Your illustrated cliche of the day: Sometimes things are not what they seem. This miniature table (it stands 9 ½ inches high), thought to be a piece of doll furniture or perhaps a salesman’s sample, actually began life as a kaleidoscope stand, designed and patented by Charles G. Bush in 1874.

This artifact was donated by Charles T. Jacobs, and it probably comes from either his own or his wife’s family, i.e. from upper Montgomery County. It’s a finely made piece, polished and shiny, and looks like it was meant for a well-bred family of dolls. The back of one leg is marked, “C.G. Bush, Patented Nov 17, 1874.” Now comes my weekly refrain of Thank Goodness for the Internet. Of all the possible origins for this table, “stand for a parlor kaleidoscope” was almost certainly not going to cross my mind as I looked through books on furniture or doll accessories. Yet a few searches on the Web revealed not only the history of Mr. Bush (an American designer of parlor kaleidoscopes, who helped create the fad for them in the late 19th century), but also several examples of kaleidoscopes on identical stands, and even the patent for the stand itself. (It’s number 156,875, if you want to do a Google Patents search.) Bush’s design improved “the mode of constructing the stand and its legs, used for supporting a parlor-kaleidoscope and for similar purposes, the object being to facilitate the packing them in a small compact compass for transportation or storing away, and yet to readily put the same together firmly for use without the use of glue, nails, rivets or any fastening devices.”

As for the table top, that is not conveniently marked and we can only guess as to its maker. It seems likely that the actual kaleidoscope was broken or lost, but the little stand was too fine to be disposed of. It does make a very nice doll table! The donor’s grandfather, Jonathan Jacobs (1845-1919) of Browningsville, was a cabinetmaker; maybe he was the one who constructed the neat little top and attached it to the base, repurposing it for future generations.

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