Archaeology: where losing your marbles is sometimes a good thing

Imagine, if you will, that you were born in 1870. Your parents are colonists who journeyed to Christchurch to build a new life for themselves and their family. They’re not rich, but you live comfortably enough in this new country. As an infant, you survive the many dangers of your time and, eventually, you grow old enough to play with other children of your age.

You participate in a variety of children’s games, from ‘kiss-in-the-ring’ to rounders or ‘jolly miller’, but the ones you love best, your absolute favourites, are those played with marbles. You have your own collection, mostly made up of ‘commies’ (cheap clay marbles), but with a few treasured German glass marbles. You even end up with a couple of glass ones stolen from some Codd soda bottles that you found outside, but you lose them when you play for keeps against the children from the next street over. And, maybe, over the years, you misplace a few marbles from your collection, accidentally rolling them under a building or dropping them between the floorboards. And there they’ll stay, long after you’ve grown to be an adult and left childhood games behind you, until a curious archaeologist finds them in the dirt a century and a half later.

An 1897 cartoon of grown men playing at rounders and kiss-in-the-ring. Image:

An 1897 cartoon of grown men playing at rounders and kiss-in-the-ring. Image: Observer 27/3/1897: 12.

Marbles are actually quite rare finds here in Christchurch, surprisingly for something so easily lost. We’ve talked before about how the lives of children, especially their lives at play, can be so difficult to see in the archaeological record, making those few marbles we do find as precious to us now as they were to their original owners. We’re beginning to recover quite a variety of different types here in the city as excavations continue, from small clay (earthenware) ‘commies’, to coloured glass marbles and larger earthenware and porcelain examples.

A selection of marbles found on an archaeological site in Christchurch. Image: L. Davies .

A selection of marbles found on an archaeological site in Christchurch. Image: L. Davies .

Commies were one of the cheapest and most readily available types of marble around during the 19th century and were made from unglazed earthenware. From the mid-18th century until 1859, when a mechanised shaping process was introduced, they would have been hand crafted, probably in Europe or America (Gartley & Carskadden 1998: 49-50).Other marbles were made from glazed clay, porcelain or agate (known sometimes as ‘aggies’). During the latter half of the 19th century, handmade glass marbles became increasingly common, as manufacture became easier, although they weren’t mass produced until the turn of the century (Schrock 2004: 124).

Many of these marbles, especially the glass and stone ones, were made in Germany during the late 19th and early 20th centuries. One 1901 account in the New Zealand Herald describes in detail the process by which workers in Germany used the marble and agate debris from quarries to create stone marbles (New Zealand Herald 28/2/1901: 20). The East German region of Lauscha was also renowned for its production of glass marbles, thanks in part to glassmaker Elias Greiner’s creation of ‘marble scissors’ in 1846. First used to create glass eyes for dolls, these scissors meant the glassmaker could cut and shape the ends of a glass rod into marbles relatively easily (Baumann 2004).

A 1901 description of marble manufacture in Germany. Image:

A 1901 description of marble manufacture in Germany. Image: New Zealand Tablet 28/2/1901: 29

A sketch of boys playing a game of marbles. Image:

A sketch of boys playing a game of marbles. Image: New Zealand Herald  27/10/1945: 4.

These marbles would all have been used to play a variety of different games, most of which involved trying to hit an opponent’s marbles or knock them out of play (i.e. ringers or ‘ring taw’) or attempting to shoot marbles through obstacles or into holes. Most of these would have been played outside in the Victorian era, on the street or in the yard of a house or school (Taranaki Herald 15/3/1886: 2). While many advertisements and anecdotes found in newspapers of the time suggest that most games were played by boys (New Zealand Tablet 28/2/1901: 29, Star 21/4/1876: 3), it seems that girls also participated. One newspaper from 1878 speaks specifically of an indoor marbles board designed for girls to use, which involved attempting to shoot marbles into certain circles or triangles by striking them with a mallet (Otago Witness 21/1/1878: 2).

An 1878 advertisement for an indoor marbles board, targeted at girls. Image:

An 1878 advertisement for an indoor marbles board, targeted at girls. Image: Otago Witness 28/1/1878: 2.

Of course, games were not the only use found for marbles. They were also used as ammunition, as schoolyard currency and, apparently, in Wales, some people thought them good for eating…Now, they are as much collector’s items as they are toys, although people still play many of the games as a sport. The British and World Marbles Championship is still held in Tinsley Green, in West Sussex, England, every year, as it has been for centuries (New Zealand Herald 16/4/1938: 33).

To an archaeologist, though, marbles are information. They’re a glimpse of those who are so often unseen in the archaeological record, evidence of a part of life – play – that is obscured behind the more utilitarian day-to-day artefacts we usually find. They’re little pieces of a childhood that were misplaced, but never quite completely lost.

Jessie Garland

References

Baumann, P., 2004. Collecting Antique Marbles: identification and price guide. Krause Publications, Wisconsin.

Gartley, R. & Carskadden, J., 1998. Colonial Period and Early 19th Century Children’s Toy Marbles. The Muskingham Valley Archaeological Survey, Ohio.

New Zealand Herald. [online] Available at www.paperspast.natlib.govt.nz

New Zealand Tablet [online] Available at www.paperspast.natlib.govt.nz

Observer [online] Available at www.paperspast.natlib.govt.nz

Otago Witness. [online] Available at www.paperspast.natlib.govt.nz

Schrock, J., 2004. The Gilded Age. Greenwood Publishing Group, Portsmouth.

Star [online] Available at www.paperspast.natlib.govt.nz

Taranaki Herald [online] Available at www.paperspast.natlib.govt.nz

The Victorian Christchurch Child

Childhood. We all had one. Whether we remember it vaguely or with clarity, we all passed through this phase of life. As infants we shook that baby rattle with all our might or nursed that pacifier until our eyes closed and we dreamed of a faraway land. As we got older the toys became larger and more creative: teddy bears with a squeak in the stomach or crayons that ended up strewn across the house or even on the walls. We all remember the Barbie dolls and the G.I. Joes, or the Barbie dolls with crew cuts to make them look like G.I. Joes. Or even that first day of school where you were accompanied by your very own yellow Bananas in Pyjamas lunch box. This period of one’s life, although so fundamental in how we mature as adults, is often forgotten. This is also true of the Victorian Christchurch child.

As a result of the February 2011 earthquake and the subsequent rebuild, a number of artefacts related to the years of childhood have been excavated. This collection of artefacts provide us not only a rare glimpse into the lives of the Victorian Christchurch child but is now allowing us to establish how different artefacts relate to different stages of a child’s life.

A selection of children’s artefacts. Image G. Jackson.

A selection of children’s artefacts. Image G. Jackson.

Archaeological investigations regarding children in their first few years of life have often been restricted to analysis of infant mortality or mortuary practices and rarely touch on their lived experiences (and even historical documents are not much more helpful: simply looking up ‘Christchurch Child’ on Papers Past was a challenge, for almost all searches came up with child mortality stories). The sites that have been excavated across Christchurch provide an opportunity to catalogue this brief but important time in one’s life.

Infant-related artefacts are largely related to a baby’s health. These include health-benefiting bone marrow, baby powders and medicinal disinfectants designed to prevent against illness. The largest number of artefacts relating to the infant years, however, are glass feeder bottles and ceramic feeder lids.

baby bottle2


S. Maw, Son and Thompson baby feeder. Image: L. Davies.

rounded bottle


S. Maw, Son and Thompson baby feeder. Image: L. Davies.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

One such item was even named the ‘murder‘ feeder, due to the difficulty of cleaning the lid. Such hygiene-related difficulties meant that baby easily fell ill, but this problem may have been counteracted by disinfectants, medicines or simple homemade remedies (some of which have a recommended child’s dosage).

bottlefeeder


Left: Mather’s ceramic baby feeder (Image: L. Davies). Right: Advertisement emphasising the need to clean the baby’s bottle (Otago Witness 15/02/1879).

 

The development and emergence of the Victorian Christchurch citizen, as with any society, was shaped by what was taught to children. A common theme that has emerged from the material culture of Christchurch are the children’s cups and plates bearing educational-themed images, which can increase imagination and creativity but also conveyed moral messages.

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Jack and Jill nursery rhyme on a cup. Image: L. Davies.

Nursery rhymes, playful one-liners and intense moral teachings have all been found on china in our Christchurch assemblages. Nursery rhymes or a simple play on words to create a small story are used as a subtle tool to stimulate the imagination and intellectual growth. Children learn language through the repetition of syllables and words, often repeating what a parent said (Bishop and Curtis 2001: 5). And with moral messages buried in the phrases, children also learnt socially acceptable behaviour. In a fun way, that is.

 

One plate found is an ‘ABC’ plate, named for the alphabet written around the outer edge of the plate. These ABC plates were a product of the teachings of Dr. Benjamin Franklin. Yes, that Benjamin Franklin. During the 19th century, a series of plates were sold bearing philosophical teachings from his Poor Richard’s Almanack. Our particular plate bears the phrase  “Fly pleasures, and they’ll follow you. The diligent spinner has a large shift, now I have a sheep and cow, everybody bids me good morrow”. It means those who work hard are rewarded in comfort, plenty and respect i.e. that leisure comes to those who work hard.

franklin


Fragment of a Dr. Benjamin Franklin ABC plate. Image: L. Davies.

This phase of nursery rhymes and moral themes was a precursor to schooling days. Prior to the Education Act of 1877 education or schooling for children was not compulsory. In 1877 the Education Act made it compulsory and free for children aged between 5 and 13 to attend school (Walrond 2012).

This did not extend to secondary education and it was not until 1901 that the secondary education was addressed. A law passed at this time stated that only children who passed a competency exam would be allowed entry into secondary school. It is suggested that even those children who may have passed the competency exams would have still left school at this age to work, and why would they go to school when they were another pair of hands to help put food on the table (Walrond 2012)? The artefacts associated with this period of a child’s life are slate pencils and boards. Some boards have ruled lines on one side for writing and grid lines on the reverse side for mathematics.

Slate pencils. Image: L. Davies

Slate pencils. Image: L. Davies

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A grid (left) and lined (right) slate board. Image: L. Davies

A large quantity of toys have been found throughout sites across Christchurch and are indicative of the subtle ways in which social mores were constructed.

'Frozen Charlotte' doll. Image J. Garland

‘Frozen Charlotte’ doll. Image J. Garland.

Girls were presented with dolls and tea sets, confirming their domestic role in the Victorian world, whereas boys played with tin soldiers and marbles, items associated with competition and manliness. It is during this period, when toys are introduced, that we begin to see gender differentiation in the archaeology of childhood. Girls are the most visible at this time with few artefacts that can be unequivocally associated with boys. This is in contrast to adulthood, when men are generally more visible in the archaeological record than women,as so many of our blog posts indicate.

Toy horse. Image K. Bone

Toy horse. Image K. Bone.

Toy tea set. Image. G. Jackson

Toy tea set. Image. G. Jackson.

 

Clay and glass marble. Clay marbles were also called 'commies' as they were a cheap version of marbles and were very common..


Clay and glass marble. Clay marbles were also called ‘commies’ as they were a cheap version of marbles and were very common. Image: K. Bone.

The number of artefacts relating to children found during demolitions and the rebuild of Christchurch has allowed a chronological understanding of the emergence of the Victorian Christchurch child. The infant stage is predominantly represented by feeding bottles, health-benefiting foods and disinfectants. This suggests that in the first few years of life there is no differentiation of gender but an emphasis on raising a healthy child. The following stage, prior to schooling, is also not gendered and includes developing the imagination with rhymes and moral themes. This non-gendered childhood changes with the school years, with girls in particular taking a visible role. The presence of tea sets and dolls emphasise their role in society and society’s expectations of their later life, with themes of domesticity and civility. The recent excavations have significantly developed our understanding of the Victorian Christchurch child and the ongoing investigations will continue to contribute to our understanding of this period, these children and their lived experiences, so watch this space…

Kim Bone

References

Bishop, J. C. and Curtis, M., 2001. Introduction. In:  J. C. Bishop and M. Curtis, eds. 2001. Play Today in the Primary School Playground: Life, Learn and Creativity. Open University Press, Buckingham, pp. 1-19.

Otago Witness. [online] Available at: http://paperspast.natlib.govt.nz.

Walrond, C., 2012. Teenagers and youth – defining teenagers as a group.[online] Available at: http://www.teara.govt.nz/en/teenagers-and-youth/page-1 [Accessed 10 October 2013].

Let me tell you a story…

Historical archaeology has many facets, it includes recording buildings and features, artefact analysis, names and dates, but if you take a moment, collaborate all that data, you have a powerful tool for telling someone’s story. Some call this type of analysis ‘interpretative archaeology’ or ‘storytelling’ and both of these are right in a way. In its most simplest form, it is an attempt tell the story of those ordinary moments lost in time. When an assemblage containing a large number of children’s toys came through our doors we believed we had a topic to blog about. If we could, through the analysis of both the archaeological remains and the historical documents, identify the children who had played with these toys, how interesting would that be, what stories could be told. I’ll be the first to admit it, this proved more difficult than I initially anticipated.

Selection of children's items from Moorhouse Ave. Image Gwen Jackson.


Selection of children’s items from Moorhouse Ave. Image: Gwen Jackson.

These artefacts were part of an assemblage from Moorhouse Avenue, where over 600 artefacts were recovered, many of them domestic in form. Preliminary historical research showed that there was a house on the section in 1877; however, the vague nature of land transaction records and land occupation records mean that we can’t definitively pin down who lived in this house. This was complicated further by a range of other factors: the owner of a section was not always its occupant in 19th and early 20th century Christchurch; the next map or plan that shows the area in question wasn’t published until 1915 (LINZ 1915); and, worst of all, the street numbers in central Christchurch changed completely in 1911 – the streets were numbered from a different end, and the odd and even numbers switched sides. One can only describe this as a researcher’s nightmare.

Street Adress Numbers 2


Wise’s Directory (left to right) 1910, 1911 and 1912 – note 1911 changes from odds to evens and from higher to lower numbers.

In spite of these complications, we know that the section was the site of domestic occupation until the mid 1910s (when ownership was taken over by the Tai Tapu Dairy Company), and we have at least two potential candidates: Jason and Maggie Isbester, who may have lived on the site from 1905-1908; and Frederick Hammond, who may have lived on the section from 1908 to at least 1913. But both proved elusive in the historical records, so we had no way to confirm our hypotheses.

 Aynsley tea cup. Moorhouse Ave. Image: Jaden Harris.


Aynsley tea cup. Moorhouse Ave. Image: Jaden Harris.

So in absence of definitive historical records we turn to artefacts: what do the artefacts tell us, what story do they unravel to both the trained and untrained eye? A number of artefacts can be identified as ‘early’ due to their functional nature. The presence of candlesticks, gas lanterns and chamber pots suggest occupation of this house predated the advent of utilities such as sewerage and electricity. Moorhouse Avenue was connected to Christchurch’s sewerage system by 1882 (Wilson 1989) and electricity was available in the early 1900s. These artefacts represent Christchurch prior to the installation of modern services.

Tea pot, Moorhouse Ave. Image: Jaden Harris.


Tea pot, Moorhouse Ave. Image: Jaden Harris.

Whoever was living at the site in the late 19th and early 20th century appear to be reasonably affluent and may have been from the middle class. This assumption is based on the composition of the artefact assemblage, with a number of food serving dishes and the large number of children’s toys and other personal items. A number of serving platters or deep square dishes, champagne bottles, vinegar bottles and food vessels suggest the occupants liked to entertain at dinner parties, as was common for the middle and upper classes in the 19th and early 20th century. To find such a concentration of children’s toys in a single archaeological deposit is rare, as children are often surprisingly invisible in the archaeological record. Items of personal hygiene included everything from a toothbrush and accompanying toothpaste jar but also numerous perfume and cosmetic jars.

plate


Dinner plate, Moorhouse Ave. Image: Gwen Jackson.

Entertaining ad for Kruschen. The Evening Post 16/01/1928: 19

Ad for Kruschen Salts (Evening Post 16/01/1928: 19).

A variety of pharmaceuticals were found in the deposit, which suggests a reliance on selfmedication for ailments – this is a common feature in historic New Zealand sites and as common as finding a Panadol box in your rubbish. Some of those bottles found included Jeyes Fluid, which acted as a disinfectant and antiseptic, Wood’s Great Peppermint Cure for coughs and colds and one called Kruschen salts which, well, let’s say it dealt with the more unpleasant side of the digestive tract.

bottle1


Bottle with the label of J. Berry, a Christchurch chemist. Image: Jaden Harris.

A number of paint supplies were also collected from the site, with one paint dish identified to Reeves and Son Ltd, a firm which started operation in 1891 (Grace’s Guide 2007). It is assumed that the paint brushes found in the site were used at the same time as the paint dish, due to their functional association.

Ad for Reeves and Son Ltd. Grace's Guide: 1924

1924 ad for Reeves and Son Ltd (Grace’s Guide 2007).

So what does it all mean really? I did say we tend to use numbers, dates and names.  But we also tell stories. Perhaps what we have is a story of a girl in the late 1890s who grew up in a somewhat affluent Christchurch home. As a daily chore she would exit the rear of her house and empty the chamber pots and as payment for her daily chores her father, the painter, rewarded her with toys (given New Zealand’s “servant problem”, there was probably no servant). As she sits with her figurine dolls and her tea set, her parents entertain with food served in large Willow patterned and Wild Rose vessels with candles glimmering in the night light. The cold air means the Wood’s Great Peppermint Cure will be on hand tomorrow. Actually, her mother’s bad cooking probably means Kruschen will be used as well. As the wine pours, the little 19th century girls heads to bed, she brushes her teeth and says her prayers, for tomorrow is another day of more chamber pots and the promise of new toys.

This is only one interpretation, and yes, it is a story but it’s that one moment lost in time given life for a brief moment. Perhaps I could encourage you to offer us your interpretation?

 Kimberley Bone

 References

Evening Post. [online] Available at http://paperspast.natlib.govt.nz/cgi-bin/paperspast

Grace’s Guide, 2007. Reeves and Sons. [online] Available at: http://www.gracesguide.co.uk/Reeves_and_Sons [Accessed on 14th June 2013].

 LINZ, 1915. DP 4334, Canterbury. Landonline.

National Portrait Gallery, 2013. British Artists’ Suppliers, 1650-1950 -R. [online] Available at: http://www.npg.org.uk/research/programmes/directory-of-suppliers/r.php [Accessed on 14th June 2013].

Wilson, J., 1989. Christchurch Swamp to City: A short history of the Christchurch drainage board 1875-1989. Te Waihora Press: Lincoln, New Zealand.

Wise’s New Zealand Post Office Directories. [microfiche] Held at Christchurch City Libraries.