The month of June has a lot going on, filled with holidays, traditional events, and newly instituted month-long celebrations. These “National [X] Month” designations cover topics from the pleasant and fun (accordions! audiobooks! roses!) to the serious (men’s health, torture awareness).  So many places to find blog inspiration!  A Fine Collection has already featured artifacts related to Father’s Day, end-of-year recitals, graduation, and Flag Day, and last week I accidentally took care of National Dairy Month, so let’s take a look at some collections items that relate to other exciting June moments.

 

June is National Candy Month. This is a glass hobnail candy dish, 6″ diameter, probably made by the Fenton Art Glass Company of West Virginia. Milton Allman and Ordella Shingleton were married in 1949; they moved to Bethesda soon afterward. Thanks to Mrs. Allman’s careful record-keeping, we know that the wedding presents included four candy dishes: a silver dish, one with an aluminum lid, a “Fostoria stem” dish, and this “pink curled edge dish” from Mr. and Mrs. Lambert. (On a related note, Berthy Girola Anderson of Rockville’s 1929 list of wedding gifts included eight bonbon dishes, out of 151 items: in other words, the accumulated loot was 5.3% candy dish.) Donated by William Allman.

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June is National Safety Month. Here’s a Boy Scouts of America merit badge booklet on that topic, copyright 1971 (1977 printing); it was used by Scoutmasters Stanley Berger and Jim Douglas, Troop 219, which met at Millian Methodist Church in Aspen Hill. The book still has a 55 cent price tag from J.C. Penney – probably the store in Congressional Plaza, Rockville (bonus photo at end of this post). Donated by Stanley L. Berger.

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June is Adopt-a-Cat Month (also Adopt-a-Shelter-Cat Month); June 4th was Hug Your Cat Day. We have many photos of historic Montgomery County cats in our collections, but this one can’t be resisted: Lloyd Brewer, Jr., of Rockville hugging one of the family cats, circa 1928. Donated by the Brewer family.

Lloyd Brewer, Jr., with cat

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June is National African American Music Appreciation Month. Our collections include 94 jazz and swing records from the 1920s-40s (mostly 78s) amassed by several generations, with their last home in Bethesda before donation to MCHS. (That’s a roundabout way of saying most of these records were probably purchased in Chicago.) The collection includes this eight-side “Ellington Special,” put out by Columbia Records in 1947. The notes inside the cover inform us, “In this, the first post-war album in its Hot Jazz Classics series, Columbia takes special pride in presenting for the first time eight historically significant and musically distinguished recordings by Duke Ellington and his orchestra. None of the sides in this collection has been available until now . . . [This set is] the rarest of treats for connoisseurs, collectors, Ellington admirers, and just plain jazz fans.” Though all four records in the set are present and intact, the cover has not fared as well; the front and back are detached, and the spine is gone completely.  It appears that this was a frequently played and enjoyed album. Donated by David and Joy MacDonald.

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June is National LGBT History Month. We don’t currently have much in our collections to reflect the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender experience in Montgomery County – something we’d like to rectify – but we do have a recent artifact: a yard sign showing religious support for the Civil Marriage Protection Act (Question 6), the November 2012 Maryland ballot question that would allow same-sex marriages in the state of Maryland.  Question 6 passed, and the Act went into effect on January 1, 2013. The 18”x27” plastic sign with vinyl lettering reads, on both sides, “AMEN – Advocate for Marriage Equality Now – United Church of Christ.”  Signs and posters are a nice graphic way for museums to tell the stories of local concerns and political questions. Because it’s proclaiming the views of a specific group (in this case, a congregation), this sign helps illustrate some of the nuances of the debate that more generic “Vote Yes” / “Vote No” signs might miss.  (Interested in learning more about community activism topics in Montgomery County’s history? Visit our next exhibit, opening on June 28, 2014!) Donated by Emily Correll.

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There are many, many more options for June celebrations, including National Caribbean-American Heritage Month, for which I could find nothing in our collections (help us fill in that gap, if you can!).  You can while away an afternoon looking up “June national month” on the internet, if you choose.  But first, as promised, a photo of the J.C. Penney Co. at Congressional Plaza, Rockville, circa 1960s.  The store has since closed, and the center has been remodeled, but I’m sure long-time residents will remember this version of Congressional. (If anyone can give me a better “no earlier than” date based on the car models or other details, please clue me in.)  Photo donated by Edward A. Abbott.

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Today we have a glass milk bottle, used for home delivery of milk from Bethesda Farm Dairy.

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This 9.5″ tall, one quart bottle is clear glass, and was made in a semiautomatic press-and-blow machine.  The process was introduced in the 1890s and used for many decades.  Quart-sized bottles for home delivery were fairly common in the early 20th century, especially as home refrigeration improved (households could keep larger quantities of milk for longer periods).  Though a number of different bottle designs were invented over the years – often as a means for separating the cream from the milk – the round, 9.5″ quart bottle like this one was the standard until the 1930s.  (For a nice, thorough explanation of how to date milk bottles, check out this paper from the Society for Historical Archaeology.)

In this case, the name of the dairy was embossed on the bottle thanks to a circular blank inserted into the mold, which allowed bottle manufacturers to easily make bottles for a number of clients. The plate method of labeling remained the norm for milk bottles until pyroglazing (or painting) came into fashion in the late 1930s. Our bottle here is embossed, “Bethesda Farm Dairy / Bethesda, Md. / M.E. Peake.”  Identified bottles were useful for advertising – and to help modern-day curators with their research – but they also allowed bottles to be returned to the correct dairy for reuse.  Though the manufacturer is unknown, we can easily identify the origins of the contents.

Bethesda Farm Dairy, M.E. Peake

Millard Eldridge Peake, Sr. (1885-1959) lived on Arlington Road, Bethesda.  The 1910 census described him as a “farm manager,” and his 1918 draft card noted he was a self-employed dairy manager. By the early 1920s he was running the Bethesda Dairy Company, as this October 2, 1923 ad (published in the Washington Post) shows:

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In 1926, the Bethesda Farm Dairy (as it was then known) was sued by a man who claimed a bottle falling from a truck had injured his son. In 1927 Peake’s first wife, Margaret Tucker Peake, died.  And in 1928 the dairy was sued again, this time by a bicyclist who was hit by a delivery truck driven by Mr. Peake.  (I haven’t yet figured out whether Mr. Peake won or lost either suit.)  Perhaps these distressing incidents helped lead to the 1930 sale of the dairy to a larger outfit, Chevy Chase Dairy. At any rate, whatever the reasons, Bethesda Farm Dairy did not last very long in the grand scheme of things.

However, though his dairy closed, Mr. Peake stayed involved in the industry. He was frequently described as a “prominent dairyman;” the 1940 census noted his occupation as “dairy representative;” and his World War II draft card tells us that he was employed by Chestnut Farms Dairy of DC.   (Dairying wasn’t his whole life, however: he also served as police constable for Bethesda, 1920-22; was active in the local Democratic and Fusion Parties; and was, at least once, the Metropolitan Division champion horseshoe player.  Check out his findagrave.com memorial for a photo of Peake as a young man.)

The dairy industry was a major part of our economy and culture in the early-mid 20th century, when there were more than 300 dairy farms in the county.  We have a number of milk bottles in our collections, most from the ‘big names,’ the prominent and long-lasting dairies; but it’s important to remember that not all county farms produced milk for Thompson’s or Chestnut Farms Dairies.  Our Bethesda Farm bottle, collected by staff in the 1970s, helps us tell the broader story of the county’s smaller dairies.  (And while we’re telling some of that story online here, the King Barn Dairy MOOseum in Germantown is dedicated to the county’s dairying history; you should check it out.)

 

 

Today we have a pair of “ruby flash” salt & pepper shakers, now missing their tops, souvenirs of the 1906 Rockville Fair.

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Ruby Flash glass (also called Ruby Stain) is named for the red color, which is applied to glass pieces by coating them with a chemical compound, then baking them in a kiln. The technique was used for both fancy dinnerware and inexpensive novelties. Our shakers are pressed glass, 2 3/4 inches tall, in the “Button Arches” pattern made by the US Glass Co.  “Button Arches,” and similar patterns with a decorated bottom and plain top, were perfect for creating on-the-spot personalized items. Locations, dates, and names could be easily engraved, cutting through the layer of stain. Souvenirs in the form of mugs, creamers, cordial glasses, toothpick holders, and the like were sold at fairs and festivals from the 1890s through the 1920s.

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Who were Fannie and George? I doubt we’ll ever know for sure. This set was donated by our long-time glass and ceramics curator, who most likely spotted them at an antique store. I did find a potential match in the 1910 census, George and Fannie Chase of Wheaton, but there’s no particular reason to assume our George and Fannie were ever married. Unfortunately, there’s no match listed among the “Fair Week Weddings” (Washington Post, August 25, 1906) – unless Weldon Livingston Ferguson, Jr, of Loudon County, who married Frances Garner of Connecticut, went by “George.” (Apparently getting married at the Rockville Fair was kind of a thing; the article begins, “As usual, fair week brought a number of couples to Rockville on matrimonial errands.”) Perhaps, however, the Fair was an inspiration to George and Fannie, as it was to Miss Bessie Scott Montgomery of Washington. A September article in the Post describes Miss Montgomery as a “heroine of romance,” noting that she and George Kelchner of Rockville “had been sweethearts for several years, but some months ago they had a falling out, which to all appearances was of a permanent character. At the late Rockville Fair, however, they met and a reconciliation followed.” A few weeks later, they eloped. Who can deny the power of the fairground setting?

Some fantastic and fashionable hats at the Fair, 1906. MCHS collections.

Some fantastic and fashionable hats at the Fair, 1906. MCHS collections.

Romantic imaginings aside, we can get an idea of what our unknown couple experienced at the Fair, thanks to extensive coverage in the Washington Post. The Fairgrounds were just outside Rockville, about where Richard Montgomery High School is today. The 1906 Fair lasted four days, from August 21st to the 24th, and drew visitors from local counties, Washington, and Baltimore. Crowds on the first three days were record-breaking, with the Post reporting “probably 7,000 persons on the grounds” on the second day; on the third day there was “an immense throng. . . probably as large a gathering as ever attended a Rockville Fair.” However, the weather was not terribly cooperative; a “terrific storm” on the 24th interrupted the racing, and “the intense heat all four days undoubtedly kept several thousand away.”

Crowds at the racetrack, Rockville Fair, 1906. MCHS collections.

Crowds at the racetrack, Rockville Fair, 1906. MCHS collections.

All those throngs of people had plenty to see. There were eleven horse races held on the newly improved track. Baseball teams from Rockville and Kensington played on the 21st (Rockville won, 7 to 2). There were displays of horses, cattle, poultry, sheep and hogs, mules, garden and farm products, cakes and candies, honey, preserves and jellies, “fancy articles” and sewing, works of art, photographs, fruits, flowers, and children’s exhibits. The “grand cavalcade,” an exhibition of stock, was held on the morning of the 22nd, headed by young Margaret Jones (daughter of an Agricultural Society official) and Clements Offutt (son of Rockville’s mayor) riding Shetland ponies. Maryland Governor Edwin Warfield was “expected,” though I couldn’t tell from the articles if he ever showed up. The annual “fair ball” was held on the evening of the 24th.

Margaret Jones and Clements Offutt at the Fair, 1906. MCHS collections.

Margaret Jones and Clements Offutt at the Fair, 1906. MCHS collections.

Altogether, George and Fannie probably had a pretty good time – and they brought home a matched set of souvenirs, to commemorate their day.

We’re in the throes of Holiday Party Week here at MCHS, so in honor of the season, here is a glass compote (or footed serving dish), a little over six inches tall, from the early 19th century.


First, here is the history provided by the donor, Deborah Iddings Willson of Sandy Spring: “My great, great, great, great, great grandfather George Peirce came over with William Penn [and] settled on land given him, which is now Cecil Co. MD but was then in the Colony of Pennsylvania. There he bought this punch bowl, which was Maryland glass. [Peirce] came to America in 1684 so this was probably bought in the late 1680s or early 1690s.”  Many descendants of the Peirces (yes, that’s spelled correctly) settled in the Quaker community of Sandy Spring in the early to mid 19th century.

As is sometimes the case, the donor’s understanding of the artifact doesn’t quite match up to that of historians.  Based on style, pattern, and manufacturing technique, this piece is most likely a compote, made by the Bakewell, Page and Bakewell company of Pittsburgh, PA, between 1820 and 1840.

Calling this a punch bowl is not really a problem; the Peirce family may well have used this for serving punch, and the form is sometimes a referred to as a “footed punch bowl” or a “compote or punch bowl?” (complete with question mark). However, research by our long-time volunteer glass curator, Clare Armstrong, shows that the family’s belief that the compote is a 17th century Maryland piece is off base.* The pattern is one often attributed to the Bakewell company, or to other Pittsburgh glass companies (for more info on the history of Pittsburgh glass, click here), in the early 19th century. Clare assessed this piece as “freeblown, then tooled into shape,” which narrows the time frame to the early 19th century, and a recent informal appraisal by a glass expert confirmed the 1820s-30s date. An internet search today found a few examples of very similar vessels likewise attributed, including this one in the collections of the Los Angeles County Museum of Art.

You might think it makes a curator feel superior or something, if and when we have to tell a donor that their story is not quite correct. To the extent that research has ‘solved a mystery,’ yes, there’s a certain satisfaction, but telling someone that their story is wrong… not so much fun. And the mismatched facts do not, to my mind, invalidate the story. Maybe there was another punch bowl in the family that was a 17th century Maryland piece, and over the years the histories were mixed up. Maybe an uncle or great-grandfather was trying to impress someone via a little exaggeration, and the story stuck. Very rarely are donors knowingly perpetuating an incorrect tale; their version should be respected as part of an artifact’s background, even if there’s another version to be told. It’s like a game of telephone, only the fun part is trying to trace exactly where and how “hot potato” turned into … well, okay, I have no idea what that would turn into, but you see what I mean.

* The compote itself is off base, too. Mrs. Willson made no reference to the tilted bowl in her information, though it was donated in this condition. The tilt is the result of repairs to the stem over the years, and the fact that the bowl is not exactly centered on the stem.

Today’s artifact is a pressed-glass tumbler in the “Cabbage Rose” pattern, made by the Central Glass Co. of Wheeling, West Virginia. The “Cabbage Rose” design was manufactured in the 1870s and 1880s…. And that’s about it for this artifact!

Well, not quite. A few weeks ago I mentioned that over the Historical Society’s 66 years of collecting, some records have gotten lost or confused. This little glass tumbler is a victim of one such paperwork mishap, so to speak.  However, I should not give the impression that I appeared on the scene in my Super Curator cape to rescue decades of neglected mysteries. From our very first donation in 1944, a large number of dedicated volunteers have worked to put, and keep, our collections in good order. One of these volunteer curators devoted herself to researching and cataloging over 200 pieces of glass, ceramics and silver, allowing me to easily cite our tumbler’s pattern name, manufacturer and date. With older donations she made note of any early records she could find, providing a measure of continuity as we switched catalog systems during the 1980s. For this piece she mentioned that “the name Pierpoint appears on records on this tumbler, but with no explanation.”

There are a few early pieces in our collections associated with the name “Pierpoint,” but the identity is still something of a mystery. The best guess is Mrs. Harry Y. Pierpoint, who is recorded as donor of a crib quilt and several photographs of the Seneca Quarry, which she appears to have owned in the early 20th century. That’s a start, at least; perhaps this tumbler was used while the donor lived in Seneca, but I wish we knew more. The items donated by Mrs. Pierpoint are the crib quilt, this glass, a woven coverlet and two fountain pens. Why those pieces? What did they mean to the donor, and why did she think they were worth preserving in the museum collections? The only clue so far is a note added to the crib quilt’s record (it was probably conveyed to us over the phone, since it does not appear in the written correspondence with the donor): “Belonged to Baines.” Who is Baines? Baines has haunted me for many years. The Super Curator cape comes with a few abilities – er, some might call them “obsessive tendencies” – but sadly, reading the minds of long-vanished donors is not one of them.