This small glass bottle (Figure 1) has a vertical side mold seam, indicating that it was machine-made after the year 1900. There is a suction scar on the bottom that indicates that it was likely produced with an Owens Automatic Bottle Machine, which began seeing massive use after 1905. The base of the bottle has “stippling,” a gripping texture that helped the bottle stay on the conveyor belt in the factory but was also intended to be aesthetically pleasing. Stippling first appeared on bottles produced in 1940. The base also features an “I” logo enclosed in a circle and a diamond, which indicates that it was produced by the Owens-Illinois Glass Company between 1929 and 1960 (Society for Historical Archaeology 2021).
The intended use of this bottle is revealed by the word “Fitch’s” appearing on the base. The F.W. Fitch Company was founded in 1892 by Frederick Walter Fitch, a barber who successfully developed and marketed hair products throughout the early twentieth century. A review of other Fitch’s bottles (Figure 2) (eBay 2021; Worthington 2021) shows that this particular bottle contained “Fitch’s Ideal Hair Tonic,” which sold in 1936 for 50 cents (American Druggist 1936:89). In magazines that same year, Mr. Fitch posted advertisements offering a $1000 reward to the first person who could show him evidence of a “dandruff germ” and prove that this “germ” causes dandruff (American Druggist 1936:30). Fitch marketed a “Dandruff Remover Shampoo” that was to be used by men once a week along with the “Ideal Hair Tonic.” It appears that this was intended for people with European ancestry, as the advertisements note that it “is equally good for blondes or brunettes.” Fitch offered a counter display to retailers with a “complete scalp treatment” package containing the shampoo, the tonic, and a rubber scalp brush (American Druggist 1936:89).
Fitch’s was so successful during this period that it sponsored a series of radio variety shows beginning in 1938, called The Fitch Bandwagon, that featured popular musical acts of the day (Figure 3) (OTRCAT 2021). However, after the end of the Second World War, the company saw its sales decline, possibly due to a loss of military contracts (Exile Brewing Company 2021). The company was sold in 1949, after which the line of products was marketed under the name “Fitch” rather than “Fitch’s.” This means that this particular bottle was probably produced prior to 1950.
The bottle was recovered during a 2021 surface collection behind the Taylor House, which was the “big house” of the Hollywood Plantation in Drew County. The house was initially constructed in 1846 and was owned and occupied by the Taylor family into the early twentieth century (Barnes 2020:1). Between the end of the American Civil War and the beginning of the First World War, Arkansas attracted over 200,000 African American migrants, more than any other state during that time period (Barnes 2020:76). A large number of these settled in Drew County around the Hollywood Plantation, and this led to the Taylor’s opening a commissary adjacent to their house (Barnes 2020:80). This commissary, known as the Valley Store, was in operation throughout the early twentieth century, and probably sold items like Fitch’s Ideal Hair Tonic as well as other pharmaceutical products.
By the 1930s and 1940s, the Taylor House was being rented out to tenants, and the tenants in 1940 were J.D. Lovelace and his family, who rented the house for $40 per month and operated the associated farm (Barnes 2020:93). The house was no longer occupied after 1950, which supports the argument that the hair tonic bottle was produced prior to the 1950s. The bottle is therefore indicative of the time period surrounding World War II and the Great Migration, which saw an exodus of workers—especially African Americans—out of Arkansas and the American South beginning in the 1920s. This bottle is part of the last breath of the occupation of the Taylor House before it fell into disuse as nothing more than a tractor shed until its recent restoration in the 2010s.
A first principle of archeology is that the significance of artifacts depends upon documented information about the context of their discovery. At what site was the artifact found? Can we figure out the age of the artifact? Where was it found in relation to site features (houses, trash deposits, activity areas, etc.) and the distribution of other artifacts? Only with knowledge of those facts can we assess further information about the manufacture and use of artifacts, and their role in other spheres of activity such as social organization, trade and exchange, and religious practice.
In this series, we feature select artifacts that are extraordinary both for the context of their discovery and for their unique qualities that contribute exceptionally important information about Arkansas culture and history. New artifacts will be added monthly. Find the list of artifacts here.