Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Another Hot Artifact Revealed!

We had lots of great guesses for our latest mystery artifact, including a fantastic guess working out exactly how it could be used as a prototype for a modern glue gun!  However, penny6612 was exactly right when she guessed it was the heater for a curling iron.  While it might not have worked well for the enormously long curling iron we had as mystery artifact last week, it would be just right for this later design:

As you can see in this add from the 1895 Montgomery Ward catalogue, there were several different types of curling iron heaters available on the market in the late 19th-century (although as the quote from Little Town on the Prairie showed last week, one could always heat curlers on the stove in a pinch!)

I find the descriptions of these heater fascinating, especially the multiple uses of the Peerless Lamp Chimney Stove ("To heat curling iron use as shown on this cut.  To heat cup of water, remove loose top and all the heat of the lamp will come in direct contact with bottom of cup").  I also find the claims that both items can be folded and closed so each might be "carried in the pocket" quite intriguing; was on-the-go hair curling and styling a real need in the 1890s?

We hope you are enjoying the weekly mystery artifact posts.  We are certainly having fun trying to stump our co-workers by finding artifacts with functions that are quite a challenge to guess!  Make sure to check back over the next few days as our illustrious Director will be choosing the next mystery artifact!

Friday, August 23, 2013

Mystery Artifact #11!

Hello, all.  What a busy few weeks it's been, with most local districts and colleges going back to school!  In an effort to get your brain-power kickstarted in time for the fall semester, here is a new mystery artifact for you to ponder:

I even remembered to include a penny for scale this time around! 

You guys know the drill by now - post questions, comments, and guesses in the comments section of the blog or on our Facebook page.  Happy guessing!

Monday, August 19, 2013

Mystery Artifact Revealed!

We had some terrific guesses for last week's mystery artifact, which was (drumroll, please) . . . a curling iron!  We actually have several curling irons in our collection, although the one pictured above is probably the oldest (we're guessing  it dates to circa 1800).  It's definitely the longest of the bunch, as well, measuring just under 18 inches in length!

Although we may tend to think of curling irons as a modern item, they are featured prominently in catalogs from the 19th Century.  They were not an item marketed specifically for females, as the second curling iron in the advertisement from the 1897 Sears Roebuck catalog pictured below is described as a "Duke moustache Curler . . . Each 5c(ents)."

The photo below shows a different curling iron from our collection, one of many that are similar to the ones pictured above:  

As this advertisement from the 1895 Montgomery Ward catalog shows, women took their curls very seriously -- at times opting to purchase pin-on bangs rather than take the time and trouble to self-style their hair!

The text for the  La Toska Bang pictured above reads:  "Ladies who do not require large, heavy front will find this a little gem; light and fluffy, ventilated foundation.  Each, until sold $1.25."  A fabulous description, although I have to confess, as a brunette, I take offense to the description of hair colors as red, gray, golden, and "drab" . . . "in switches, waves, bangs, etc."  There were, however, several shades to choose from, and customers were instructed to "send samples of hair . . . (in) shade wanted, free from oil, folded up in a paper, pinned to your order and marked 'Sample,' to avoid any mistake."

Lest we assume that women were the only customers for false hairpieces, take note of the advertisement below for "Full Beards," "on wire" for $1.00 or "ventilated" for $2.00!  The catalog also offers "mustache on wire spring, common" at 10 cents each or a dozen for 75 cents; "mustache, ventilated" for 20 cents; "imperials"; "goatees"; and "whiskers, side . . . each .75 (cents)."

As historians, archaeologists, and students of material culture, we can learn quite a bit from catalog advertisements regarding items of personal adornment and various presentations of the body.  However, first-hand accounts can also tell us how people lived their lives, including how they utilized common objects when 'boughten' items were unavailable.  In her book Little Town on the Prairie, Laura Ingalls Wilder (whose hair was a "pretty brown" and not "drab," thank you very much!) described begging her mother and father to be allowed to wear a bang, or "fringe."  Having been given permission, she used Ma's sewing shears to cut "a narrow fringe about two inches long" which she then curled using a slate pencil:

"She laid her long slate pencil on the heater, and when it was heated she held it by the cool end and wound wisps of the short hair around the heated end.  Holding each wisp tightly around the pencil, she curled all the bangs."

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Mystery Artifact #10

Hello, all!  Valerie here!  As we near the end of summer and the start of the school year, we are on to our tenth mystery artifact (by my count.  Please let me know in the comments if I've missed one).  Last week's artifact proved especially tricky, although we had some very well-reasoned guesses.  I've tried to choose one that might be a bit easier this week.  Here is the photo:

This object is about 18" long (I will try to remember to add a coin or ruler for scale next time!), and as you can see it is very slender.  I've added a second photo from another angle:

You guys know the drill by now--post your comments in the section below or on our Facebook page!  Can't wait to hear from you!

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Mystery Artifact Revealed: Exercising Your Mind!

This artifact seemed to have a lot of our followers stumped, although our followers seemed to really exercise their brains over the last 24 hours or so!  A last-minute surge in guesses included, in no particular order:

  • Machine for making wagon wheels
  • Pasta spinner/dryer
  • Part of a butter churn
  • Machine to separate the hulls from the seeds of peas or beans
  • Inside of a kerosene lamp
One of our loyal followers, Jess C., gave the artifact a full functional analysis before making her guess:

"Hmm. A thing that gets bolted down and spins. The weirdest thing is that although it's not much bigger than a hand mixer, it's apparently meant to be used with both hands at the same time. There are bolts, so it wants you stay put while you have both hands occupied. Oh, or feet, maybe? That would make more sense, even though the handles aren't exactly foot-friendly. So ok, you now have both hands free to... to do what? Feed something into it? Or around it? Maybe a belt or chain goes around it. Ah-ha! It is a washing machine agitator. You sit and pedal and it drives a bigger wheel that shakes your laundry around the tub. And your hands are free to wring or scrub items as needed."

While Jess's guess was well-reasoned, it was still a little wide of the mark.  The machine is actually a Victorian-era exercise machine, designed to be secured to a table so that the user could work the handles and lean against the balls as they rotated.  (Ouch!)  It's similar to the 'ab roller' designed by Swedish physician Jonas Gustaf Wilhelm Zander and shown below.

Dr. Zander, and his American counterpart Dr. John Harvey Kellogg, were proponents of exercise and nutrition to create a healthy lifestyle.  The exercise movement of the late 19th century was in part a response to a new class of white-collar workers leading a much more sedentary lifestyle than their ancestors.  By the turn of the century, gymnasiums and sanitariums full of exercise machines were located in cities across the United States, although some of the machines looked more like medieval torture devices!

A review of the New York City Zander Institute in an 1895 edition of the New York Times echoes this sentiment:
" . . . a large and handsomely fitted room  . . . lined with machines, gives the uninitiated 
observer an impression of a carefully devised torture chamber more than of a doctor's office 
or a gymnasium, both of which functions the institute, to a certain degree, fills ...."
While we may look at these images with skepticism today, abdominal toning machines similar to our artifact were being used until quite recently . . . 

  . . . as this advertisement from a 1970s J.C. Penney's catalogue shows.  

Of course, we could ask what future generations think of our current fitness fads as well.  For example, how well do you think the Shake Weight will endure in years to come?

What current exercise gizmos are you crazy about?  Which do you think are just plain crazy?  Let us know in the comment sections below!