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

Quirks, curios, collecting: The G.P.O.

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Lead Bag Seal, W6 postcode

Last year I started to collect mysterious little lead squares as they began to surface on foreshore trip after foreshore trip. Knowing that they were ‘something’, but not quite knowing what that something was, I popped them in my finds bag to investigate later.

Those little lead curios turned out to be mail bag seals from the General Post Office. The discovery led me to serendipitously uncover many quirks of collectable G.P.O. miscellany and ephemera – old telephone cables, telegraph insulator caps, for example – which also unmasked a plethora of G.P.O. appreciation societies for the strangest of objects. This, for example.

The G.P.O. was a magnificent empire, covering snail mail, telegram, telephone switching systems and telegraph cables. That meant motorbikes, franking machines, seals, home telephones, resin dials, stamps, hard hats, bells, boxes and bicylces – all sorts of consumerables and collectibles – started with the existence of Royal Mail communications.

The Royal Mail we all know and (possibly) love today started life in 1516 as exactly that – a postal distribution system for royal and government documents. In 1636 King Charles I legalised the use of royal postal distribution system for private correspondence between senders and receivers. The General Post Office (G.P.O.) was officially established in England in 1660 by King Charles II.

G.P.O. Telegraph insulators, made by Bullers Ltd, London

In 1661 the office of Postmaster General was created (previously ‘Master of the Posts’, in Henry VIII’s time) to oversee the GPO, further formalising the service, and making sure that it would run properly. In 1678 the Royal Mail’s headquarters moved to Lombard Street to cement their monopoly and crack down on other informal postal services. Before the official Royal Mail held the monopoly on postal delivery services, certain coffee houses, such as Lloyd’s and Garraway’s, informally organised private transport of mail between their patrons.

The G.P.O. grew to combine both the functions of state postal system and communications carrier, with similar offices, like modern day sorting offices, established across the British Empire. When new forms of communication came into existence in the 19th and early 20th centuries the G.P.O. claimed monopoly rights on the basis that, like the postal service, they involved delivery from a sender and to a receiver. The theory was used to expand state control of the mail service into every form of electronic communication possible on the basis that every sender used some form of distribution service.

Astonishingly, this very same system lasted until 1969, when the G.P.O. was abolished, the assets transferred to The Post Office. This marked the transition from a Department of State organisation to a statutory corporation. Now I’ve outlined the potted history, I can share some of my little finds with you.

Photographed below are six of my best G.P.O. bag seals, one is clearly marked with a London, W6, postcode prefix. In addition to the small, square parcel sack seals, I often find little lead studs attached to a shank, again stamped G.P.O. These little beauties are lead tipped nails, used to affix G.P.O. cabling to telegraph poles and sides of buildings.

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“In 1911 the post office replaced wax seals with lead ones for sealing letter and parcel sacks (lead seals were used in the the larger post offices probably since Charles I opened up his royal mail to the public in 1635). The Post Office Controller of Stores supplied the lead to the seal manufacturers Dunham White & Co Ltd., J.N.Lyons Ltd., The Lead Seal Manufacturing Co. and Walkens, Parker & Co. Ltd, directly” 

Source: The British Postal Museum & Archive, Freeling House, Pheonix Place, London.

In the photo towards the top of the page are a couple of GPO goodies that I didn’t take home. More’s the pity, it would seem, as they are very popular collectables. On certain parts of the foreshore you can’t move for insulators, mainly ceramic white ones, made by various companies, but mainly Wade, and Bullers Ltd. Sitting alongside transport network insulators, bask in the Obscure Objects of Transport Beauty.  – NB despite the GPO’s sprawling tentacles wrapping around Britain’s telegraph network when it was nationalised in 1870 , that did not include railway telegraph circuits, which continued to run in parallel with the publicly-owned telegraph network.

Good news! The Postal Museum opens this July, 2017, once again making a trip on the Mail Rail possible. Check it out, here: https://postalmuseum.org/. In addition to booking a ride on the historical Mail Rail, you can also browse the Postal Galleries to “delve into 500 years of groundbreaking postal history and discover how a humble service revolutionised our lives.” Or perhaps you’d like a photographic tour of a mechanised sorting office from the 1960s? Say no more, Matt Tantony is here to help.

It is at this point that I shall bid you farewell, reader, but not before turning your attention to some of the more curious societies and collector groups that I have so far found on my great G.P.O. journey…

The noble and true GPO Nostalgia Home Page | LINK

The very upright Telegraph Pole Appreciation Society | LINK

The glamorous domain of British Insulators (not all GPO) | LINK

Mudlarks (1962)

Dear Friends in Mud, apologies for not having written for the past few days, but I also do this, and this, and this, so I think you’ll maybe forgive me.

I wanted to share this film with you, which I found on The River Thames Mudlarking Finds page. Do join, it is an excellent community, especially for those of you who are unable to make it down to the Thames.

Anti Button? Avert Thine Eyes!

image6There are many items that my long-suffering, non-larking partner finds it hard to get his head around. Some I can understand; my rookie mudlark days saw me bringing home half the foreshore, including any piece of bashed up glass shard, so long as it had an imprint on it.

Buttons however, especially livery, military and utility buttons, even he can appreciate the thirst for those.       “I suppose this connects you directly to the past, fusing you to someone you’ll never know, or meet, but you’re directly linked”, he said.

That’s exactly what the appeal is.

Not every button is easily identifiable, some military and utility buttons were simply impressed with a generic ‘Double Edge Ring’, ‘Suspender’, ‘Best Ring Edge’, or similar, however, since the latter half of the eighteenth century, makers began to brand their buttons with ‘back marks’.

Of course, once the buttons are up and out of the anaerobic mud of the Thames, the very stuff that preserves them, they are tossed around by time and tide, and can lose their visible marks. Despite this, with a little perseverance, and a lot of primary and secondary research, you can usually get your maker.

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Internet Good/Internet Bad, no matter. What the online world offers is means to immediate secondary research. In addition to net scouring, I read actual text from actual books with paper in, plus speak to local people in the area where I made the find. Pieces soon start to fall into place.

The button pictured left was found near Greenwich, and, with a little help from a keen local, we’ve attributed it to a staff member at the Royal Hospital.

Other interesting traceable buttons I’ve found, led me back to Bishopp & Harrington of 69 Eastcheap (shown in the photo at the top of this post), and Parfitt, Roberts & Parfitt, sword makers and military tailors of Jermyn St, more information about them, including them potentially harbouring a criminal, here.

My favourite button by far, and, so far, is from the clothier Edward Grove of Lambeth – it’s my favourite not because of the object itself, but the research it led me to. The branding was not easily legible, but I filled in the blanks and tapped in the information online. Not expecting to find too much, I was happily surprised when a wealth of information sprang forth, including beautiful printed posters stored at The British Library and Lambeth Council. Curiously, there is also a record from The Old Bailey about a court case concerning one of their employees. What is it with tailors and crime?

e-grove-1In 1884, “E. Grove merchant taylor, juvenile clothier, and complete outfitter” was advertising their newly rebuilt premises as “The Lambeth Establishment”, housed at numbers 37 to 41, Lower Marsh, near Waterloo station. Edward Grove catered “An entire new stock of all kinds of clothing for all classes. All prices reduced. Cheaper & better than ever.”

In April 1862, one Richard Paynter was up before the beak at the Old Bailey, accused of stealing a coat from his master, Edward Grove.  Read the full story here. Someone really had it in for Paynter, as he was immediately up again for the same charge, different master, different garment. That story here.

By 1895 E Grove had branched out to mechanics, painters, butchers and sailors clothing, with additional premises at 272 and 274 Edgware Road.

I hope I’ve gone some way to honouring the simple button in so much as piquing your interest, at least. If you find yourself out on the foreshore and pick up one of these beauties, I implore you to delve back into history and see what you can find.

Click through the gallery below for a selection of related images, including the original Old Bailey court proceedings. 

 

17th Century Combed Slipware

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❄️Mudlark’s Advent, day 8❄️
Oh, hello, what’s this? A deliciously crumbly, fruity chocolate tiffin, topped with Bakewell icing? No. It’s a lovely, fat chunk of Staffordshire combed slipware, dating from somewhere between 1690-1830.

Combed slipware, an earthenware ceramic decorated in slip, fired, usually, with clear glaze to the patterned side, was popular between 1690 and 1830. While production began in Staffordshire, combed slipware ceramics were also produced in potteries across the Midlands, Yorkshire and Bristol.

Combed slipware has an uncanny likeness to delicious party biscuits and Bakewell tarts, achieved by ‘combing’ through applied coloured slip (wet clay), often finished off at the edges with a ‘crimped’ or ‘coggled’ pie crust effect.

I think this fragment was possibly part of a round edged, rectangular meat plate, as it is so chunky and heavy. Intact loaf or baking dishes, cups and pots are on display at the Victoria & Albert museum, Museum of London and the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford.

Victorian Clay Pipe

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❄️Mudlarks Advent, Day 6❄️
Incomplete Victorian clay pipe, bust of Queen Victoria on one side, crown on the other. No other marks but I suspect it was made to commemorate the Diamond Jubilee in 1897.
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According to a Chris Jarrett of the Society for Clay Pipe Research, “a possible pipe maker for this bowl is John Hill, listed in Plumstead, c. 1900-1902. He may have taken over Henry Dudman’s workshop, as early as 1894, when Dudman ceased to be listed in London Directories.”
There is similar information in the SCPR newsletter 65, 31-32.
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Chris also provided photographic comparison with a recorded example of a pipe found in a fireplace in a house in a Brockley, SE4.
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The recorded dates stamped on to the similar from pipe stem are 1837 and 1897.
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Sources: Society for Clay Pipe Research, River Thames Finds forum (@river_thames_mudlarking_finds on IG).