New York City Bottle Diggers Strike Beauty in Night Soil Story


Last Sunday, Dumpdiggers got an email from an Ole friend in New York City boasting about conducting a clandestine archeological dig in one of the most densely populated places on planet Earth. The Manhattan Well Diggers are tireless explorers and this story highlights their abilities and imaginations.

The author is a dedicated digger that waxes poetic about his trips twenty feet down in the depths of his hometown. New York City has some of America’s most historically fascinating suburbs and the trinkets, bottles, jars and crocks and porcelain potlids that these guys dredge up makes all Dumpdiggers suddenly snap to attention .

In this particular story, Dan and his team dig a deep hole behind a renovated townhouse and there go back in time to recover these wonderful objects. With that same trusty blue shovel Dan and his team recover various pontiled items from the 1850s and early 1860s including an eight sided desk ink: HARRISON’S / COLUMBIAN / INK and a CLIREHUGH’S / TRICOPHEROUS / FOR THE HAIR & SKIN / NEW YORK. Also uncovered was a brown and white potlid with an eagle at the center atop a shield baring stars and stripes, CHLORINE DETERGENT & ORRIS DENTIFICE / FOR / CLEANSING & PRESERVING / THE / TEETH / PREPARED BY / ROYCE & ESTERLY / DENTAL SURGEONS. Soon after we discovered a BARKER’S / CHEVEUX TONIQUE / FOR THE HAIR / BDWAY N. Y

Dan starts his latest adventure by telling readers some historical facts like how in 1851 the Hudson River Railroad opened a station at West 30th Street and how business flourished as breweries and soda-water factories, malt houses, stone cutting yards, large stables and slaughter houses, lumber and coal yards, grew up around the tracks etc. The housing was notably inferior as it was hastily erected to accommodate newly arrived immigrants. The narrow houses and wooden buildings sprang up overnight, sometimes right alongside stretches of stylish brick townhouses (which is what they were digging). In the 1850s and 60s, downtown Manhattan is reported to have contained approx 20,000 structures, mostly small or mid-sized factories and sweatshops.

The fire insurance maps show few of the savory little details however, and do not differentiate between style or function of the buildings beyond showing churches, and hotels. The only way to learn what actual living conditions existed from place to place is to dig.

The nicest piece recovered, in my opinion, is this beautiful teakettle ink circa 1860-65, in mint condition. When positioned in direct sunlight it produces a marvelous deep purple colour. It’s made of dark violet or black-amethyst glass, possibly of English or French origin. Dan describes how it was ferreted out from near the privy floor, and remarks on how the exact likeness has never been seen before (by him).


In all there were nine pontiled aqua medicines with raised lettering, mostly cosmetics for the hair and skin, an umbrella ink, and others. Additionally, another potlid and matching base, one clay pipe, one ivory toothbrush handle, a small quantity of common food bones, and an assortment of fruit and vegetable seeds sprinkled therein. Also discovered was a Barker’s Cheveux Tonic; DR D. JAYNE’S / HAIR TONIC / PHILADA; BOGLE’S / HYPERION FLUID / FOR THE HAR; HURD’S / HAIR RESTORER; PHALON & SON / PERFUMERS, N. Y.; DR. D. C. KELLINGER / N. Y; ROUSSEL’S / UNRIVALED / PREMIUM / SHAVING CREAM… / X. BAZIN. / 114 Chestnut St / PHILADELPHIA. The earlier base reads GOLD MEDALS AWARDED / E. ROUSSEL / 114 Chestnut St / PHILADA / PERFUMER

Vist ManhattenWellDiggers.com to read the rest of Night Soil.

Ace of Spades Digs a Farm Dump

Dumpdiggers profile: Jason Hayter
The Ace of Spades

Ex military, tattooed, father of two, Jason Hayter lives in Owen Sound Ontario, a few hours north of Toronto. When Jay isn’t looking after his kids, or working on his house, he’s digging bottles. He digs for six to eight hours a day, twice a week. Obsessed with finding old glass bottles and early Canadian pottery, Jason sometimes spends whole days at the archives learning about the history of his town and the surrounding villages for the sole purpose of finding town dumps that could yield more bottles and early pottery.

His passion helps him succeed. When Tim Braithwaite first met Ace he was not totally impressed, but Tim is pretty hard to get excited. Timbits has seen every bottle twice and labels 98% of everything on display in Ace’s photo galleries as junk – that’s Tim’s favourite word. For two years Tim has been telling Ace that everything he finds is junk. I have no doubt that Ace finds it frustrating trying to impress Tim with his run-the-mill ordinary treasures.

But all that could change real soon… If the Ace of Spades was a mining company his stock price would be climbing; last week Ace told the world about his new farm dump, and he posted some very interesting photos on a brand new discussion forum associated with this website. His proclamation includes images of a terrific farm dump that he’s digging with an equally enthusiastic chum.

In addition to this exciting turn of events, Jason informs me that he has evolved a new farm dump location strategy and is now consumed with hiking and probing old farms all over the countryside around his home – with the landowner’s permission of course.

It works like this: Jason uses Google map technology in combination with old county maps that he copies from local 1870s and 1880 alases found in the municipal archives. Ace uses the old maps to mark the buildings, and then uses Google Earth to scrutinize the terrain from the air and look for forgotten lane ways, road allowances and even footpaths away from the last garage or drive shed at the very opposite end of the property from the driveway. Jay sometimes makes his own composite maps at home and prints them out for his hikes. The maps pinpoint ‘areas of interest’ wherein he and his friend will dig test pits looking for ash or bits of pottery that might signal more buried rubbish. They are looking for really old trash, and that’s always down at least six or eight feet – but surface indicators exist to ‘mark the spot’.

This wisdom is indexed behind the Fundamentals of Finding Farm Dumps as recorded here in How to Find Old Dumps #3, farm dumps. This post explains how the early farmers dumped debris on the land out of necessity, but always close to the barn and out of sight and preferably where it could do the most good to stop soil erosion.

Although still a youngster, the Ace of Spades is fast maturing into an extremely competent Dumpdigger!