Earhart Project Research Bulletin
February 13, 2012

Notion of a Lotion: Artifact 2-8-S-2a

TIGHAR has long suspected artifact 2-8-S-2a was a 1930s bottle of hand lotion. Now we think we know the name of the brand and product.

lotion bottlesThe bottle fragment was first discovered on Nikumaroro during the Niku V expedition in 2007. A number of pieces of evidence have led us to conclude the bottle appears to be a 1933-vintage bottle of Campana Italian Balm. Although most people today would not be expected to have even heard of Campana, this was the #1 hand lotion in America of the 1930s.

factory thumbnailThe Campana Company was a well-loved firm that employed hundreds in the little town of Batavia, Illinois. In the depths of the Great Depression, Campana was selling tens of millions of bottles annually of its leading product, Campana Italian Balm. The Company’s art deco-inspired factory still stands today and is on the National Register of Historic Places. (Click on the photo to open a larger version, well worth seeing. Photo courtesy Terrence McClellan.)

History of the Research of 2-8-S-2a

broken piece
Bottle Bottom tn

One of our first tasks after excavating the bottle fragment was to decipher the cryptic numeric codes and maker’s mark on its base. Our combined research led us to conclude the bottle was manufactured by the Owens-Illinois Glass Company in their Bridgeton, New Jersey plant in 1933 (click on the small photo at right, below, to open a larger version in a new window). We also consulted Edwin Fuerst’s 1931 design patent (U.S. design patent number 85925), which bottle drawing thumbnailwas found on the bottom of the bottle, to find out what the complete bottle looked like. (Click on the small drawing at left to see a larger version.) Our earliest research thus did not rule out an association of the artifact with the other evidence (bones, fires, faunal remains, other cosmetics, et.al.) suggesting a 1930s female castaway living for some duration at the Seven Site.

We were also able to locate a bottle, sans label, that matched this style.

In late 2007, Jennifer Mass, Ph.D., an expert in materials science at Winterthur Labs in Delaware, used FTIR spectroscopy to identify a white, flakey residue in the interior of the bottle as a combination of lanolin and the oil of linseed or rapeseed. The bottle clearly was a cosmetic product, probably a hand lotion or hair tonic.

The information we had was tantalizing, but not having a firmer idea of the actual product meant it was always possible a Coast Guardsman had brought an 11-year-old bottle of hair tonic to the island. Hair tonic was a popular men’s product during the period in which the Coast Guard LORAN Station had been active, 1944-1946.

In late 2010, several tentative identifications of other glassware on the Seven Site drew the observation that these identifications appeared to be matching up with big-name American brands of the 1930s, among them Plough, Inc., maker of the St. Joseph’s family of medicines, Dr. C.H. Berry, and others. Could 2-8-s-2a, which had by now been named the “lanolin bottle,” have contained some similar big-name brand of hand lotion? After several false starts investigating brands still popular today (Jergen’s, Pond’s) as well as a popular hair setting liquid of the period (Jo-Cur), we reasoned that perhaps the lanolin bottle might be from a product well-known then but virtually unknown today. A quick Google search for “best-selling hand lotion of the 1930s” then led us to the first clue: The “First Nighter” radio program, which broadcast coast to coast in the 1930s, had had Campana Corporation as its sole sponsor, and Italian Balm was the main product advertised on this program.

One by one, the pieces started to fall into place. A quick check on Ebay (fortunately for us there was a mid-1930s bottle selling at the time) confirmed that Campana Italian Balm, the company’s best-selling product and only hand lotion, had the same markings on the base of its bottles as did the artifact.

The pieces seemed to fit, but there was always the possibility that some other hand lotion or hair tonic might be found with the same markings on its base (although we have not found any, and we have searched).

The hypothesis that the artifact was Campana Italian Balm was testable, however. TIGHAR’s bottle had a residue on it that had already been subject to spectral analysis by Dr. Mass. If an intact Campana Italian Balm bottle from the 1930s with residues on it could be obtained, might comparative testing show a match of the material from the intact bottle to that from the artifact?

We intended to find out, so we sent a 1934 bottle of Campana Italian Balm purchased on Ebay to a lab in California, Evans Analytical Group (EAG). Initial lab results from late 2011 showed residues from that bottle were not a good match to the residue tested on the artifact, but a few of the tests did show a partial match (see EAG’s two reports below).

Upon re-reading the fine print of initial lab results from 2007, however, we realized that not all of the residues on the artifact had been tested! There were spots on the artifact’s sides that matched those of the intact bottle in color and texture, but these had been overlooked in favor of the more promising white, flakey patch in the artifact bottle bottom's corner. At the time, the other spots had not seemed as important in determining the artifact’s identity.

Four and a half years after the artifact was brought back from the island, TIGHAR returned the artifact to Jennifer Mass at Winterthur for further testing. The results from January 2012 show that the intact bottle of Campana Italian Balm and the artifact had residues that are spectrally similar to Tragacanth Gum, a substance that appears in an ingredient list for Campana Italian Balm. Also, the residues from the intact Campana Italian Balm bottle and the new residues tested from the artifact bottle appear to match well with one another. (Click HERE to open a PDF of the entire report in a new window.)

FTIR analysis, which was used in the testing, is an extremely sensitive test (one textbook calls it “a complete assay of total cell composition”), and there are a number of factors (see the “Background of Organic Laboratory Analysis” report below) that can easily prevent “perfect” results. These were, after all, bottles with separate histories, separated by 75 years and thousands of miles. A perfect spectral match would not be expected. But the match is very good.

Other products could surface that could match the artifact. These, however, would need to have the same signature markings on the base as the artifact, would need to show spectral measurements that matched more closely to the artifact’s residues than those from Campana Italian Balm, and would need to be a hair tonic, hand lotion, or similar type of product from the 1930s. This seems unlikely.

FTIR graph

The red line represents the bottle fragment from Nikumaroro. The green line is an intact bottle of Campana Italian Balm from Ebay.

bottlecomparison Italian Balm label
Campana Italian Balm is on the left. The artifact is on the right. An intact bottle of Italian Balm. The label from a bottle of Italian Balm.

Campana ad tnPerhaps the most interesting finding of all is that Campana Italian Balm, and hand lotions in general at the time, were marketed solely to women (click on the ad to see a larger version). Hand lotion was not the ubiquitous, generic product we see today in public rooms and checkout lanes. It would be very unlike a Coast Guardsman, British overseer, Tuvaluan or i-Kiribati colonist, or even the rare female visitor from the late 1940s to bring this 1933 product to Nikumaroro, only to leave it behind on the island’s remote southeast corner.

Back in 2002, we posted another Research Bulletin on our identification of a small knob. What we said then about the process of deciphering clues in the Earhart Project is as true then as today:

“Artifact identification is, of course, at the heart of accurate analysis of any archaeological site. The process by which we unlocked the identity of a likely candidate for Artifact 2-6-s-45, including the mistakes we made along the way, serve as an illustration and a lesson in the methodologies that are leading us, step by step, toward the answer to the Earhart riddle...”

The lessons learned this time are different, but they are no less useful to the process by which we are continually refining our methods of investigation. Here are a few:

Lesson Number One: Build on What You Know

Those of us who spend time working on the Earhart Project know that vigorous debate and cross-examination of one another’s findings is, as in many fields of endeavor, a very useful tool in discovery. But sometimes it can be taken too far. When research work began on this bottle, it was very tempting to start from scratch and look at all kinds of cosmetic products that had little if anything to do with hand lotions and hair tonics, even though we had spectral evidence that said that was precisely where to begin. When research settled on the fact that initial results, and the predictions from those results, were in fact accurate, progress was much more rapid. The bottom line is we often get better results when we build on the work of others, especially when that work has been proven to have solid foundation.

Lesson Number Two: If At First You Don’t Succeed...

It is also very tempting to give up in the early phases of researching a question when initial results come back negative. The first spectral results we obtained (see EAG’s first report) appeared to discourage further analysis. In the end, it turned out those early results represented only a fraction of the testing that was essential to revealing the whole picture. It might pay to keep going, if for no other reason than that it is the only way sometimes to eliminate the impossible. But you may need to be far more persistent than you imagined was necessary at the outset.

Details Tell the Tale

The reports all provide further details on this important and ongoing artifact research, which we think clearly suggests an American woman from the 1930s stranded on Nikumaroro. We cannot yet say with certainty who that woman was, but the culture, time and place reflected back at us through the lens of this bottle is now more indicative than ever. When you combine Campana Italian Balm with the bits of rouge, the cosmetic cream jar, and the mirror believed to be from a woman’s compact, all found at the spot where we believe the bones of a castaway were found in 1940, the picture begins to come into sharper focus.

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