Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Getting Warmer! Mystery Artifact Revealed

Our anonymous commenter was exactly right in guessing last week's mystery artifact was a hand warmer!  This lovely silver example has floral scrollwork down the sides, but we have several other hand warmers in our collection, as well.

This hand warmer is fabric-covered.  Although the fabric is starting to deteriorate (as textiles often do, especially when they're in contact with other materials like metal), you can still make out the hexagonal-honeycomb pattern.  Slightly harder to see are the small daisy-like flowers inside each hexagon!

This next example might be my favorite:

The case is designed a bit like a lunchbox, with a clasp to open and close it.

My favorite element of this particular artifact, however, is the slider that allows these little vents to open:

Of course, if your family was unable to afford a top-of-the-line hand warmer like the examples above, one could always go the practical route with a baked potato in each pocket.  Laura Ingalls Wilder described doing just that in her book Little House in the Big Woods.  "Ma slipped piping hot baked potatoes into their pockets to keep their fingers warm . . . " while they rode in their sled with warmed flatirons at their feet and covered in blankets, quilts, and buffalo robes.

It seems like the trusty baked potato might be making a comeback as a non-chemical, biodegradable hand warmer!  This blog post endorses baked potatoes as an eco-friendly alternative to chemical handwarmers, with an added bonus - you can snack on the potato as it cools!


Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Storing things...

Not a mystery artifact, but maybe a mystery to our readers.  Where do you put all that stuff? Well, in the past we have stored things in basements. Sometimes the basements were damp. They were always dark. But thanks three things which came together perfectly we have been able to do amazing things with our collections storage. The Chesebro family donated money for collections care, with which we were able to purchase compact mobile shelving. The Champaign County Preserve District Board approved capital expenditures to which not only helped build the building but provided the basis for the purchase of the compact mobile shelving. And finally with a grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities, we've been able to put things where they belong, so to speak. We've brought them above ground and into the light! The grant provided us with acid-free tissue paper (necessary for rewrapping things), boxes (necessary for lightening the load in some mighty heavy boxes) and shelves (the most important of all!) While we were doing that we took the opportunity to put bar codes on all the artifacts we moved, so that in the future inventory will be super easy! So, now you know. If you really want to, we can give you a tour! Call ahead (217-586-2612) or bgarvey@ccfpd.org 

Monday, February 10, 2014

Mystery Artifact - Oh, the Weather Outside is Frightful!

How many single-digit high temperatures have we had so far this winter?  Have you lost track, too?  The more recent mild winters seem to have thinned my blood a bit.  This winter wouldn't have seemed that unusual twenty or thirty years ago (although I remember only a single school day that was cancelled for cold weather because my rural school district could only get one or two buses to start that morning)!

This mystery artifact came to mind today because of the chilly weather, but that is the one and only clue I'm willing to give!

It is made of silver, with a threaded lid and chain (I'm assuming the safety pin was attached when we took possession of the object).  The sides are punctated (punched with holes) and the front and back have a scrolling floral design. 

What do you think this artifact might be?  Take your best guess in the comments section below or on Facebook!

The Mad Hatter: Mystery Artifact Revealed

 We had a few guesses for this week's mystery artifact, with most participants guessing correctly that the object was used to stretch an article of clothing - but what exactly did it stretch?

Most of you correctly guessed that this object is a hat stretcher (not to be confused with a hat block, which is generally a solid wooden form used to shape the hat in the initially manufacturing process). 

Some hat stretchers take a very simple form, like the one above and this lovely example which is also from our collection.  This hat stretcher is turned wood, likely walnut, and the right curved side turns on the spindle to lengthen or shorten the stretch. 

Of course, no well-dressed gentleman of the last few hundred years would be seen without a very fine hat!  Most were made of natural materials which could include animal leathers, animal furs, wool, and/or felt:

Until the mid-20th century, felt was made using a process called "carroting" in which beaver or rabbit pelts were treated with diluted mercury before oven-drying and slicing away the skin, leaving the matted fur fibers behind (the edges would turn a carroty orange - a color referenced by the hair of Johnny Depp's "Mad Hatter" character in the recent Tim Burton adaptation of "Alice in Wonderland").  Bonus points to the readers who can tell us in the comments section below how this process led to the phrase "mad as a hatter"!

Many hat stretchers were wooden, as the wood helps to absorb any odors from the natural fibers and/or leather being used in the creation of the hat. Here is another interesting form that a hat stretcher could take: 

Although this mahogany hat stretcher has to be my favorite:

I have to confess, I can't quite figure out how it works, but it certainly looks fantastic!

More modern hat stretchers were made of shaped metal and allowed the hat to be stretched to a specified size, like the one below:

You can follow the links below to find two similar objects.  The first is from Museum Victoria in Australia:  http://museumvictoria.com.au/collections/items/261511/hat-stretcher-circa-1960

The next link brings you to an interesting collaboration between The British Museum, the BBC, and the British public.  It seems to be a "wiki"-type webpage showcasing historic objects, and a description on the homepage reads: 
"This site uses objects to tell a history of the world. You’ll find 100 objects from the British Museum and hundreds more from museums and people across the UK."

Of course the site includes a hat stretcher -- probably more than one, in fact! -- although this one was electric (still in use and hand-cranked today, as the wiring is outdated):  http://www.bbc.co.uk/ahistoryoftheworld/objects/H2fkjP68RO6dn_dnm8Fo6w

The site is well worth exploring for its amazing list of objects ranging from neolithic hand axes through present-day space-age technology.  While the British Museum's 100 objects are beautiful and historic and rare, most fascinating to me are the objects contributed by the public (including our hat stretcher above).  It is lovely to see some of the deeply personal objects that contributors have shared.  It is equally touching to read about why that particular object holds an important place in their personal history and how they feel their individual stories fit into the larger history of the world.

"Victorian hat box and top hats" - read more at:  

Monday, February 3, 2014

It's a Mad, Mad Mystery Artifact

We had very few guesses for last week's mystery artifact.  Here's hoping that the interesting shape and function of this next object will be a bit easier to deduce!

This artifact is made of wood, likely walnut and oak.  It dates to around 1850, and it has a turned oak handle visible in the interior which allows the c-shaped brackets to be screwed open and shut.  Any ideas as to what the function of this object might be?  Let us know your guess in the comments section below!

This week's artifact was suggested by our volunteer extraordinaire, Madeleine Garvey.  I wanted to give her a special shout-out for the fantastic job she's done in the past couple of weeks in helping to inventory and store the many hundreds of artifacts that had been on display in our Prairie Stories exhibit.  Thank for all your hard work, Madeleine!