Today we have a small cut-glass jar, with sterling silver cap, 4 1/4 inches tall. The size, style and material all indicate that this piece came from a ladies’ dresser set.  The pierced cap is engraved “MJG 1900,” and features a nifty little tab (“patent applied for”) that can be moved aside to allow the jar contents to sift through the holes when desired. 

Objects with highly specific functions – from fish slices to cooper’s froes – are some of my favorites, and 19th-20th century dresser sets (also known as vanity sets and, originally, “toilet sets”) are filled with such pieces, each with a carefully defined role.  Dresser sets were marketed for both men and women; depending on the cost and the anticipated gender of the user, they might contain anywhere from three to thirty-plus pieces: powder puff box, hair receiver, hair brush, comb, cloth brush, hat brush, velvet brush, manicure tools, curling iron, talcum powder dispenser, glove powder dispenser, mirror, soap box, buttonhook, shaving brush, razor strop, shoehorn, toothbrush, cologne or perfume bottles, a myriad of jars, bottles and boxes for your lotions and ointments, and a tray or box to contain it all.  High-end versions were made of glass and/or silver, or sometimes ceramic; later, celluloid and other plastics came into play. The pieces were often monogrammed, fitting in with their  highly personal (and sometimes expensive) nature.

That brings us back to our particular bottle.  “Powder dispenser” is really too bland a name for this elegant little piece, but unfortunately it’s hard to be more specific.  Faceted jars with silver lids are common in late 19th century sets, but I’ve yet to find a match for this particular dispensing lid.  The applied-for patent is eluding my search (if it was ever granted).  Antique shops tend to hedge their bets when it comes to this kind of item, calling them “sugar or powder dispensers.”  The various bottles and jars included in larger dresser sets were of the fill-it-yourself variety, for rouge, powders, lotions and tonics of your own choosing.  (The 1881 Lord & Taylor catalog offers as “Toilet Articles” Vaseline, Bandoline, hair-oils, pomades, hair-tonics, toilet-vinegar, dentrifice [tooth powder], nail-powders, and smelling salts.) My best guess for this piece is that it was designed for talcum powder, with an inventive lid that didn’t catch on with the public.

This jar was donated by Mary Beth Fleming; it came to her through the family of her mother, Marian Waters Jacobs. “MJG” is almost certainly Mary Jane (Sellman) Getzendanner (1844-1901) of Barnesville, whose daughter Maude married Charles Clark Waters (Maude and Charles were Marian’s grandparents).  Mary Jane, known as Jennie, spent the last few years of her life with her daughter and son-in-law at their Neelsville farm “Pleasant Fields.”  (For photos of Mrs. Getzendanner, visit the Monocacy Cemetery project website.)

The heavy glass jar, sterling silver cap and ‘fancy’ dispensing method make this a rather high-end, if plainly styled, piece. The inclusion of the date, 1900, on the engraved lid may indicate that this was a special gift.  What the occasion was (perhaps simply in honor of the new century?) or what Mrs. Getzendanner used it for (talcum powder? Sugar? Medication?) is, sadly, unknown.  But happily, the Waters family held on to the jar, giving us some insight into the family’s means and lifestyle.

Below: Pleasant Fields, circa 1900 – around the time when Mrs. Getzendanner lived there.  The house, now owned by M-NCPPC, is still standing.  Photo donated by Charles and Marian Jacobs.