Lead Love


There are many items in the ‘mudlarking starter kit’ (for example, pins, hand forged nails, garnets), most of which I’ve now disciplined myself not to take home. However, there are a few objects that are just so lovely, I can hardly bear to leave them to fate.

Lead tube screw top lids rank in the top echelons of said items, although I do apply some fairly stringent ‘keeper’ rules, for example, how clear and/or interesting the embossed branding is.

Here is a selection of my favourite screw top lids, including Roger Gallet, Crest and my all-time favourite, a chunky number from J.B. Williams Company.

99% of the screw tops I find belong to toiletry packaging – usually toothpaste (or ‘dentifrice’), shaving creme and foam – and are mostly made of either lead, or lead-zinc alloy. From time to time I’ve also found tin and other metal screw tops.

It’s said that toothpaste was first placed in lead collapsible tubes in the 1850’s, although I have seen a contrary source which claims that Connecticut dentist,  Dr. Washington Sheffield, was the first to have introduced collapsible metal toothpaste tubes, much later, in 1892.

This practice, though known to be potentially poisonous, continued though the 1950’s. It also turned out the lead consumed the flouride in the paste, so by the time you got the toothpaste all the flourides were gone.

During WWII, used toothpaste containers were collected so the lead could be smelted to make bullets.

Toothpaste fact: its first use is recorded to have been as long ago as 500 B.C. in China and India!

The maker of my favourite screw top lid, the J.B. Williams Company Inc, was founded in 1849 by James Baker Williams – born 1818, strangely, also in Connecticut. I wonder if he was familiar with Dr. Washington Sheffield?

Williams began experimenting with various soaps to determine which were best for shaving, and eventually developed Williams’ Genuine Yankee Soap, the first manufactured soap for use in shaving mugs.

William’s shaving soaps were sold throughout the United States and Canada, and as a result of rising demand, the facilities were expanded several times in the late 1800s.

By the early 1900s, the company was known throughout the world. In addition to its line of shaving creams, the firm produced talcum powder, toilet soaps, and other toilet preparations.

The company continued to grow, hugely, until in 1977, it finally closed. The original 1847 factory is still standing, and, in 1979, was converted into a condominium complex. In 1983 the building was placed on the National Register of Historic Places. What a treat to know, this is the original location of my favourite ever screw top lid!

Source: Big Fork Dentist, Intelligent Dental, Bloomberg.com

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