Tuesday, July 21, 2009

From the Archives - Hair Care Product in the Privy

When Jessica MacLean, our archeological fellow, was catologing artifacts excavated over a decade ago from the privy behind 97 Orchard - as part of an effort to recreate the rear yard where tenants did laundry, socialized, and used the bathroom - she came across a scrap of ceramic that once belonged to the lid of a jar containing 19th century hair care product. The formula originally called for bear grease. But once the animals had been over-hunted, manufacturers switched to beef marrow, readily available in every large city's meatpacking district.

This particular product, Jessica determined through an online search that turned up an image of an identical container, was manufactured by a well-known soap maker named Jules Hauel, who worked in a row house at 120 Chestnut Street in Philadelphia. (The name and address were inscribed on the jar's lid, and Jessica found an illustration of his workspace in an old atlas of Philadelphia businesses.)

Hauel, who displayed some of his work at the 1851 World's Fair, likely produced the beef marrow solution, designed to strengthen and add shine to hair, somewhere between the late 1830s and early 1850s - decades before 97 Orchard was built.

So how did the container, which was used in New York in the 1850s and 60s after being shipped here by boat, wind up behind 97 Orchard?

When the outhouse was shut down, sometime after hallway toilets were installed in 1905, trash was packed into the abandoned privy vault. The redeposited fill is a treasure trove of everyday objects from around the city that illustrate life on both ends of the socioeconomic spectrum. Jessica found, for instance, a piece of expensive hand-painted porcelain imported from China - as well as scraps of a lower quality ceramic mass-produced in British factories. (Jessica's extensive work with ceramics helps her readily identify the type and date range of a given piece.)

Only two objects dug out of the fill belonged to residents of 97 Orchard: a German beer mug, possibly from Schneider's Saloon in the building's basement, and a chamber pot.

-posted by Liana Grey

1 comment:

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