Monday, May 2, 2016

Great Balls of Fire! A Mystery Revealed

If you visited the museum to look at this little guy or perhaps if you had really good eyesight and could read the labels in the pictures in the first post, you might have been able to tell that this mystery artifact calls itself a “fire ball.” What a strange name, right? What that really means is that it is supposed to be used to start fires. Most likely those fires would be in a fireplace in one’s home. Essentially, this “fire ball,” is a replacement for traditional kindling, and supposedly it is meant to be much less fussy.

The full text on the label is as follows:
“For Kindling fires without Kindlings, shavings, paper, or any combustible matter. Costs but 25 cents and lasts a life time.

Directions for Use: Place the Fire Ball in a Wide mouth bottle and fill with Kerosene Oil, above the ball, no…ing the cork so that the wire may extend out of the bottle, and keep corked so that the oil may not evaporate. If oil is objectionable Turpentine or alcohol may be used in the same way, when lighted, hold the ball point down until completely on fire, then hold or place under the fire with moderate draft, and in three minutes it will produce a brilliant fire. Chinese Fire Ball Co., Sole Prop’rs, Augusta ME.

While researching, I couldn’t find anything about this particular name referring to the firestarting item (I found a lot about a kind of dragon in the Harry Potter series). Instead, this artifact could be called a “Cape Cod Firestarter.” 

Many Cape Cod firestarters like this were made with pumice stone, which is porous, so it could hold a lot of the oil it needs to start the fire.  Others are made of soapstone, which we believe our “Fire Ball” is as well. Soapstone is a soft stone, so it would easily be shaped into the “ball” at the end of the wire  on our artifact.   It is also a very heat resistant substance, so it can be soaked in a flammable liquid, and the stone itself will not be harmed, even at very high temperatures, which is why the Fire Ball claims it will “last a life time.” 

Other examples of these objects look a lot fancier than our example, with their own little pot, kept by the hearth, and some are still being sold and used today!

What it looks like in use!

I hope you enjoyed learning about this unique artifact as much as I did! If you're curious, you can come see this artifact and tons of other cool stuff at the museum.

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