Despite their age, most of the bottles that I worked with this week were largely whole and undamaged; I was able to observe their color, feel the seams, and discern maker’s marks with only a moderate amount of difficulty. I was finally gaining confidence in my bottle-identification skills, when I came to the last bottle in my assemblage, catalog number 45KI765/M-4. It was a heavily damaged bottle, its original shape, color and label barely discernible.
I hardly knew where to begin. Normally I would identify the finish, bottle shape and use type first, but the neck and finish were missing, the shape had been completely distorted, and any decoration or label that once existed was obscured by an unidentified dried substance. I decided to try and find any feature on the bottle that might make it stand out, and the only possibility that I came up with was to somehow identify the embossed label. I tried a few different techniques; I felt the letters with my fingers and held it up to the light at different angles; I photographed it on my phone and adjusted the color and contrast; and I used a piece of paper and a pencil to try to create a stencil. Finally, after much effort, I put together “ZAREMB” on the top of the label, “SPR” in the middle, and “SEATTLE WA” on the bottom. Armed with the little information I gleaned from the label, I resorted to the best archaeological tool I could think of to solve this mystery: the internet.
After reading about various different people named Zaremba (there was an opera singer, a Russian composer, and a family of Polish nobility) I finally found the right combination of letters and was able to determine that the bottle came from Zarembo Mineral Springs Company. It once contained mineral water from the Alaskan island of Zarembo and was marketed as a health drink from 1900-1920. Presumably, it was dumped at the site by an individual who was perhaps hoping to improve their health by consuming the magical healing waters of Alaska (or maybe they were just thirsty).
(The Pacific Monthly, Volume 14 1905:611)
While this was all very fascinating, I was a little bit disappointed that this mysterious bottle and all of my effort hadn’t let me to something more interesting, a sinister poison perhaps, or an illicit concoction. Oh well, there’s always next time.