Monday, June 27, 2016

Have You Heard? It's Time to Reveal this Mystery Artifact

As I predicted, we got a correct guess on this one!

Thanks to Nike on Facebook for your guess!

Well, if you didn’t know, it’s an ear trumpet. To be more specific, it is a type of ear trumpet referred to as a “conversation tube.”

Ear trumpets were invented in the 17th century to help people who were partially deaf to hear more clearly. They don’t amplify sound the way that modern hearing aids do. Instead, they collect sound into and lead the sound waves into the user’s ear. There are many different types of ear trumpets, coming in many shapes and sizes, and made of various materials.

The simplest kinds of ear trumpets were basically a tapered tube. The earliest ear trumpets were made of animal horns, and may date back to before the “official” invention in the 1600s. Some may have been hunting horns that someone thought to stick in their ear! Eventually, ear horns were made of other materials, usually metal. The first ear trumpets were fairly big, usually longer than a foot, and sometimes even over 2 feet long. Soon, because of the size, smaller versions were developed, including collapsible ones like this one:

There were also small, portable ear trumpets called “London Domes.”
These were used from the mid-1800s to around 1930. They were popular mostly because of the small size. The shape of these are certainly a little strange. But the wide mouth and parabolic shape of the dome focus the sound into the ear tube.

If you’re wondering about the name, these were named after the dome of St. Paul’s Cathedral in London. Apparently, the shape is similar enough that people determined the name appropriate.

Ah, but I am going off on a tangent! As I said before, our Mystery Artifact is actually a “conversation tube,” also known as a speaking tube. The point of conversation tubes is that the bell end (the end that receives the sound) can be moved around easily to direct the listener’s attention to specific things. Most often they would be used directly, having one person speak straight into the receiving end.  These didn’t pick up far off sounds as well as the other examples did, instead they were made to be able to hear sounds very close up. So, as the name indicates, they were effective when having conversations. Or, as this listing from the 1895 Montgomery Ward catalogue states, it "suits the most obstinate cases of deafness."

Bonus: There's also a London Dome listed!

Eventually, in-ear hearing aids were invented, and these strange contraptions were mostly a thing of the past. Though some people still swear by them, I have learned while researching this. Which would you prefer? A hearing aid or a conversation tube? If you want a look at more ear trumpets (I know I do), here's a great collection of vintage hearing apparatuses (I barely scratched the surface on all the different kinds)!

Thanks for reading this mystery artifact reveal!
We'd love it if you came to visit to check out all our previous artifacts in person, or just to have a look around the museum. All summer long, we are open 10 am - 5 pm Monday through Saturday, and 1 pm-5pm on Sundays. 

Monday, June 20, 2016

Circle Around this Mystery Artifact...

Hello again!
Here’s this week’s artifact.

The majority of the artifact is a woven cord made of mohair, according to our records. It measures about 3 feet long. 

The cord connects the two end pieces, which are both made of hard rubber. 

One end is black and bells out. The other end is small, thin, and slightly curved,  with a hole in the end. 

There are times when it seems to me that these artifacts are not actually such great mysteries but they’re fun to look at nonetheless. So if you know what this one is, let us know! You can comment here, on our Facebook page, tweet the answer at us, or comment on Instagram! Of course, you can always come see us and take a look in person!

Monday, June 13, 2016

Tickled "Pink" about this Mystery Artifact

This mystery artifact is a pinking iron, alternately called a pinking chisel. So, the guess of "chisel" from Brent on Facebook was partially correct!

What is that and what does it do?  Pinking irons are tools that would cut a notched or scalloped edge into fabric that may have looked something like this:


These edges are very much a decorative choice for clothing, however, these edges do also serve a practical purpose. The zig-zag or scallop pattern makes unfinished edges less likely to fray than a straight-cut edge because every single cut is on a bias, making it harder to pull the individual threads out of the fabric.

 To use a pinking iron, you would put the sharp edge with the design onto the fabric and strike the other end with a mallet to apply pressure and cut through.  You may be familiar with the more common modern tool that achieves the same general purpose, pinking shears (as a child I just thought these were cool scissors to cut my construction paper with).

You might be wondering: “Why are they called pinking irons?” The verb “to pink” is related to the color “pink” but in a rather roundabout way. The verb “pink” seems to have come first, from an old word that means to pierce or to stab. Which is essentially what pinking irons, and now pinking shears do. They cut in to fabric. From this definition of the word “pink” we might have gotten the name of this type of flower:

Which are called, simply, Pinks (and are related to Carnations). As you can see in the picture, they have notched edges like the cuts made by a pinking iron. The name of the flower may have given us the word for the color pink, as many of them are in that color family. It's unclear which word came first, but what is clear is that they're all connected.

Stay tuned next week for another mystery artifact! And as always, if you're interested in a closer look at this or any of our recent mystery artifacts, please come visit us and take a look around the museum too! Thanks for reading!

Monday, June 6, 2016

This Mystery Artifact is Making Waves

Hello and Happy Monday! Here we are again with another mystery artifact!

This one is rather small, measuring a length of about 3 ½ inches and a width of about ½ inch.

One end of this small metal tool fans out to a head with many grooves, making it look somewhat like a wavy semicircle.

The other end of the tool is flat with notches cut into the corners of its rounded rectangular shape.

That’s about all I can say about the artifact at the moment! So, do you know what it is at first sight? Do you have a guess? You can comment here, on our Facebook page, tweet the answer at us, or comment on Instagram! Of course, you can always come see us and take a look in person!