As pop bottles go, it’s decidedly nondescript – light brown, no catchy label or even a hint of the contents within.
But it’s the pre-Confederation stoneware container’s back story that drew Peter Lloyd’s interest when it was offered for donation to Westfield Heritage Village.
A close examination shows the bottle, known as a stone ginger, was produced by Pilgrim & Company, Hamilton, Canada West.
Lloyd, who oversees the 25,000 objects in the Rockton pioneer village’s archival collections, said the Canada West reference indicates the bottle was produced after 1841 but before Confederation in 1867, when Canada West became Ontario.
“Typically, what we’re really looking for were things that are available in rural southern Ontario in the times represented by the buildings in the village."
Research shows the manufacturer’s owner, Robert Pilgrim, came to Hamilton in 1848 when just 21 and began making ginger beer – carbonated water with flavour added.
The bottle, donated from a home on Charlton Avenue, is one of 55 accepted by the village this year.
“That’s a real Hamilton company, 1850s pop bottle,” Lloyd said in a presentation to the Hamilton Conservation Authority’s conservation advisory board. “Most people don’t even realize pop goes back that far, but it does.”
The other donation Lloyd is excited out is a custom-made wrench retrieved from the ruins of the Darnley Mill, built in 1813 by James Crooks, after whom Crooks’ Hollow Conservation Area in Greensville was named.
Lloyd said he can’t be certain how old it is because there’s no maker’s stamp but the wrench’s 1-11/16-inch opening is a strange size, and indicates it was tooled especially for the mill, destroyed by fire in 1934.
“We can put this into an industrial context and say this is an industrial-type tool, but this one’s from Crooks’ Hollow; this is from the beginning of the industrial history in Ontario,” he said.
Lloyd said Westfield turns down many more donations than it accepts, rejecting those it already has in abundance or whose provenance is uncertain. Preference is given to items of local origin.
“Typically, what we’re really looking for were things that are available in rural southern Ontario in the times represented by the buildings in the village. That’s from 1790 to about 1920,” he said.
“We’re responsible for caring for these objects in perpetuity when we accept them and take them in, so we become very choosey.”