Some time back, a 107- year-old bottle of wine was snatched up for $3 at an estate sale. A few days ago, it was subsequently re-sold to me, at a markup of $2. A bargain for $5. I had to have it. Several of my alternate personas ached to get their little fingers on it and begin touching it. I share with you our happy fingers in this little story. The bottle is 10 inches tall. Inside are patches of sediment stuck to the side--and floating around, due to its recent travels. The bottle cap is oxidized metal, capped like a soda bottle. The wine has a deep gold color. It's label reads "DANDELINE WINE = 1905, Made by Grandma Eckel."
I acquired this wine at the regular Saturday Morning Sketch session at the Scarab Art Club in downtown Detroit. The transaction and product were eyeballed by a drove of visually acute individuals, with trained and interested consideration of its physical data: sediment, label, bottle, cap. It's potability was proclaimed "vinegar." All agreed it makes a pretty picture. I do not plan to drink it. I do love it, though. My dad made wine, from any cheap, plentiful, and available source. I myself have a yard full of organic dandelions, and every spring am tempted to utilize them, in some way. Maybe this year. Meantime, I make the acquaintance of Grandma Eckle's bottle. The label, the bottle, the cap, the sediment, the age, the history, and Grandma Eckles' handiwork itself. Closet Anthropologist, out of closet.
I like the label. The label states the year, the vintner, and mis-spells "dandelion"--derived from French, "dent de lion", tooth of the lion (http://www.etymonline.com/index.php?term=dandelion ). The spelling as "dandeline" is mis-heard/ compression of foreign words, as well as limited familiarity with the word in written form. Books weren't laying around as accessibly in 1905, to confirm standardized spelling. It is fun to see this small example of the evolution of standardization of a language. Closet Linguist.
The label is typed by manual typewriter. Mark Twain, fyi, was an early tech type. Typewriters did not lend themselves to practical use until late 1860s, and Twain bought one in 1874. He didn't do all that well with it. But it follows that the label on Grandma Eckle's wine was 31 years into accessible typewriter technology. My mom has a manual Royal typewriter from the 1940's, and even at that date it was quite a prized posession at our house, up through the 60's. It was like the telephone when I was a child: kids weren't allowed to use the phone for casual use. It was, llike the typewriter, an expensive, mysterious, grown-up technology, by standards of a poor rural area. So a reasonable conclusion about The Bottle is that pre-WW1, someone was urban, technologically involved, and well-off enough to have a typewriter. Someone cared for their grandma's wine--and their grandma--enough to type out a label and name the year. A-ha, Watson.
The label is interesting. It is pretty certainly manufactured. An internet search query of "when were gummed labels invented" turned up the surprising answer that back in the 1600's books of printed labels were appearing, meant to be cut out and pasted onto bottles (1). I switched to a search for "history of manufactured gummed labels" and found several hits for Avery Dennison, a still-viable company which began its history by making paper boxes in 1864 (2). They began making labels and tags in 1864, but it wasn't until 1935 that they began an official line of self-adhesive products. So possibly the label was self-adhesive--it looks it. It is also possible that someone labeled it after it had been sitting around for a while. That would explain why the label looks gummed, and why a typewriter was used in 1905. But Who Knows. Closet Storyteller, taking the bait.
And then, theres the bottle itself.
To Be Continued: Oh, the Lovely Bottles . . .
1. Appearance of gummed labels.
2. Avery Dennison http://www.fundinguniverse.com/company-histories/Avery-Dennison-Corporation-Company-History.html