Fringe Box



Jam Today, But Marmalade Yesterday

Published on: 27 Feb, 2012
Updated on: 27 Feb, 2012
by David Rose
St Catherine’s Village website webmaster Martin Giles emailed me the following: ‘Another old bottle challenge for you! This fragment was given to me by Chris Lewis who found it in his garden at the top end of Guildown Road. I am guessing it will be sufficient for your identification.’
Fragment found by Chris Lewis.

Well, yes, it is a bit of an easy one for those of us who collect bottles and pots from days gone by. It’s from a pot that would have been instantly recognisable to our late Victorian and Edwardian forebears. The fragment Chris found is from what was back then a very popular brand indeed, and is in fact, still available today.

It is, of course, James Keiller’s Dundee Marmalade. And the story of how it came about is quite well known in the ‘bottle’ world. The version you can find on Wikipedia is about the most concise I have come across and is worth repeating here:

Keiller’s marmalade, named after its creator Janet Keiller is believed to have been the first commercial brand of marmalade, produced in Dundee, Scotland.

The apocryphal story tells that James Keiller bought a ship load of oranges from a ship which was seeking harbour from a winter storm. The ship was on its way from Seville and due to the storm the oranges were already less fresh than they ought to have been. The bargain gave his wife (Janet Keiller) the opportunity to manufacture a large quantity of marmalade. In reality the Keillers adapted an existing recipe for manufacture by adding the characteristic rind suspended in the preserve.

The first commercial brand of marmalade along with the world’s first marmalade plant was founded in 1797. In 1880 the company opened a factory at Tay Wharf, Silvertown in London. By the late 19th century the marmalade was shipping as far afield as Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, India and China.

The firm was acquired by Crosse & Blackwell in 1920. It was subsequently sold on multiple times before ending up with Robertson’s

One of Janet Keiller’s great-great-great grandsons was Alexander Keiller, and one of her great-great-great-great grandsons is the British television presenter Monty Don.

The fragment is from a Keiller jar, the centre jar of these three.

These ceramics pots would have had a paper lid, tied on with string using the rim near the top. The lettering was applied as an ink transfer from a metal stamp before being fired.

Keiller’s pots always seem to turn up when we dig out old 19th century or early 20th century rubbish tips. But because of their shape, they are often broken.

Other manufacturers also used similar pots. A pot for Frank Cooper’s Oxford Marmalade (another brand also still available) is shown. Cooper’s pots are nearly as common as the Keillers. However, James Moir & Sons’ jams were in no way such a common product. The example pictured is the only one I have ever found myself.

Interesting to note that Moir deliberately copied Keiller’s design for his pots.

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