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Biography: Olive Jones

Olive Jones

Olive Jones, a material culture researcher from Ottawa, Ontario, Canada, was the recipient of the 2004 grant. Her research employed the records of bottle merchants, as well as those of wholesalers, exporters, and importers of bottled products, to offer a new interpretation of the vocabulary of the dark green glass bottle trade as found in 18th- and early 19th-century documents. She discussed the shape each term probably represented, recorded various terms for the same shapes, identified changes in terminology over time and in different locations, and attempted to link bottle shapes with intended contents.

“A discussion of the complex chronological and contextual development of historic terminology will alert other researchers to the dangers of taking terms at face value,” Jones explained. “For example, were ‘olives’ really used to hold olives, or were other products, such as preserved fruits, habitually put in them? What shape did this term represent? For archaeologists, curators, and collectors, a discussion of which terms relate to which bottles will help them correlate bottles in their collections with historic documents.”

Jones said that her study would explore a little-known aspect of the “consumer revolution.” She maintained that the increasing number of named shapes in the second half of the 18th century indi­cates an expanded use of glass as a packaging material.

This project built on existing work pertaining to terms employed in the British dark green bottle glass industry. A key part of Jones’ project involved an examination of records made by business and government officials who knew the bottle terminology and products of their day. “Customs and Excise officials were responsible for charging duties on goods, so they had to be knowledgeable about a wide range of products,” she said. “Firms selling bottles or using them for bottling products, such as mustard, preserved fruits and sauces, snuff, pharmaceuticals, wine, and beer, had to know the variety of bottle shapes available, and what was customarily put in them. Because these firms needed to communicate with others, a standard vocabulary facilitated their business transactions.

“Although London merchants might have used different names for the same bottle shape than merchants in Bristol or New York, all of them had to have understood the alternative names. In the same way, habitually using the same bottle for the same type of product simplified their business dealings.”

Jones noted that studies of business records pertaining to ceramics have led to a greater understanding of that trade, and she hopes to produce similar results for the glass bottle trade of the 18th and early 19th centuries.

From 1965 until her retirement in 2000, Jones was a material culture researcher in the archaeological program of the Parks Canada Agency. Using documentary sources and glassware from archaeological, museum, and private collections, she conducted research on glassware found and used in Canada. She also assisted in the creation of archaeological displays and programs at national parks and historic sites.

Jones has written many articles on Canadian glassware and English bottles, and she is the author of Glass of the British Military (with E. Ann Smith) and Parks Canada Glass Glossary for the Description of Containers, Tableware, Flat Glass and Closures (with Catherine Sullivan), both of which were published in 1985.