percee" or "commode" often disguised its use. In the early 1800s, a settler's wife reportedly bought several from the new stock at the local store for kitchen and table use.

The privy or outhouse slowly became accepted, albeit a peril for those walking by. One diarist disgustedly wrote: 'Privy houses set against ye Strete which spoiling people's apparill should they happen to be nare when ye filth comes out ... Especially in ye Night when people cannot see to shun them."

From the more humble and ramshackle outhouses of wood emanated more glorious structures. Human nature as it is, some became symbols of distinction as would current bathrooms of the well-to-do. William Byrd?s 1730 outhouse was made of brick and had five holes. Byrd was chief magistrate of the colonial court and thus sat on the largest seat at the center of a raised, semicircular bench. So did Mr. Byrd preside in the family privy.

Dozens of years later a two-story model was built and still stands in Crested Butte, Colo. The upper level was used when heavy snow blocked the first floor. A more typical, single-hole outhouse is found in a replica located in Old Sturbridge, Mass.

How to bring a workable water closet into the house without mess or odor was an invention waiting to be born, however. Some of the country's leading citizens would try to improvise on the basic knowledge of the times.

Thomas Jefferson, for example, devised an indoor privy at his Monticello home by rigging up a system of pulleys. Servants used the device to haul away chamber pots in his earth closet (a wooden box enclosing a pan of wood ashes below, and a seat with a hole cut out at the top). An architect and inventor as well as statesman, Jefferson also built two octagonal outhouses at his retreat at Poplar Forest in Virginia.

In the early 1840s, the architect and designers of New York City's Central Park denounced the outhouse as 'troublesome, unhealthy, indelicate, and ugly." It was all true. They tried to correct this by designing little Gothic structures combining a summer-house with a view of the garden on one side, and a two-holer on the other. Outside of a few private homes, hotels were the bastions of luxury and comfort - and indoor plumbing. In 1829, the brilliant young architect, 26-year-old Isaiah Rogers, sent ripples of awe throughout the country with his innovative Tremont Hotel in Boston. It was the first hotel to have indoor plumbing and became the prototype of a modern, first - class American hotel.

The four-story structure boasted eight water closets on the ground floor, located at the rear of the central court. The court was connected by glazed corridors to the bedroom wings, dining room and rotunda.

The bathrooms in the basement were fitted with cold running water which also went to the kitchen and laundry. The bathtubs were copper or tin and probably had a little side-arm gas furnace attached at one end. Perhaps shaped like a shoe as the French and English models, the water in the tub would flow and circulate backwards until the entire bath was heated to satisfaction.

Since the 1790s, the Northeast had bath houses, but not until this period several decades later would city hotels or new dwellings have baths as well. This simply was not feasible without a suitable water and waste supply system.

In the Tremont, water was drawn from a metal storage tank set on top of the roof, the recently-invented steam pump raising the water on high. A simple water carriage system removed the excretal water to the sewerage system. As with other individual buildings of the time, each had its own source of water and removal.

Five years later in New York City, Rogers surpassed his achievements of the Tremont Hotel.

He built the Astor House with six stories, featuring 17 rooms on the upper floors with water closets and bathrooms to serve 300 guest rooms. The Astor and the Tremont were the first modern buildings built with extensive plumbing. (In contrast, the Statler Hotel in Buffalo caused a sensation in 1908 by offering 'A room with a bath for a dollar and a half.')

Rogers the architect was in very good company. His former employer was Solomon Willard, who had developed the first widely-used American system of central heating.

In the 1830s, at least one private house, a James River mansion, had a wood-fired hot air heating system. Heat wafted up to the first floor via handsome brass registers. Ladies of New York City's High Society wasted no time in flocking to the parlor after dinner to stand over its registers for warmth.

Central heating, however, was generally confined to the public rooms and hallways. Guest rooms were still heated during this period by parlor stoves and fireplaces. This lack of heat throughout the home retarded the development of bathrooms.

Our Dirty Forerunners: It was said that no house in Quincy, Mass., had a bathroom before 1820. When the temperature of a bedroom dips below the freezing point, there is no satisfaction in bathing.

Most Colonial bathing consisted of occasional dips in ponds or streams. Typical was a quote from Elizabeth Drinker, the wife of a highly-placed Philadelphia Quaker. She had a shower (probably a bucket arrangement) put up in her backyard for therapeutic use in 1799. She said, 'I bore it better than I expected, not having been wett all over at once, for 28 years past."

Left: A Copper lined closet, with oak high tank and seat.

When bathing did become the rage, it evolved over quack hygiene rather than cleanliness. Then there emerged a blend of latrine and spa just like in Merrie Old England.

In shaping the customs of fashionable Britain, one historian commented that dueling probably killed fewer people than the spas springing up in various parts of the country. If the mineral waters tasted or smelled foul enough, people believed they could cure anything that ailed them. In the latter 1770s, Colonials would soak and sip in fashion as their counterparts at Bath or Spa, England, imitating the good society of the Old Country.

Warm Springs, Pa., in 1775 drew people from all over, taking in the waters. Some lived in cabins, all cooking at a common fire. Gentile boarding houses and pumps were built, and dancing rooms added to the pleasantries. The adjacent mosquito-rich swamps were drained, and the church was enlarged to keep pious visitors happy.

A Dr. Benjamin Rush had the bad luck to have a well with horrible-tasting water in his back yard. The whole town flocked to it to cure all kinds of ailments. When the over-pumped well went dry, the people learned too late that the well connected to the doctor's privy.

Many thought bathing was a health hazard. In 1835, the Common Council of Philadelphia almost banned wintertime bathing (the ordinance failed by two votes). Ten years later, Boston forbade bathing except on specific medical advice.

Poor water supply contributed to this attitude. The bathtub had to be filled and emptied with a hand pump and pail. It was too onerous a chore.

But by 1845, the installation of sanitary sewers began to pay off with an outlet for waste water, indoor plumbing and working water closets were getting closer to fruition. Unfortunately, bad plumbing and the stench from open sewer connections made some new homes uninhabitable.

Early in the 19th century, the stack was vented through the roof, but no one knew how to properly size the pipe. Usually the size was understated. Many vent pipes were so small they would clog up with frost during the winter. Not long after, a crown vent was added, i.e., the connection was made at the top of the vent.

In 1874, there was a tremendous breakthrough when an unknown plumber solved the problem of venting. He suggested balancing the air pressure in the system with the outside atmospheric pressure to prevent the siphonage or blowout of a water seal in the traps. He installed 1/2" pipe at the traps and extended the pipe outside. It worked for a little while, but then the vent clogged and the stench returned. Through trial and error, the plumbers learned to increase the size of the pipe.

Boring Business: Early settlers knew nothing of lead or iron pipe - they knew only to build with wood, the country's bounty.

Water pipes were made of bored-out logs, preferably felled from hemlock or elm trees. The trees would be cut into seven-to-nine-foot lengths, their trunks around 9-10" thick.

Wooden pipe laid below ground created several problems however, especially in larger settlements or towns. Uneven ground below the joists would cause sags in the log where water would stagnate, infest with insects, and generally leave a woody taste.

The borers themselves were colorful characters who usually traveled in pairs from town to town bringing news and gossip of the area as they went about their job. With a five-foot steel auger between them, a handle at one end, they would fix the log by eye, size it up with a point of the ax, and drill or bore out the center. Ramming one end to make a conical shape, they would jam the logs together in a series, using a bituminous-like pitch or tar to caulk the joists. Sometimes they would split the log and hollow it out, put it together, connect the logs with iron hoops, or get the blacksmith to caulk the logs with lead.

They would set up a gravity water system, starting from a spring or stream on high ground, allowing water to flow downhill to the house or farm. It would cut a path back of the house, through the barn, and flow into a catch basin.

In 1652, Boston incorporated the country's first waterworks, formed to provide water for firefighting and domestic use. As fire was a common hazard in those days of wood-framed houses and stores, and chimney fires always a risk, it was imperative that a ready supply be on hand.

The line supplying water to Boston's wharves and other buildings ran from Jamaica Pond to the Faneuil Hall area, the meeting place for the Massachusetts rebels who held their Boston Tea Party in the nearby harbor on Dec.16, 1773. Just recently a section of a wooden water main was removed from that same vicinity. The log measured 22 feet long, the bore a 4" I.D. for the lower half of the tree, and 2-1/2" in the upper. Common with early wood pipe, the tree's natural forks branched out in wyes and tees.

In 1795, the Jamaica Pond Aqueduct Corp. followed through with 15 miles more of 3" and 5" wooden water pipe of bored logs, again using hemlock trees for construction. Since open wells provided easy access to contamination from nearby privies, the new supply of fresh water contributed to a lower death rate.

Crude by almost anyone's standards, these new pipelines were nonetheless invaluable to firefighters. They would punch a hole into the wooden pipe along the edge of the street, insert a smaller pipe, pre-sized to fit the newly bored hole and harness the hose of their fire wagon, a two man pumper. The fire out, they would plug up the hole again with a pre-cut conical stopper on the end of a long pole, insert it into the hole, and bang it shut. This was the "fireplug", the wooden pole left sticking out of the ground marking the plug, ready to be pulled out for the next chimney fire.

Wooden pipes were common until the early 1800s when the increased pressure required to pump water into rapidly expanding streets began to split the pipes A change was made to iron.

Waterworks Come Of Age: In 1804, Philadelphia earned the distinction as the first city in the world to adopt cast iron pipe for its water mains. It was also the first city in America to build large scale waterworks as it drew upon the ample supply of the Schuykill River. A friendly neighbor, Philadelphia sold its cast-off wooden pipe to Burlington, N.J., where it remained in use until 1887, when larger mains were required.

Those were the days when the science of medicine was in its infancy, and misguided notions of causes of disease ruled the day. Philadelphia was motivated to clean up its city and draw upon a new supply of water in the mistaken belief that yellow fever was caused by the city?s polluted wells rather than the bite of the mosquito. Yellow fever hit Philadelphia in 1793 with an impact like the Great Plagues of London.

Efficient waterworks depends on pumps. Prior to steam power in the 1800s, water wheels harnessed river flow to raise the water. On the frontier and on farms, windmills and simple hydraulic pumps provided the most efficient means of pumping water for the entire farmyard. A storage tank large enough to hold two or three days' supply of water would be mounted on the upper floor of the barn, water then piped to individual locations

By the latter 1800s, windmills would still be, in full force -- their new and better workings keeping the farmers son from the lure of the big city. Who could resist this 1893 sale pitch from Aermotor Company:

"Many a farmer?s boy has been content to remain home through the great assistance rendered him by the Geared Aermotor. This tireless worker not only pumps water, but turns the grindstone, saws the wood, shells corn, chums, and a dozen other things that are most disagreeable to the boy, and that would tend to discourage him and make him discontented."

But metropolitan cities require more than windmills or simple hydraulic pumps to generate a water supply for an entire population, especially for those in the throes of the Industrial Revolution. The population of Chicago, for example, soared from 350 people in 1835 to over 60,000 by mid-century. In 1869, the city unveiled a new engineering feat that made newspaper headlines around the world.

Left: An early 20th century outhouse with a fanciful design.

The Chicago Waterpower supplied the city with water via a twin-tunnel system which extended two miles out into Lake Michigan. Offshore, the clear lake water entered an underwater shaft leading to the tunnel below the lake bed, the intake shaft protected by a wooden crib.

The first tunnel, completed in 1869, contained a massive three foot-wide, 138-foot-tall standpipe which equalized pressure in the mains throughout the city?s water system. The building was miraculously spared in the Great Chicago Fire of 1871, and still stands as a monument to the city?s past.

Coal-fired, steam-driven engines drew water from the tunnel beneath the lake. They provided 15 million gallons per day into the city's water mains. When the pumping station was modernized in 1906 and new engines installed, the standpipe was removed. The station today contains six powerful engines which pump 72.5 million gallons on an average day.

Sewers, PLEASE: Although Chicago is credited with having the first comprehensive sewerage project in the country (designed by E. S. Chesbrough in 1885), the already teeming city of New York provided the general model for the development of water supply and sewage disposal systems across the country.

Water was always at a premium in Manhattan, from day one of its purchase from the Indians in 1626. A bucket of water had to be hand-drawn and carried from springs or wells. Those too far away relied on peddlers who made rounds selling water by the bucket, off water carts or barrels. Later, water would be rationed at street pumps or hydrants which would operate frequently during the day.

Waste and garbage thrown onto the streets created abominable conditions, though people were merely following centuries old customs. They were compounded by privy stations set against buildings whose "cleanup" presented even more problems. As early as 1700, concerned officials passed an ordinance prohibiting scavengers from dumping "tubs of filth" in the streets.

But driving wells and digging cisterns to collect water were still the primary means of procuring water throughout most settlements. However, water was not a popular beverage during those early days. A little girl from Barbados boarding with her grandmother in 1714 while the eight-year-old attended school in Boston, complained to her father that grandmother was making her drink water. Dad wrote back and insisted that she get beer or wine as befitting her station.

This distaste for water probably harkened back to the medieval notion that water caused the chills, plague and all sorts of ailments. The more likely reason was that the privy and the local well were too close together and spawned cholera and typhoid instead of good taste and purity.

In the early 1700s, New York, as did Boston, had constructed a wooden pipe system under the roads, and sold water at street pumps or hydrants. It would take New York another 25 years to lay underground sewers for storm water as well.

Another 50 years passed before New York constructed a truly viable public waterworks system. In this plan, well water was pumped to an above-ground reservoir and distributed via water mains of cast iron. The main carried the water to fire hydrants along the narrow streets. But five years later, the system broke down in the chaos of the great New York fire of 1835, which destroyed 530 buildings. The water supply could not cope with the demand of the firefighters.

In response to the needs of its firefighters and to provide potable water for the already teeming population, the city revamped its designs and developed a more sound, pressurized system.

Completed in 1842, the Croton Aqueduct System transported water from a huge reservoir in Croton, 40 miles north of the city, to a secondary reservoir on 42nd Street, and to another in Central Park. They fed into a network of underground mains. Now it was possible to supply buildings with running water. However, except for a simple water carriage operation, there was no provision for waste water.

Engineer Julius W. Adams provided the framework upon which modern sewerage is based. In 1857, Adams was commissioned to sewer the city of Brooklyn, which then covered 20 square miles. There was no data available in proportioning sewers for the needs of the people. Yet, working from scratch, Adams developed guidelines and designs that made modern sanitary engineering possible. More importantly, he published the results. By the end of the century, how-to textbooks would be available for towns and cities to use all across the country.

The pieces to the puzzle of good plumbing had finally come together; proper venting, waterworks and sewers brought the closet indoors to stay. American potters duplicated the successes of their English predecessors, and then some. Finally, the mass production line brought down the cost of production of fixtures, fittings and valves, making them affordable and available from the rich on down. With the final correlation between disease and water borne bacteria the impetus to plumbing was complete.

The Closet Evolves: The development of the water closet in the United States parallels the experience of England where the modern closet was invented. But until the development of a one piece toilet with no metal parts, the closet would continue to be a source of contamination and a health hazard.

Like in England, the conical-shaped hopper was invented first. It set into a lead trap that was placed under the floor. Flushed by a valve directly connected to the bowl, it readily became a source of contamination.

Next came the pan closet, consisting of an upper earthenware basin and a shallow copper pan containing 3-5" of water as a seal at its base. It could be tipped to discharge the contents into a lower, large cast-iron receptacle connected to the drainage system. The metal pan operated on hinges, activated by a lever.

The washdown closet followed the principle of pan closets. The water was flushed by a direct line from a storage tank in the attic. Pull the handle in the closet, and it opened a valve at the top of the chamber. It was connected by a copper wire. The water flowed until the handle was released. It scored a complete flush as the water struck against a piece of sheet lead inside the bowl and caused a spray in all directions.

Unlike earlier models, a short hopper closet followed that was set on a tray, and the trap was placed above the floor. Originally made of stoneware, it was practically impervious. But later on, fireclay closets would be passed off to unwary customers.

The first American patent for a plunger closet is attributed to William Campbell and James T. Henry in 1857. It resembled the twin-basin water closets deplored by the great English engineer, S.S. Hellyer. The mechanism was unsanitary, as was the trapless closet of George Jennings.

John Randall Mann, an American, developed a siphonic closet in 1870. Three pipes delivered water into the basin; one fed the flushing rim around the basin?s edge, one discharged about a half gallon rapidly into the basin and started the siphonic action, and the third provided the after flush.

William Smith developed a jet siphon closet in 1876. It was carried still further by the famous American sanitary engineer Col. George E. Waring, Jr., into larger and more complicated pieces of sanitary ware.

Thomas Kennedy, another American, patented a siphonic closet which required only two delivery pipes, one to flush the rim, the other to start the siphon. William Howell improved it in 1890, when he eliminated the lower trap without detriment to the action.

Ten years later, Robert Frame and Charles Neff of Newport R.I., produced the prototype of America?s siphonic washdown closet, although it sometimes failed to develop the necessary action and the contents overflowed. Another decade passed before a redesigned bowl by Fred Adee would spur the production of the siphonic closet in America.

In the early 19th century, U.S. production of the closet was inferior to the English, and most closets were imported. By 1873, 43 British firms, including Twyford, Doulton, and Shanks were exporting high-quality closets to the U.S.

Left: A luxury bathroom of the 1890s would feature wood-encased fixtures in Victorian splendor.

By century?s end, U.S. manufacturers caught up with the Europeans, and American products began to swamp this market. The American sanitary industry was said to have been born when pottery maker and decorator Thomas Maddock teamed up with his friend William Leigh. The timing was none to soon, because importing English materials was a very costly endeavor.

It was tough to convince fellow Americans to buy American products, however, so Maddock carefully stamped each closet with a lion and a unicorn, and the following inscription: "Best Stafford Earthenware made for the American market."

Harington had suggested a basin of brick, stone or lead dressed with pitch, resin or wax. Since then, stoneware, earthenware, fireclay and vitreous enameled porcelain led the way. Salt glazing was an early breakthrough; the process covered the materials with an impervious glaze which offered new resistance to stain and liquid.

Decorations were confined first to the bowl?s interior because the wooden surround precluded any outside design-no one would see it. When the washout and the washdown models were now exposed in their entirety, the water closet became not only a functional product but an artistic one as well. The outside bowl could be embossed or colored for esthetic choice.

Pedestal models proved most popular, highlighted with elaborate patterns and fanciful names. Popular examples were the English Lion and the Dolphin models. The Dolphin curled up into letter S, the bowl in the shape of a fluted shell. (Carvings of dolphins had separated the seats used by the Roman soldiers in the privy at Timgad, an ancient Roman city in what is now Algeria.) A Dolphin water closet of Edward Johns & Co. won a Golden Award for design at the Great Philadelphia Exhibition in 1876. (The company today, Armitage Shanks, has reproduced the original "Dolphin Suite", complete with mahogany toilet seat, vanity doors and polished brass taps and fittings.)

Underglaze patterns became popular, too, as well as hand-painted patterns of birds, flowers and fruit. Usually applied after the glazing, particularly with fireclay and similar materials, these underglaze decorations were less permanent. Gilding was the most expensive decoration: a specially-prepared gold, ground down with alloys and flux, compounded with turpentine and oil base, was applied by brush on an already embossed pattern.

Without extensive piping and adequate sewer and supply systems, however, the "modern" water closet would have gone the way of Harington?s old relics. Early American plumbers, unschooled in the impressive engineering feats of their old Roman forerunners, would have to learn on their own how to build and construct comparable supply and waste systems. The method was still trial-and-error.

Bathrooms Come Of Age: For the well-to-do, an unused bedroom converted into the novel bathroom. The practice probably foreshadowed the trend of present-day "empty-nesters" to make unused bedrooms into fitness and relaxation centers. By the mid-1850s, however, finer new homes were being designed with separate bathrooms.

Benjamin Franklin is said to have imported the first bathtub to America. Brought over from France in the 18th century, this early creation was made of sheet copper shaped like a shoe, and hand-filled by bucket. A more common model would be in the shape of a mummy's tomb, all wood and six feet long.

Left: An earth closet used indoors used fresh earth or ashes on the bottom of the wood structure to absorb odors.

The popularity of tub-bathing grew as the country flourished and expanded. For example, only 200 people resided in Tucson, Ariz., in 1865. By 1871, however, the town would boast 3,000 people, a newspaper, a brewery, two doctors, several saloons and one bathtub.

But the country's first bathtub with fittings was commissioned by a Mr. Thompson of Cincinnati, Ohio, in 1842. He envied the invention of Britain?s Lord John Russell and had the same tub duplicated for himself. The tub was encased in mahogany and lined with sheet lead. It measured 7'x 4', and weighed nearly one ton.

The fittings connected to two pipes running from the attic tank. One pipe carried cold water, the other was a hot water pipe that coiled down the chimney. The water heated as it passed through the coil.

Grander bathtubs a century later were encased in paneled or embossed wood. Big, brass fixtures were bold and showy in Victorian splendor. George Vanderbilt's bathroom of 1855 boasted a porcelain tub, and featured exposed pipe for all to see, the fittings reduced to a neat arrangement. Those with money tried to emulate Queen Victoria's bathroom where, it was said, the controls looked like those for a battleship.

The old Saturday night bath in front of the kitchen fire or potbellied stove was of tin or copper. Lead "gave way" to cast iron, which in turn was the forerunner of the modern enameled iron tub. Now we can add porcelain enameled iron and steel and acrylic, too.

By the turn of the century, a luxury bathroom would be a grand-sized room, outfitted with a 5-foot enameled tub, shower bath and receptor, sitz bath, foot bath, pedestal lavatory and siphon jet closet. Including all the fittings, trim and traps, the cost would come to $542.50. (Heavy tasseled drapes and stained glass windows were extra, of course. Although patterned wallpaper would yield to tile on the walls and the floor, the big area carpet would remain.)

When Johnny came marching home after the wars, builders could not keep up with the demand for housing. A land shortage in the throes of urban development sparked cubbyhole apartments and smaller homes than before. Tract housing would be one answer; downsizing the bathroom in sacrifice for more space was another tradeoff. Pedestal lavs disappeared as vanities with storage cabinets below topped the trend. Today, the reverse is true - bathrooms are bigger, and the fixtures more imposing than ever. And, at least two bathrooms are a must in most new houses.

Today, there are tubs for two and oversized tubs with accompanying oversized faucets, and lavs constructed from all materials including marble and precious stone. Where chrome and nickel plated faucets stood, luxury materials such as gold, malachite, tiger's eye, onyx and polished granite would take their place. In such a setting, King Midas might well turn green with envy.

The growth of plumbing in America was phenomenal. In one 25-year period, from 1929 to 1954, sales by distributors of plumbing products and heating equipment rose from $498 million to $2.33 billion, a whopping 367% increase.

And manufacturers would cater to the increased demand with myriad choices of materials, colors and styles. Forerunners of great plumbing companies today would make their first appearances in the 1890s: Crane Co., National Tube Works (U.S. Steel), Ahrens & Ott and American Radiator (predecessor companies of American-Standard), and the Kohler Company, to name just a few. The single-handle mixing faucets so commonplace today are actually less than 50 years old. Al Moen is credited with the design for a double-valve faucet with a cam to control the two valves that he made in 1937. He refined the design into a cylinder with a piston action. Continued refinement has led to the replaceable cartridge, push-button diverter, back-to-back installation, swivel spray and pressure balancing valve.

Stainless steel is also a relative newcomer to the surging market of plumbing materials, perhaps exemplified by the growth of Elkay Mfg. Originally incorporated to manufacture pantry sinks of German silver and polished copper, Elkay added a line of d steel scullery sinks in 1921. By the 1950s, the company was spurring lines of sinks and faucets in stainless steel that would become mainstays of the plumbing industry.

Flexible water supplies are fairly recent developments as well. They were pioneered by Robert M. Zell the founder of Brass-Craft Mfg., back in 1939.

But today's manufacturers are not content to rest on past successes, as research and development produce better pipes, valves, fittings and fixtures. In the 19th century, plumbers used plain or tin lined lead piping for cold-water service, but they also had a choice of tin-lined, galvanized, enameled or rubber-coated wrought iron piping. Copper tubing was added after World War 1, and now plastic under certain conditions.

Left: This wooden box encloses a square water closet from early American days.

It seems that the wonders of the Ancient World and the Old Roman Empire have come full circle. Presently under construction is a grand hotel complex in Scottsdale, Arizona. It is patterned after the Hanging Gardens of Babylon. There will be 10 pools, 28 fountains, 47 waterfalls, a man-made sand beach and a Roman-style aqueduct. Under the watchful eye of the old Hohokam spirits, about 28 basic plumbing systems will be used to make this feat possible.

Of Codes And Men: It was only after the Civil War that the germ theory of disease was proven true, that contagion could be traced to contaminated water supply and unsanitary waste disposal. With waves of cholera, typhus and typhoid fever sweeping the country, the people turned to the resources of government to investigate the causes.

The English Public Health Code of 1848 became a model plumbing code for the world to follow. Twenty years later, the New York Metropolitan Board of Health was formed, the first such health board in the United States. Two years later, its Metropolitan Health Law was considered the most complete health legislation in the world. The nature of ground water was studied, as were drainage, sewage, water supply, waste disposal and location and characteristics of water closets. The plumber, long vilified in early years, saw his status upgraded to that of the Sanitarians

The idea of sanitary plumbing systems within buildings was an American development that soon spread throughout Europe. Over the next two decades and more, plumbing health codes expanded coverage to encompass examination, and licensing.

Trade associations were formed, spearheading plumbing ordinances and laws for regulations and examination. Master plumbers, while they had developed methods of trapping and venting to guard against contamination, had no real knowledge of hydraulic principles. So they installed systems they didn't understand or know how to design. Standards had to be proposed, and lessons in business management learned.

Appropriately, the National Association of PHCC (formerly the National Association of Master Plumbers), first met in committee in 1883 at the old Astor House, the hotel that provided the impetus to modern plumbing back in 1834. Many new plumbing inventions had appeared and too many plumbers were ill-prepared. Close on their heels would be the Mechanical Contractors Association of America, the American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air Conditioning Engineers, and the American Society of Sanitary Engineering.

Wholesalers banded together, too starting programs to prod manufacturers into standardizing such things as sink and basin outlets, faucet drilling, trap gauges, etc. The Central Supply Association, for example, was formed in 1894 and soon made contacts with the old Eastern Supply Association, the Plumbers Association of New England and the National Association of Master Plumbers. But it would take another 30 years to accomplish the standardization on which everybody takes for granted today.

An outbreak of amoebic dysentery in Chicago during the 1933 World's Fair was traced to faulty plumbing in two hotels. Tragic results were 98 deaths and 1,409 official cases. One year later, Major Joel Connolly, Chief Inspector of the Chicago Bureau of Sanitary Engineering, spoke these prophetic words:

"One of the lessons to be drawn from the amoebic dysentery outbreak ... is that plumbing demands the very best, painstaking effort that thoroughly qualified, certified plumbers can give in every building, and especially where the systems are complicated and extensive, and where large numbers of people may be affected by contamination of water."



  A little history and facts about outhouses and digging bottles.




In the 1700 and 1800s even into the 1900?s there was no plumbing. No running water or no trash pick up. People had "outhouses" in their back yards. Where ever they lived, rich or poor, in cities, towns or the country people had to use the outhouse.


 The city and town folks had no where to go with their trash. There was no trash pick up like we have today. So the outhouse holes were used as trash pits, along with using them as "bathrooms? People would go out and dump trash, garbage, bottles and what ever they had to dispose of down the outhouse hole. In a months time or so ?cleaners? would come and clean some of the trash and crap out to make room for more trash and more human waste this practice was better known as "dipping" they dipped out as much as much as they could to make more room for more, and then did it over again in a month or two. The people who provided this service were sometimes called "Honey Dippers" sweet name huh?  Now that?s a Ewwwwwwawful job! They were also known as ?Night men? and Night crawlers? because this practice was performed at night while everyone slept to spare the town from the god awful smell. They called the bad smell ?Offal? they believed the stench was causing wide spread diseases. When in reality the crap from the outhouses was the culprit. There is a whole other chapter on this subject which I will add to my web page soon. It will be in ?Sanitation 101?


The artifacts we find in "privies" are the stuff that the "dippers" missed while cleaning out the privy vault. Think about it, would you want to spend any amount of time suspended over an outhouse hole digging out crap and crap coated trash? They missed a lot of the stuff because they worked fast; they wanted to get in and out. Thank god for that, they saved some bottles for us. J


  One hundred and fifty years would go by, the days of the privy were gone, and then along comes the privy diggers of the future, that would be us.

  We always pray for a lazy dipper and hope he left a lot of stuff behind. All of the paper and trash that was biodegradable back then vanished over all of those years but the bottles and other non perishable items remained. That is the stuff we dig up. The crap and the mucky stuff turn?s into a black mulch type of material. It?s harmless and does not smell. Well it does have a slight smell, but I like it. !

    Home owners in the 19th century would sprinkle on (night soil) a dry red type of  clay to keep the smell down and to soak up the wetness. When the privies reached their usefulness, 10 to 15 years later, they were filled in and forgotten, it was out of sight forever. That is until the privy diggers of the 21st century came along to dig them out and find the old bottles.



Privies are like time capsules in peoples back yards. The home owners of the 21st century walk by these buried time capsule everyday on their way through their back yards, not having a clue what kind of history is buried just a few yards from their back doors.




Privies in a country setting were a bit different. The people living out in county had a lot of places to dump their garbage besides the outhouse. There were usually a lot of woods and open fields near by for this purpose. The privy rarely got used for garbage disposal. So if you are looking for bottles on a farm property, look for the dump and forget about the privy. I am not saying there might not be anything in a farm privy I am just saying your best bet to find bottles is the ?farm dumps? A lot of ?non bottle diggers? often get the impression that if the outhouse is standing there are going to be bottles in the pit. For one thing, a standing outhouse is a sign to me that it is way to new to dig.  Just because you (see) an outhouse does not mean it is old. Go ahead and dig one tell me about the smell when you do.

  We look for the dates when old homes were built, then try and find where the old outhouse was located in the yard. That is my method for the city?s and towns.      


In the country, it?s a whole other ballgame. Look for the dump! Most farm homesteads are old, going back into the 1800?s they had to dump somewhere and it wasn?t in the outhouse. I am writing this from experience. I have never dug a good outhouse in the country/farm sector. I go straight for the dump sites now.      



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--------------------------out·house -
1. A small, enclosed structure having one or two holes in a seat built over a pit and serving as an outdoor toilet. 
2. An outbuilding, as on a farm. 
--------------------------priv·y -
1. A necessary house or place; a backhouse. 

dug burner
Remains of a privy-
dug prong burner by
Manhattan Brass Co.?
    privy-dug kerosene lamps     
The Outhouse Connection


Outhouse, Robert AuBuchonThe Outhouse or Privy [click here to enlarge]
Photograph courtesy of Robert AuBuchon

As a young boy growing up during the 1960's in rural north-western Pennsylvania, I have vivid memories of these icons from the past - the outhouse. All of my paternal grand- and great-grandparents lived in the country. My grandma Mary Edminster lived on a farm in Cambridge Springs. Although she had running water and indoor plumbing, the outhouse, just off the beaten path down the hill toward the stream and barn, was still used well into my teenage years. Just up the dirt road and over the hill lived my great-grandparents, the Hutsons. They did not have the modern conveniences. I recall a hand pump at the kitchen sink and one out in the front yard for water and the proverbial outhouse for, well, you know. My great-grandma Mittie Marrie Hutson made the absolute best dinner rolls - the kind with three lobes that looks like a baker's hat - but that's another story. My great grandma and grandpa, Sadie and Dale Edminster, did have the full compliment of indoor amenities, but we still used the outhouse at the end of the driveway, between the house and the barn, as long as I can recall visiting them at that location.


A Primer on Privies...
"The location was usually determined by the easiest digging spot and how fast you needed to get there. Old-timers would line the hole with a wooden crib to keep the sides from caving in. Later stones, brick and hydraulic cement were employed to keep the hole intact and in some required locations, provide a water-tight seal, hence the term "privy vault" found in municipal ordinances. Besides the standard bench with one or more holes, a trough or funnel may have been attached to one side, directing liquid wastes to the hole below. To add a touch of class, a toilet seat may have been installed. Nothing quite like a little sliver in the right place to get your attention."1
-- Mike Reilly

By now, many of you are probably wondering what a dissertation on outhouses is doing on this lighting web site. Well, it's this - a common item recovered by bottle diggers from privy digs are the remains of oil lamps. That's right, lamps in the outhouse pit. It turns out that privy pits are a potential bonanza for diggers. Bottles, jars and other artifacts are common, 

A nice privy dug fount and base, Ellipse Band and Fine Rib pattern on the fount, circa late 1860's or early 1870's 
Photo: Mike Cothern

but it was the lamp connection that piqued my interest. And when you think about it, it just makes perfect sense. Many trips to the privy were made after nightfall, the occupant often guided through the darkness by the flickering glow of a hand lamp or lantern. In all but rare cases, it was likely accidental that a lamp ended up in the pit - carelessly knocked off the wooden seat or shelf and sent tumbling through the hole to its murky grave. I'm sure many were abandoned then and there, without any further debate, rather than be retrieved from that dismal fate! The above lamp, dug by Mike Cothern, was recovered from a brick lined privy that had bottles in it dating back to the mid-1860's. (Read Mike's story below.) There is no significant damage to this lamp except a small flake on the base, which would indicate its accidental demise. Unless the connector was broken, there would be no reason to discard it. Most of the connector had been eaten away over the years, but a small amount does remain attached to the base. Displayed as-is or restored, this lamp would certainly make for interesting conversation.


The Thrill of the Hunt...
About 3 weeks ago we started probing for a privy or well on a lot that used to have a big old two story house on it. We'd been looking at this old house for years. We could tell that at one time these people had money. Anyway, we finally had our chance. We probed and probed. We finally hit a good spot. It was evening time so we decided to dig a test hole to make sure that it was what we were hoping it was. We dug into it and the dirt was solid black on the top. We went about 2-1/2 feet down and found a round brick lining. Boy was our blood pumping! We just knew we were going to get some good bottles and no telling what else. We filled it back in to be ready for us the next morning. We arrived the next morning after our restless night of anticipation and immediately got our shovels out and hurried to the spot. We started digging and kept digging. Finally after about six feet down we started hitting glass. We wanted to find at least broken pieces so that we could determine the age of this privy. We picked up a couple of pieces and right away we knew we were in an 1860's privy! One of the broken bottles that came up was a very good flask from Nashville. Well, we went down about three more feet digging some whole unembossed bottles, but nothing fantastic like we thought it should have been. Then in the next couple of feet (about ten or eleven feet down) we were digging Drakes Bitters, Pig Bitters, and other great broken pieces. My partner got in the hole and he pulled up a golf ball sized swirl marble, an 1845 large cent, and then he shouted up and said that he had an oil lamp. I asked "Is it whole?" He said "No, but let me see if I can find the rest of it." After about ten more minutes of digging he shouted up again "I got the kerosene holder." I said "Alright!" He put it in the bucket and I pulled it up and we put it in the front seat of the truck. We kept on digging down to around thirteen feet, but we didn't do as great as we thought that we would. We filled our hole back in and came back the next day to search for the next great hole.
-- Mike Cothern


Privy-dug Oil LampsA clear finger lamp in the Diamond Sunburst pattern and a cobalt NUTMEG night lamp.

Pictured to the left are two finger lamps from upstate New York that were dug from old outhouse pits. They are both missing their handles, neither of which was located with their respective fount. The blue lamp shows significant staining and some substantial scratches and its collar is missing, the other collar is still quite usable. The fact that the rest of the lamp was not recovered raises the question of how often these pits were just used for incidental trash. Perhaps we'll never know.


Outhouses and the Historical Record...
"When a privy was used, and never disturbed, it is a chronological record. The ground surface is the present. The bottom is the date it went into use. As it is excavated. each layer represents a time period. I have dug privies that represented a fifty year time frame. Obviously they were very deep. Bottles, and artifacts clearly, according to layer at each depth were in chronological order. It is like reading a book. You can tell a lot about the users. According to the products they used, how they fared financially. Whether they imbibed or not. What ailments they suffered...medicine bottles."2
-- Charles M. Cook

The two TRIUMPH lamp burners shown here were found buried in a trash pit in an early 1800's farmhouse in southwestern Pennsylvania. The foundation of the house was stacked stone (no mortar) and was deteriorating. The owner unearthed the indoor trash pit when he was excavating around the foundation to make repairs. The pit was three to four feet in diameter and nearly six feet deep.

Trash pit burnersA pair of TRIUMPH burners from Benedict & Burnham Mfg. Co. from a cellar trash pit

While most of the discernible contents were bottles, fruit jars and similar glass items from the late 1800's, there were also a number of tools, hardware and implements recovered. I was fortunate to have been entrusted with these burners by the owner. These burners are in relatively good shape except for the deflectors which are badly deteriorated on the one side. These were patented in 1878 and manufactured by the Benedict & Burnham Manufacturing Company. One wonders if this damage was the result of being buried in damp earth for many years, or if the damage occurred through use, and were ultimately discarded. If the reason was the latter, it must have been the thin metal of the deflector that burned through with use - a certain flaw in the production process, otherwise there would have been no logical reason to throw them away.


Digging around old outhouses and privy pits is not the ideal Saturday or Sunday afternoon for everyone. To coin an old phrase, "Is a dirty job, but somebody has to do it!" As long as there are bottle diggers and unexcavated outhouse sites, I'm certain that more old lamps will once again see the light of day. 



End Notes & References
  • 1 Mike Reilly, The World & Milwaukee Early Sanitation History - Outhouses, Privies, Scavengers & Sewers, April 7, 2003, 
    < http://www.chiptin.com/antiqibles/outhouse_privy.htm > 
  • 2 Charles M. Cooke, The Outhouses of America Tour, April 16, 2004
    < http://www.jldr.com/ohdigger.html > 
  • A personal "Thank you" to Robert AuBuchon for permission to use his photograph, and to Mike Cothern for sharing his account of the dig and for the lamp photograph.

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19th Century postcards reveal how French artists thought we'd be living in 2000 (and they correctly predicted video phone calls)


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Sometimes it can be hard to keep up with the pace of chance in modern day society.

But clearly things haven't changed as dramatically as a group of French artists from the 19th Century expected.

A set of postcards designed by the artists - produced between 1899 and 1910 - try to predict what life would be like in Paris in the year 2000.

Odd: A set of postcards designed by French artists - produced between 1899 and 1910 - tried to predict what life would be like in Paris in the year 2000. And bizarrely they thought we would be playing croquet underwater, pictured

Odd: A set of postcards designed by French artists - produced between 1899 and 1910 - tried to predict what life would be like in Paris in the year 2000. And bizarrely they thought we would be playing croquet underwater, pictured


Futuristic: In this image, a woman runs screaming from a burning building with her baby. But instead of fireman clambering up tall ladders to reach her, the brave officers are able to fly

Futuristic: In this image, a woman runs screaming from a burning building with her baby. But instead of fireman clambering up tall ladders to reach her, the brave officers are able to fly


Strange: This postcard shows a group of tourists taking an underwater tour on a bus - pulled by an enormous tame blue whale

S This postcard shows a group of tourists taking an underwater tour on a bus - pulled by an enormous tame blue whale

And there are some fairly bizarre scenes, to say the least.

The year 2000 may have been and gone - but no-one has yet invented a flying fireman, or started playing croquet underwater.




Another of the quirky postcards shows a group of tourists taking an underwater tour on a bus - pulled by an enormous tame blue whale.

And while Parisians haven?t as yet replaced the fireplace in their homes with sticks of glowing radium, as one portrait shows, there are some portraits which aren?t too far off the mark.

Different: The postcards, distributed widely around France in cigarette boxes at the turn of the last century, were produced by Jean-Marc Cote, and various other artists. This shows an odd version of a helicopter

DifThe postcards, distributed widely around France in cigarette boxes at the turn of the last century, were produced by Jean-Marc Cote, and various other artists. This shows an odd version of a helicopter


Imaginative: The first series were produced for the 1900 World Exhibition in Paris - and were so popular that eventually 87 different cards were produced.

Imaginative: The first series were produced for the 1900 World Exhibition in Paris - and were so popular that eventually 87 different cards were produced. As well as predicting underwater croquet, the artists also thought flying tennis would be a game


Proved right: Some of the postcards are not so ridiculous - and the artists even appear to have invented an early form of modern technology. Pictured is a video phone

P Some of the postcards are not so ridiculous - and the artists even appear to have invented an early form of modern technology. Pictured is a video phone

The artists have predicted the invention of video phone calls - and of a ?talking newspaper? - just like radio news.

The postcards, distributed widely around France in cigarette boxes at the turn of the last century, were produced by Jean-Marc Cote, and various other artists.

The first series were produced for the 1900 World Exhibition in Paris - and were so popular that eventually 87 different cards were produced.

All adorned with the phrase ?En L?an 2000? - ?In the year 2000? - they range from the extraordinary to the revolutionary.

In one image, a woman runs screaming from a burning building with her baby.

But instead of fireman clambering up tall ladders to reach her, the brave officers all have bat-style wings attached to their backs - and are easily able to swoop up to the high window to save the day.

Interesting: Despite farming having shown many advances over the years, it is not quite as modern as the artists expected in this postcard

In Despite farming having shown many advances over the years, it is not quite as modern as the artists expected in this postcard.


Colourful: All of the postcards are adorned with the phrase ¿En L¿an 2000¿ - ¿In the year 2000¿ . This shows how French artists envisaged an electric train

Colorful: All of the postcards are adorned with the phrase 'En L'an 2000' - 'In the year 2000' . This shows how French artists envisaged an electric train


Modern: The Parisians also believed that people would be using electric rollerskates

Modern: The Parisians also believed that people would be using electric roller skates

Police officers and criminals also appear to be able to sprout wings - while the postman has to resort to delivering letters with the help of a flying bicycle.

And in another set of images, a woman is shown grooming herself - with the help of an array of automatic contraptions which powder her face and style her hair while she admires herself in the mirror - while a 21st Century barber uses a variety of levers and buttons to help machines cut his clients? hair.

In another set of pictures, the artists seem taken by the idea that most modern French people will enjoy their leisure time under the sea - with one image showing a group of divers riding over-sized sea horses, and another suggesting that fishing will be done under the water - throwing a line to catch seagulls as they swoop overhead.

Stuck in the past: This postcard shows an air battle - no where near as advanced as today's aircraft used during war

Stuck in the past: This postcard shows an air battle - nowhere near as advanced as today's aircraft used during war


Far-fetched: A 21st Century barber uses a variety of levers and buttons to help machines cut his clients¿ hair

Far-fetched: A 21st Century barber uses a variety of levers and buttons to help machines cut his clients' hair


Looking ahead: This postcard shows how the artists thought a modern kitchen would look with food processed out of a machine

Looking ahead: This postcard shows how the artists thought a modern kitchen would look with food processed out of a machine

Despite the futuristic outlook, none of the artists appear to have believed that fashion would have changed - with all the characters in the drawings dressed in billowing floor-length dresses and smart 19th Century suits.

But some of the postcards are not so ridiculous - and the artists even appear to have invented an early form of modern technology.

In one scene, rows of school pupils sit wearing headphones while a stern-looking schoolmaster grinds up textbooks - which appear to be being pumped straight into the minds of his pupils - in a bizarre version of the internet.

Not accurate: Parisians haven¿t as yet replaced the fireplace in their homes with sticks of glowing radium, as this portrait shows

N  Parisians haven't as yet replaced the fireplace in their homes with sticks of glowing radium, as this portrait shows


Spot on: Despite many of the ideas being ridiculous, this audio news scene was well predicted

Spot on: Despite many of the ideas being ridiculous, this audio news scene was well predicted


Prediction: This bizarre postcard shows a curiosity horse

P This bizarre postcard shows a curiosity horse

And in another picture, the artists appear to have predicted video calls - as a man has a conversation with the image of a woman beamed onto a screen in front of him.

In another, a very happy maid watches on as an electric-powered broom sweeps and polished the floor for her, in a 19th Century vision of a vacuum cleaner.

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