Grandpa and the Lavender Glass Mustard Jar

When it comes to condiments, there is often the argument of catsup or mustard? Me? Mustard all the way. Mustard on my kosher hotdogs, mustard on my soft pretzels, and mustard on my turkey sandwiches. Catsup? Only when it is blended with mayonnaise.

While in Paris I went in search of mustard at the neighborhood Monoprix. Monoprix, you ask? Think Target, but with "cool French stuff." It was downstairs at the grocery area of Monoprix when I discovered my favorite French mustard that is imported into the States and the plus side it was in a pretty little jar that resembled a little crystal glass. These jars of Dijon made perfect gifts to those I knew who enjoyed mustard like me.

The French love mustard, and it has been a favorite for centuries more than likely being introduced by the Romans. In 1390, the French government issued regulations for the manufacturers of mustard, decreeing that it contained nothing more than “good seed and suitable vinegar." It became obvious to me how popular mustard was in France when visiting the Vanves Flea Market (Puces de Vanves) in Paris. On many of the market tables were vintage mustard (moutarde) pots of all sorts of styles, colors, and especially advertising brands.

I finally had to ask, "What's with all the mustard pots?" The answer was locals brought their mustard pots or empty clean jars back to the "mustard shops" for refills. Talk about an early recycling program. 

There was another question. I noticed many of the mustard crocks were stamped or written by hand the name, "Digoin" on the bottom of the crocks. I discovered that Manufacture de Digoin is a Burgundian pottery studio with origins dating back to 1875. This popular French pottery is made from locally sourced sandstone clay and fired at over 1200F degrees for durability. The nearly defunct operation was revitalized in 2014 and now produces both classic French pottery and contemporary designs.

"Drizzle, Drazzle, Druzzle, Drome, Time for This One to Come Home.” - Mr. Wizard

The year is 1979. I am in the basement of my maternal grandfather's workshop. Grandpa and I are catching up on family news. His workshop was tight quarters stuffed with a rustic workbench organized with tools, and an assortment of nuts, and bolts in old red-colored coffee cans. A library file cabinet was set next to the workbench. It held a tried and true collection of cataloged packets and envelopes of vegetable and flower seeds. Around the corner from his workbench were built-in shelves filled with mementos,  and newspaper clippings tacked on the wall celebrating special family events. By the workbench was a basement window Grandpa had extended outward as a greenhouse window filled with pots of Grandma's African violets, begonias, and wintered-over geraniums. 

Grandpa on the River

Dad on the River

Grandpa said he had something for me and handed me a pretty little jar shaped like a barrel. The clear glass, about 4.5" in height, held a tint of lavender reminiscent of a fair amethyst crystal.  Grandpa said the coloration of the glass reminded him of the ancient glass medicine bottles that had taken a colored hue due to age. He suspected the jar had an interesting history but wasn't familiar with its round shape. Grandpa continued to share a story about a weekend when he and my Dad had been camping on the bank of the Snake River. While waiting for the fish to bite, they often wandered in search of agates. They both noticed a little jar that had rolled in with the river tide. It was captured along with their pockets of rocks and the fish they caught for dinner.

Around the campfire, it was agreed they would each take turns being the caretakers of the little jar, but my Dad suggested that Grandpa take the first turn. Grandpa shared with me that he and my Dad had often wondered about the origins of the little jar. Was it a medicine bottle and if not, what did it originally contain?  

Unfortunately, my Dad died in 1973, therefore Grandpa gave me custody of the pretty little jar and it has been with me ever since. It has had a home on my kitchen window sills for years, often holding dainty spring flowers and petite summer roses. Just before Christmas of last year while I was wiping down my kitchen window sills, I took the little jar and placed it in one of my china cabinets for safekeeping.

You know how sometimes you kick yourself for something you did or didn't do after the fact? Of course, the kicking is figurative, not literal. A few weeks after I came home from France I started to regret not picking up a few of the mustard crocks I saw at the Paris flea markets (Vanves and Marché d'Aligre). To ease my regret I started perusing online information about the various French brands but was also curious about their history. 

As I looked up the shapes, sizes, and brands of French mustards from the early centuries, I discovered a few glass barrel-shaped jars that seemed very familiar for some reason. The little jars with a lavender tint in the glass were the most familiar.

The Moutarde-Diaphane Louit Freres & Co mustard glass barrel ('Diaphane' implying an excellent product) hails from the pre-1900 era. The bottle was crafted from purple glass, it may have been made using manganese dioxide as a decolorizing agent, a distinctive feature that hints at traditional glassmaking techniques.

These little bottles have historically been found underwater like the little bottle that rolled onto the bank of Dad and Grandpa's favorite fishing hole. The Bertrand, an American steamboat that sank on April 1, 1865, was carrying cargo up the Missouri River to Virginia City (Montana Territory at the time) after hitting a snag in the river north of Omaha, Nebraska. Half of its cargo was recovered during an excavation in 1968, over 100 years later. It's been said the wreck site yielded cases of French-imported barrel-shaped mustard jars. Several barrel-shaped mustard bottles have been recovered from the wreck of the Titanic. Louit Freres & Co. was served on the Titanic and was the preferred line of French mustard for the transatlantic passenger ships owned by the British White Star Line.

It appears that I have been the caretaker of a French mustard jar, after all. I discovered my first French mustard jar in my home. I also solved the question of what the jar originally contained. I wished I had the opportunity to tell Dad and Grandpa as it certainly would be the topic of discussion around a campfire. Who knew my quest for French mustard crocks would lead me to discover the mystery over 50 years later. To solve the mystery, as the wise Mr Wizard once told his cartoon companion, Tooter Turtle, "Time for this one to come home." 

One is an object. Two is a pair. One more and I will have a collection!