We have two contrasting artifacts for you today! First, a ladies’ bustle, from the mid-late 1880s:

T2074

Many people have a sense of what a bustle was: a method of supporting a fashionably large skirt in the back. But as a fashion trend, the bustle was not static. Bustles of the early 1870s were wide, drawing the still-full skirts toward the rear. Around 1880 the trend faded somewhat as skirts grew narrower, but as that decade progressed the bustle came back, high and narrow and creating almost a right-angle with the wearer’s back. The undergarments used to create these different silhouettes were many and varied; some were full petticoats or crinolines with the bustle built in, while others were separate accessories. They could be made of steel hoops, layers of fabric, ties and springs, padded rolls, or stiffened hair-cloth (here is a nice assortment of historical examples, and the Metropolitan Museum online collection shows a variety of options).

Our example was originally cataloged as a “child’s bustle,” but while children’s fashions often copied adults’, this bustle was in fact designed for an adult.  Its narrow width (six inches wide) and pronounced shape put it in the mid 1880s.  The waist tape is printed with the manufacturer’s label, now hard to read, but with enough left to inform us that it is one of Christopher C. Shelby’s designs:

T2074 label

Mr. Shelby, of Passaic, NJ, patented a number of “New and Useful Improvements in Bustles” in the 1880s; I’ve not found a definite patent design match for our piece, but it closely resembles this patent from 1888. Even better, similar items can be found in other museum collections, such as this 1884 “New Phantom” model at the Victoria & Albert Museum. (You can also learn how to make your own, here!) The ribs of this bustle are designed to collapse inward when you sit down – likely considered by many women to be a definite “improvement.” Here’s our bustle on a dressform, showing the resultant silhouette (imagine sitting in this if it didn’t accordion inward), and below that is an 1883 Harper’s Bazaar fashion plate, showing the bustle effect in use in “ladies’ walking and evening dresses.”

T2074 in action

Walking (left) and evening (right) dresses, from Harper's Bazaar, December 1883

Walking (left) and evening (right) dresses, from Harper’s Bazaar, December 1883

As for who wore this particular bustle, that’s not entirely clear. Donated by Bob Eckman, it was found on the third floor of a home in Rockville during 1980s renovation work, and we presume it was left there by a previous owner. This Queen Anne style house, at 114 W. Montgomery Avenue, was built around 1890 by Edwin Montgomery West (born 1862), a master builder locally famous for employing the “Rockville Bay” window on many of his homes. West lived here with his family until 1909, at which point they moved to Virginia and sold the house to Judge Winfield Scott Magruder. Judge Magruder’s daughter, Daisy Valeria Magruder (1881-1970), lived here the rest of her life. However, Daisy was a little young for an adult-sized, fashionable bustle of the mid-late 1880s. It could have been brought to the house by her mother, Eleanor Magruder, but I personally favor West’s wife, Olivia Bogley West (born 1873), or even better West’s sister Frances O. Green (born 1860), who lived here along with Edwin and Olivia. Age-appropriate Frances packing away an out-of-fashion accessory in the attic, then forgetting it when the house is sold, makes sense to me… but I’ve not found much information about her that could help to confirm or deny.

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I wanted to throw in another artifact today, and I could have gone a few different ways: Another 1880s fashion piece? Something else forgotten in an attic? But instead I decided on this item, with a similar function but, er, in the opposite direction: A bandeau brassiere from the 1920s.

T1674

This silk and satin bra, made by the Modishform Company of New York (size 38), was donated by Eugenie LeMerle Riggs, who described it as “a bra designed to flatten, 1922-23.” Indeed, there’s not much room in this garment; the only concessions to the shape of the body underneath are two minor tucks in each side, and the manufacturer’s name is a nod to the wearer’s desire to achieve a “modish form” or silhouette.  Not every woman indulged in a binding brassiere in the 1920s, of course (or in a bustle in the 1880s, either), but the flat-chested fashion wasn’t limited to high-living flappers. The 1927 Sears, Roebuck catalog featured a variety of bandeau bras, “confining” brassieres, and a “Boyshform Brassiere” (fun fact: that company sued Modishform in 1922 for trademark infringement), which “is very popular, as it gives your figure that smart boylike appearance that so many women desire.”

T1674 detail

Unlike the possible bustle-wearers listed above, we know a fair amount about this bra’s owner. Eugenie LeMerle (1904-2003) grew up in Washington, DC, and graduated in 1931 with an architecture degree from what is now George Washington University, where she was voted one of the “six most beautiful women” on campus. She had a brief career as a ballroom dancer, before marrying George Riggs and moving to Ashton to raise a family. She donated a lot of her fashionable clothing, from various decades, to our collections.  In other words, I can well believe she was concerned with presenting an appropriately boyish silhouette during the 1920s.  This isn’t the best pose for showing off said silhouette, but how can I resist adding this fabulous photo of Eugenie LeMerle in 1923?

Framed photograph of Eugenie LeMerle, 1923. Donated by Eugenie L. Riggs.

Framed photograph of Eugenie LeMerle, 1923. Donated by Eugenie L. Riggs.

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Whole books have been written about women’s undergarments, fashionable silhouettes, and what both mean for culture, social mores, feminism and femininity, and the like.  In other words, if these artifacts have whetted your appetite, there is much more to learn!  To get you started, here are some larger online exhibits of undergarments: The Victoria & Albert Museum provides a nice overview of late 19th century shaping undergarments;  the Met’s Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History features a little more about the history of the bandeau bra; and the Museum at FIT has an exhibit (open through November 2014, if you want to visit) titled “Exposed: A History of Lingerie,” which includes an online version.

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Bonus artifact! Men’s fashions have not been immune to the need for shape-enhancing (or –reducing) undergarments. However, we don’t have anything along those lines in our collections. Instead, enjoy a look at a now-rare form of support garment for men: a pair of sock garters from the 1950s, intended to help the well-dressed gentleman keep his non-elasticized socks from sagging unbecomingly about his ankles.  These were purchased as vintage pieces by MCHS volunteer Mary Lou Luff, for display in one of our exhibits.

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Yesterday was Maryland’s primary election. It was held in June rather than September, somewhat earlier in the year than we’re used to; despite some heated campaign rhetoric and an astonishingly large amount of pre-election mail – seemingly indicative of an exciting race and interested voters – it was greeted with low turnout. When I rolled up to the polls in the morning, the electronic voting system wasn’t working; the beleaguered election judges had to instruct me, and the other two (!) people there, on using the provisional – a.k.a. paper – ballots. (And they did a great job; all respect to election judges!)

I enjoy voting in all its forms, but there’s something unsatisfying about simply filling in a little circle with a golf pencil. We have a variety of election and voting materials in the collections here, and when I got in to work I pulled up the catalog record for this fine item: A stack of paper ballots from the Montgomery County Democratic Primary of May 6, 1940.

stack o' ballots

The ballots measure 5″ x 3″ when folded (the stack is 2″ tall) and they’re printed with “Democratic Primary – Official Ballot for Montgomery County Election, May 6th, 1940. [printed signature] Donald Bowie, Jr., President of the Board of Supervisors of Elections for Montgomery County.” Each was initialed by the judge, in this case an as-yet unidentified M.R.L.

1940 ballot front

There’s not much to the ballot, option-wise – the only question asked is about the Democratic nomination for the Senate – but the voter indicated his or her choice with a nice definitive X (so satisfying!) before placing the folded ballot into the designated box.  It looks like they were stuck onto a spike during the counting process; at some point this set of ballots was wired together and, deliberately or inadvertently, saved for posterity. Unfortunately this is one of those items donated to us many decades ago, when my earnest volunteer predecessors were, ah, somewhat inconsistent in their recording. I do not know who donated them, or why this particular group of 200-odd ballots are wired together.

Bruce

The 1940 Maryland primary was in some ways similar to the one that just occurred. There were a few contentious races, with members of the same party sniping at each other about policies and experience. There was also a rather low turnout, with just over half of Maryland’s 800,000 registered voters stepping out to the polls. The Montgomery County House of Representatives Democratic candidate ran unopposed (perhaps that’s why only the Senate appears on the ballot? Queen Anne’s County voters, for example, had more questions to answer that May), and the Senate race was really between Howard Bruce and the incumbent, George L. Radcliffe, with your man Vincent F. Gierttoski a barely-mentioned third. In the month leading up to the election, Bruce argued that Radcliffe was too quiet, “chid[ing] him for making only one speech in the Upper House in five and a half years” (Washington Post, May 7, 1940), and the candidates jostled for endorsements from their Democratic colleagues in the state and national legislature. The Washington Post ended a May 6 article on the “lackadaisical” campaign with this tidbit:

A comical note was struck in Rockville, seat of Montgomery County. When Bruce headquarters put up a large banner reading ‘Democratic Headquarters,’ the Radcliffe followers next door posted a sign reading ‘Democratic Headquarters – Main Entrance.’

In the end, although Montgomery County Democrats gave Bruce a narrow margin here, Radcliffe won the statewide nomination and went on to serve his second term in the Senate. He lost the nomination in 1946, and retired from politics.

Interestingly, the 1940 election may have been the last time Montgomery County voters used these simple paper ballots. A photo series by Marjory Collins, now in the Library of Congress (FSA/OWI collections), shows Olney voters in the 1942 general election; in the picture below, a voter is being shown how to use an automatic voting machine (the actual voting went on behind the curtains at left, don’t worry).

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Like all good archival collections, the Sween Library contains some unexpected* finds. Take, for example, our extensive family files. As you gently sort through pages and pages of genealogical charts, you’re likely to come across photographs, letters, and other primary sources tucked in amongst the research.

Prettyman anniversary booklet cover

From the Prettyman family folder, we have for you a hand-made souvenir booklet, prepared on the occasion of the 50th wedding anniversary of the Prettymans of Rockville. Elijah Barrett Prettyman (1830-1907), then Principal of the Brookeville Academy, married Lydia Forrest Johnston (1832-1917) of Rockville in 1855. Fifty years later, the happy couple was joined in celebration by their six children, three in-laws, seven grandchildren, and two of Lydia’s sisters. The family gathered at the Maryland State Normal School (now Towson University), where Dr. Prettyman had served as Principal since 1890. Naturally, they commemorated the event with a group portrait:

Back row, left to right: Albert Almoney, Miriam Prettyman Almoney, Lydia F. Prettyman Jr., Anna Prettyman, Rev. Forrest J. Prettyman, Elizabeth Stonestreet Prettyman, Eliza Prettyman, Rosetta Bouic Prettyman, Charles Wesley Prettyman. Center row: Eulalia Johnston Gardette, Lydia Forrest Johnston Prettyman, Elijah Barrett Prettyman, Martha Prettyman (on granddad's lap), Margaret Johnston Badger. Front row: William Forrest Prettyman, Elijah Barrett Prettyman II, Edith Prettyman, Charles W. Prettyman II, Lydia Almoney, Mary Almoney. Donated by the Brunett family.

Back row, left to right: Albert Almoney, Miriam Prettyman Almoney, Lydia F. Prettyman Jr., Anna Prettyman, Rev. Forrest J. Prettyman, Elizabeth Stonestreet Prettyman, Eliza Prettyman, Rosetta Bouic Prettyman, Charles Wesley Prettyman. Center row: Eulalia Johnston Gardette, Lydia Forrest Johnston Prettyman, Elijah Barrett Prettyman, Martha Prettyman (on granddad’s lap), Margaret Johnston Badger. Front row: William Forrest Prettyman, Elijah Barrett Prettyman II, Edith Prettyman, Charles W. Prettyman II, Lydia Almoney, Mary Almoney. Donated by the Brunett family.

June 6, 1905. Guests of honor Lydia and Elijah Prettyman are seated in the center, with Lydia’s sisters Eulalia Johnston Gardette and Margaret Johnston Badger on either side; Dr. Prettyman is holding granddaughter Martha on his lap. The other six grandkids are in front, and the Prettymans’ six children and three in-laws are in back.

Son-in-law Albert J. Almoney (1858-1939), shown in the back row at left (next to his wife Miriam), put together our little souvenir booklet to commemorate his in-laws’ Golden Anniversary, using cut-out photographs, handwritten verses, and a printed poem.  It measures 5″ x 7″, with a hand-painted cardstock cover, and was originally tied together with a ribbon. Mr. Almoney signed the back – and, as a former publisher of the Montgomery Advocate, he may have had the best access to a printer – but perhaps other family members contributed (or at least commented on) the content: an 1873 photo of the family, including servants, at home in Rockville; portraits of Elijah and Lydia as young adults, and in contemporary form; and a sentimental poem, “Golden Wedding Bells” (which I cannot find online; did the Prettyman children/in-laws write it themselves?).

Verses from Shakespeare (his) and Elisabeth Barrett Browning (hers)

Verses from Shakespeare (his) and Elisabeth Barrett Browning (hers)

 

Verses from Tennyson (his) and Shakespeare (hers)

Verses from Tennyson (his) and Shakespeare (hers)

 

Can anyone identify this poem?

Can anyone identify this poem?

This copy was donated to MCHS by the family of Albert and Miriam’s daughter Lydia Almoney Brunett; it’s not clear if this was the only copy, or if Mr. Almoney made one for every member of the party. Perhaps every family contributed something to the celebration, whether tangible or not … or maybe the other kids thought to themselves, “Ugh, Albert! Always hogging all the son-in-law points!” (Well, he was at that time the only son-in-law, but you see what I mean.)

A family member later identified this as an 1873 photo of the Prettyman house, 104 W. Jefferson St, Rockville. The verse is by Henry Van Dyke, and was a popular poem in 1904-05.

The Prettyman house, 104 W. Jefferson St, Rockville. A family member later identified this as an 1873 photo. The verse is by Henry Van Dyke, and was a popular poem in 1904-05.

These fifty years of marriage saw Elijah and Lydia through house renovations, job changes, three weddings, the deaths of three grandchildren, and the everyday strife and stresses of raising a family. The Prettymans seem to have been fairly close, with strong ties to the Rockville community even if they weren’t living there at the time, but even families that see each other every day like to make an occasion out of a big wedding anniversary; likely there were other elements to the celebration, which our photo and booklet do not show us. But these two pieces give us a nice little story, all the same.

Prettyman anniversary booklet, back cover

Today’s post is in honor of A Fine Collection’s fifth anniversary, a momentous occasion to which our host, WordPress, kindly alerted me. (Also – although this is a complete coincidence – today is my grandparents’ sixtieth wedding anniversary; if you see the Mahaffies, be sure to wish them well.) Happy anniversary to anyone and everyone who’s celebrating a milestone today!

BONUS: Fun fact! DMV residents might recognize the name E. Barrett Prettyman, which adorns a Federal Courthouse near the Judiciary Square Metro stop. (I always notice the name, anyway.)  That building was named for Elijah Barrett Prettyman II (1891-1971), grandson of EB and Lydia Prettyman, son of Rev. Forrest J. and Bessie Stonestreet Prettyman.  Extra-bonus fun fact: Bessie Stonestreet Prettyman was a daughter of Dr. E.E. Stonestreet, whose medical office is one of our museums.  Local history is so much fun!

*That is, we generally know these things are there, but the researcher gets a pleasant surprise.

 

The month of June has a lot going on, filled with holidays, traditional events, and newly instituted month-long celebrations. These “National [X] Month” designations cover topics from the pleasant and fun (accordions! audiobooks! roses!) to the serious (men’s health, torture awareness).  So many places to find blog inspiration!  A Fine Collection has already featured artifacts related to Father’s Day, end-of-year recitals, graduation, and Flag Day, and last week I accidentally took care of National Dairy Month, so let’s take a look at some collections items that relate to other exciting June moments.

 

June is National Candy Month. This is a glass hobnail candy dish, 6″ diameter, probably made by the Fenton Art Glass Company of West Virginia. Milton Allman and Ordella Shingleton were married in 1949; they moved to Bethesda soon afterward. Thanks to Mrs. Allman’s careful record-keeping, we know that the wedding presents included four candy dishes: a silver dish, one with an aluminum lid, a “Fostoria stem” dish, and this “pink curled edge dish” from Mr. and Mrs. Lambert. (On a related note, Berthy Girola Anderson of Rockville’s 1929 list of wedding gifts included eight bonbon dishes, out of 151 items: in other words, the accumulated loot was 5.3% candy dish.) Donated by William Allman.

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June is National Safety Month. Here’s a Boy Scouts of America merit badge booklet on that topic, copyright 1971 (1977 printing); it was used by Scoutmasters Stanley Berger and Jim Douglas, Troop 219, which met at Millian Methodist Church in Aspen Hill. The book still has a 55 cent price tag from J.C. Penney – probably the store in Congressional Plaza, Rockville (bonus photo at end of this post). Donated by Stanley L. Berger.

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June is Adopt-a-Cat Month (also Adopt-a-Shelter-Cat Month); June 4th was Hug Your Cat Day. We have many photos of historic Montgomery County cats in our collections, but this one can’t be resisted: Lloyd Brewer, Jr., of Rockville hugging one of the family cats, circa 1928. Donated by the Brewer family.

Lloyd Brewer, Jr., with cat

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June is National African American Music Appreciation Month. Our collections include 94 jazz and swing records from the 1920s-40s (mostly 78s) amassed by several generations, with their last home in Bethesda before donation to MCHS. (That’s a roundabout way of saying most of these records were probably purchased in Chicago.) The collection includes this eight-side “Ellington Special,” put out by Columbia Records in 1947. The notes inside the cover inform us, “In this, the first post-war album in its Hot Jazz Classics series, Columbia takes special pride in presenting for the first time eight historically significant and musically distinguished recordings by Duke Ellington and his orchestra. None of the sides in this collection has been available until now . . . [This set is] the rarest of treats for connoisseurs, collectors, Ellington admirers, and just plain jazz fans.” Though all four records in the set are present and intact, the cover has not fared as well; the front and back are detached, and the spine is gone completely.  It appears that this was a frequently played and enjoyed album. Donated by David and Joy MacDonald.

2000.03 Ellington

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June is National LGBT History Month. We don’t currently have much in our collections to reflect the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender experience in Montgomery County – something we’d like to rectify – but we do have a recent artifact: a yard sign showing religious support for the Civil Marriage Protection Act (Question 6), the November 2012 Maryland ballot question that would allow same-sex marriages in the state of Maryland.  Question 6 passed, and the Act went into effect on January 1, 2013. The 18”x27” plastic sign with vinyl lettering reads, on both sides, “AMEN – Advocate for Marriage Equality Now – United Church of Christ.”  Signs and posters are a nice graphic way for museums to tell the stories of local concerns and political questions. Because it’s proclaiming the views of a specific group (in this case, a congregation), this sign helps illustrate some of the nuances of the debate that more generic “Vote Yes” / “Vote No” signs might miss.  (Interested in learning more about community activism topics in Montgomery County’s history? Visit our next exhibit, opening on June 28, 2014!) Donated by Emily Correll.

X2012.16.02

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There are many, many more options for June celebrations, including National Caribbean-American Heritage Month, for which I could find nothing in our collections (help us fill in that gap, if you can!).  You can while away an afternoon looking up “June national month” on the internet, if you choose.  But first, as promised, a photo of the J.C. Penney Co. at Congressional Plaza, Rockville, circa 1960s.  The store has since closed, and the center has been remodeled, but I’m sure long-time residents will remember this version of Congressional. (If anyone can give me a better “no earlier than” date based on the car models or other details, please clue me in.)  Photo donated by Edward A. Abbott.

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Here we have a set of Textile Classification study cards, created in 1924 by Margaret Ravenolt, a student at Frederick’s Hood College. There are 51 cards, bound with a metal ring, each card providing details on the manufacture and usage of the chosen swatch of fabric.

M. Ravenolt study cards

Cotton cretonne

The 5” x 8” cards have been pre-printed with the desired information, as well as the name of the school; this was clearly a course-wide requirement, not a project created individually for fun. The fabrics are all noted as having been purchased in Frederick in 1924 (alas, the stores are not named), and they are a comprehensive lot. Ever read an historical novel and wondered, ‘what is foulard, or nainsook, or challis?’ Miss Ravenolt had the answer, in both written and physical form.

Percale

Cotton percale

Silk taffeta

Silk taffeta

Wool challis, detail

Wool challis

As much fun as it is to see examples of 1924 calico and cheviot, this is essentially someone’s homework – and from another county, at that. Why is it in our artifact collections? Thankfully, it was part of a donation of archival material, which helps us put our little pre-digital fabric database in context.

Margaret Ravenolt (1906-1990) grew up in Pennsylvania, attended Hood College in the early 1920s, and taught in the Maryland State public school system (probably Frederick County) from 1927-29. In 1928 she married Irvin C. Thomas of Adamstown, Frederick County, Maryland. During the 1930s, the Thomases moved to a home on Brooks Avenue, Gaithersburg, where Irvin worked as a manager at the Thomas & Co. warehouse. Irvin died in March of 1937; later that year Margaret returned to teaching, beginning her thirty year career with the Montgomery County Public School system. She taught at several schools around the county, and by 1963 she was teaching Home Arts at Edwin W. Broome Junior High, in the Twinbrook neighborhood of Rockville. She retired at the end of the 1967-68 school year.

Just a few of the pamphlets and brochures in Mrs. Thomas's collection.

Just a few of the pamphlets and brochures in Mrs. Thomas’s collection.

Most of the materials in this small collection (donated by Mrs. Thomas’s daughter, Barbara Thomas Lima) relate to these years at Broome Jr High, including recipes, knitting patterns, home furnishing books, and other resources for teaching home economics, as well as correspondence related to her pension. Along with these pieces there are also fun tidbits like notes on upcoming quizzes; a hall pass, written on the back of a recipe for ginger snaps; a letter thanking her for mentoring a student teacher from her alma mater, Hood College; and a 1963 report by Mrs. Thomas and her fellow Home Arts teacher Laura Burruss on how they dealt with classroom overcrowding.

Left: notes on "Cookies, Grade 9." Right: "Four Classes, Three Rooms, Four Teachers," a 1963 report on dealing with overcrowding.

Left: notes on “Cookies, Grade 9.” Right: “Four Classes, Three Rooms, Four Teachers,” a 1963 report on dealing with overcrowding.

(A side note on Broome Junior High: Named for Dr. Edwin W. Broome (1885-1956), a long-time County Superintendent, the school opened in 1957 in the rapidly growing suburbs of Rockville. It was a busy, full school for many years – as Mrs. Thomas’s 1963 “Four Classes, Three Rooms, Four Teachers” report attests – but by the late 1970s, the surrounding neighborhoods had aged; Broome closed in 1981, and its remaining students were moved to nearby Wood Junior High. The building, on Twinbrook Parkway, is still standing, used now as offices and storage space for county agencies.)

Saved along with these contemporary resources were three earlier items, dating from Mrs. Thomas’s college courses: A report titled “Textile Notes,” another report on house styles (with lots of red pencil; she seems to have done better with textiles), and our Textile Classification study card set. Perhaps she used these items in her teaching . . . or perhaps she simply kept them on hand to remind herself what it’s like to be student, studying home economics and trying to remember fifty different types of fabric.

A page from Margaret Ravenolt's architectural styles report, circa 1920s.

A page from Margaret Ravenolt’s architectural styles report, circa 1920s.

 

I was already planning to feature Mrs. Thomas’s small collection this week when I learned that, coincidentally, yesterday was Teacher Appreciation Day. So take today’s post as a reminder to appreciate your favorite teachers, past and present, no matter what subject! And please, if any of my readers remember Mrs. Thomas – or anyone else at Broome – or any Home Arts teachers around the county, share those memories with us!

 

… I know you wanted to see the hall pass, and I’ll oblige:

Hall pass

There are a lot of great things at our museum, but we are sadly (from this curator’s point of view) lacking in the area of diverse flatware. Our silver collection includes teaspoons aplenty, but no oyster ladles, sugar shells, pickle forks, fish slices, or other useful forms. An exception is the delicate little salt spoon owned by Julia Prout Vinson Anderson (1864-1950) of Rockville. This 3.25” sterling silver spoon combines two of my favorite artifact qualities: highly specific function, and clearly marked identification.

gs0049 Gorham salt spoon

For many centuries table salt was served from small dishes, known as salt cellars (or simply “salts”), often using spoons such as this one. In the late 19th century some additives were developed that kept salt from clumping and sticking, thus making possible the salt shaker, but refined housekeepers included salts and salt spoons on their tables into the 20th century. At informal or family meals, one or two “master salts” might be sufficient; at a formal dinner, however, individual salt cellars could be employed. The Social Mirror: A Complete Treatise on the Laws, Rules and Usages that govern our most Refined Homes and Social Circles (1888) included this rule for “ceremonious dinners”: “A salt-cellar of some pretty or fanciful design should be placed at each plate.” No matter how many salt cellars are in use, each should have its own spoon – for, as the same source noted, you should “never use your own knife, fork or spoon to put into a dish from which others must be helped,” or from which the contents might be returned to the main container after the meal. Hence, the addition of both salt cellars and their accompanying spoons to the vast array of ‘necessary’ tableware available to the discerning 19th century host or hostess.

The 1896 Marshall Field & Co. catalog featured a page of silver plate salt accessories, with both shakers and cellars available. This boxed set conveniently contained both options.

The 1896 Marshall Field & Co. catalog featured a page of silver plate salt accessories, with both shakers and cellars available. This boxed set conveniently contained both options.

 

As for our spoon itself, it is marked with both the maker and the owner. The back is stamped with the marks used in the late 19th century by the Gorham Manufacturing Company of Rhode Island: a right-facing lion passant, an anchor, and a Gothic G (these marks subtly copy British silver hallmarks, but they’re not quite the same), plus the “STERLING” required on American-made sterling silver flatware.

Gs0049 hallmarks

The bowl of the spoon is gilded, and the handle features an attractive (if you’ll forgive a personal bias) pattern with clean lines and just a hint of frou-frou. I’ve not yet been able to identify the pattern name, as Gorham has produced a LOT of patterns over the years; if anyone can name our little fan/sunburst handle, please let me know! Without a pattern name and the year it was introduced, it’s difficult to date the spoon more specifically than “late 19th century.”

Like a lot of silver flatware, this piece was also engraved with the owner’s initial. That’s not always as helpful as it might seem; we have many pieces in our collection that are unidentified, since a set of initials, by itself, can only take you so far research-wise. Happily, in this case we know that the spoon came from the Vinson family of Rockville, and specifically (according to the donor, Mrs. Anderson’s grandson) from Julia Prout Vinson, who married George Minor Anderson in 1901. We don’t know if this was part of a wedding gift or not (remember, as Julia’s teapot shows, presents given before the marriage were marked with the bride’s maiden initials); Julia married rather later in life than was typical at the time, and perhaps she provided herself with some fine tableware for single-girl entertaining in the 1890s. Either way, it shows that she and her family were concerned with setting a good table – and could afford to do so.

Gs0049 handle detail

We have a number of mid 19th-early 20th century electrotherapy machines in our medical collections. For example, here’s a violet ray machine, designed for basic home use: a Master Outfit Number 1, manufactured by the Master Electric Company of Chicago, circa 1920. This machine came from the estate of Arlene McFarland Allnutt of Rockville.

s0057-3

The term “electrotherapy” – not to be confused with the more severe electroshock or electroconvulsive therapy (ECT) – covers a range of techniques, which use the power of electricity to deliver mild sparks, vibrations, or light to the skin or orifices. Unlike our electric curler, which claimed the new and trendy “electric” label but involved no actual electrical power, these machines did use electricity to power their magnets, vibrators, and vacuum tubes. We often take electricity for granted today, but in the early days of its discovery* it was exotic and exciting, and scientists searched for new ways to harness its power.

Our violet ray machine uses a small Tesla coil to power glass vacuum tubes  which, when inserted into the hand-held wand and powered up, will glow with a purple light and emit faint sparks. (I know you want to see one in action: here you go.) This example, Outfit No. 1, came equipped with a generator, electrical cord and plug, hand-held wand, and “General Electrode No. 1″ – all in a convenient, leather-covered and satin-lined carrying case.

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The instruction booklet (viewable in full here) informs us that Outfit No. 1 cost $12.50, and explains,

The Violet Ray is a pleasant, effective means of applying the wonderful power of electricity to the human body with pain, sensation or shock, and is without an equal in relieving pain and congestion, stimulating the circulation and restoring good health, vigor and youth.
The Violet Ray is the ordinary electric current obtained from any [electrical] socket, nebulized and split up into infinite parts and produced through glass applicators called electrodes, in a violet colored stream, hence its name, VIOLET RAY. A huge voltage of electricity is obtained and applied to the body or hair but without any shock, whatever, the only sensation being a pleasant warmth.

There is no quackery or uncertainty about the Violet-Ray High Frequency Current. It is a thorough cell massage, and a wonderful stimulant, and while it is by no means put forward as a cure-all, yet it is of the utmost aid in restoring to normal the physical condition impaired from almost any cause.

(There’s plenty more along those lines, including illustrations; I encourage you to peruse the rest of the book, or this similar booklet for the Branston Violet Ray High Frequency Generator.)

In the 19th century, electrotherapy was used to treat a wide variety of physical and mental ailments. Along with aches, pains, and other somatic symptoms, machines such as these were used to treat those convenient, you’re-upset-and-we-don’t-really-know-why** diagnoses of hysteria, neurasthenia, and “nervous prostration.” By the early 20th century,  electrotherapy was starting to fall out of favor with the medical profession. However, that did not mean that machines of this variety were no longer sold or used; alternative medicines, then as now, were quite popular, especially for home use. Consumers of the 1910s-30s could choose from a number of options, depending on their particular hopes and needs.

It seems there was an electrode or applicator for any problem. Our collections include this circa 1920 instructional pamphlet for a Halliwell Electrical Company violet ray machine, which explains the different functions; for example, here’s one page (click to enlarge the image, or you can first try to guess the uses of each one):

s200109-6

You will be interested to know that, according to this Halliwell booklet, “Violet Rays or High Frequency Currents benefit all living matter,” and will cure or aid in alleviating the following: Abcesses, Acne, Alopecia, Alcoholism and Drug Additions, Anemia and Chlorosis, Arteriosclerosis and High Blood Pressure, Asthma, Ataxia, Backache, Barber’s Itch (Sycosis), Bladder Disease (Cystitis), Bronchitis, Brain Fag [use "a spark just strong enough to have a good tonic effect”], Breast Development, Bright’s Disease, Bruises, Bunions, Callouses, Cancer [for "mild forms,” and please “consult authority" as well], Canker, Carbuncles, Catarrhal Conditions, Cataract, Chafe, Chapped Hands or Face, Chilblains, Cold Hands or Feet, Colds, Colds in Lungs, Constipation, Corns, Dandruff, Deafness, Diabetes, Diptheria, Dyspepsia, Earache, Eczema, Eye Diseases, Felons, Female Troubles, Fistulas, Flabby Breast, Freckles, Frost Bites, Furunculosis, Goitre, Gout, Gray Hair, Grippe (Influenza), Hay Fever, Headaches, Hives and Rash, Hemorrhoids, Insomnia, Leucorrhea, Lumbago, Massage [i.e, use in massage, not treating it], Mumps, Nervousness, Neuralgia, Neuritis, Obesity, Pains, Paralysis, Poison Ivy, Prostatic Diseases, Pyorrhea, Red Nose, Rheumatism, Ringworm, Scars, Sciatica, Skin Diseases, Sore Feet and Stone Bruises, Sore Throat, Sprains, Stiffness of Joints and Muscles, Tonsilitis, Ulcers, Warts and Moles, Whooping Cough, Writer’s Cramp, and Wrinkles.

***

 

The owner of our machine, Arlene Elizabeth McFarland (1896-1985), married George Battaille Allnutt (1887-1956) in 1919; they had no children. The 1920 census for Rockville shows them living at George’s parents’ home; by 1930 they’d moved to a house on Van Buren Street, where they lived out the rest of their lives. The 1930 and 1940 censuses tell us that both Allnutts were employed outside the home, doing clerical work for various local companies. Unfortunately, that’s about all I’ve been able to find about their lives, so far.

We don’t know why Mrs. Allnutt owned this instrument. Was it something she wanted, or something that a spouse, friend, or doctor gave her? (The 1920 census has George working as a clerk for the National Electrical Supply Company in DC; I kind of want this to have been a giveaway from his employer, but there’s no actual evidence for that.) Did she use it often, or think it was useless? Though the machine came from Arlene’s estate,  it’s certainly possible that it originally belonged to her husband George.  Though the end result (in this case, donation to a museum) might be the same, there is a substantial difference between an artifact that was deliberately saved, and one that was simply forgotten in a closet. Since it came to us as Mrs. Allnutt’s Rockville home was emptied after her death, we were not able to get the particulars of the machine’s story.

We can’t talk about this artifact in the specific, then, without the risk of misrepresenting Mrs. (or Mr.) Allnutt’s history. In the general sense, however, this instrument connects the lives of Rockville residents with those of women and men elsewhere in the country at the time – and with our lives today.  Whatever their reasons, the Allnutts participated in a national health fad.  In another hundred years, what early 21st century gadgets and tools will museums be collecting to show our own peculiar ideas on home health care?

 

*Some sources note that the ancient Greeks and Romans used mild electrical shocks – acquired via static electricity and electric eels – to treat various health problems.  However, it was the more modern discovery of electricity that led to the ‘everything’s better with electricity!’ fashion of the mid 19th century.

**I don’t mean to mock the sufferers of these ailments, then or now. Today, the symptoms and underlying causes of these problems are better understood; we’re also less likely, I hope, to treat as “hysterical” the women and men to whom we don’t want to listen. For an academic view of the use of electrotherapy in treating mental illness, try searching through medical journals available online, such as this article from History of Psychiatry (19)3, 2008.

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