Monday, March 31, 2014

Mystery Artifact: A Little Bird Told Me . . .

Today's Mystery Artifact strikes me as delightfully spring-y, from the mossy green fabric to its reminder of all the birds I heard celebrating the return of warm weather as I arrived at work this morning!

The artifact is a stylized bird, which sits atop a clamp (we have it perched on a custom-made stand in the photo).  An area of cushioned green velvet fabric sits on the bird's back, with a larger area of green velvet below its chest. 

The middle of the bird's body contains a hinge, so that by squeezing its tail sections together the bird's beak can open and close.  It is tarnished silver-plate, although a peek at the bottom of the 'dish' to which the larger area of green velvet is attached shows wear and tear, hinting that the bird's interior might be brass or bronze.

Deeply embossed feather patterns and eyes decorate the bird, with a raised leaf design on the clamp and a quatrefoil-shaped key to turn the thumbscrew.  Interestingly, the edge of the bird's right wing is stamped PATENTED, and its left wing reads FEB 15, 1853.  Using this particular clue for research (i.e. Googling it) will bring results, so please - as a courtesy to other readers - make your guess before you check your work, or wait until Wednesday or Thursday to post the answer! 

More than just a toy, this pretty bird had a specified use in 19th-century households, and similar tools are still in use today.  What do you think this object's function could be?  Please post your ideas in the comments section below or on our Facebook page, and if you are nearby stop in to the museum to check it out in person.  Happy guessing!


  1. Hmm... the velvet cushions look like pin cushions, other than that it is hard to know. I know nothing of sewing!

  2. Is the spring jaw to attach it to a table or something? Keep your needles at the ready?

  3. I second pin cushions

  4. I went from "darning" to "lace" to "I got nuthin'..."