This month’s laundry-related post is a tad tangential.  Why?  Sunday, September 8th, is our annual “Happy Birthday Montgomery County!” celebration, and to coordinate (tangentially) with our laundry exhibit we’ve invited a jug band to the party.  Members of the Sunshine Skiffle Band will play a set at 3:15, and they’ve promised us a washboard.

Jug band musicians turn everyday household items into musical instruments.  Granted, many of those items are no longer quite so “everyday,” but a traditionally-minded band still relies on the washboards, washtubs, vinegar jugs, and other tools that could be found in many 19th century American homes.  I won’t attempt to parse the long history of jug band music, which began in the American south and was pioneered by African American musicians, both amateur and professional (here’s a nice overview, or check out this history, including audio, of the Memphis Jug Band).  Instead, let’s look at some of the artifacts themselves.

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The washboard.  Our early 20th century example is made of wood, with galvanized tin ribs, measuring two feet tall. Any labels or markings have long since washed away through use.  It was donated by John W. Magruder (1902-1979), who grew up on a farm in Gaithersburg, and served as the Montgomery County Agricultural Extension Agent from 1948 until 1963; unfortunately, we don’t know if this washboard’s history is related to his home or work life.
Original use: Before the agitator washing machine, the laundress had to do the agitating herself in order to work the soap through the cloth; a common method was rubbing fabric vigorously against the ridges of a washboard.  (This method is hard on both fabric and hands.).
To play: A percussion instrument. Washboard players achieve a nice rhythmic sound by rubbing their hands, or another tool, up and down the ribs.  Different materials (washboards can be made of metal, glass, or plastic) produce different sounds.  This instrument is popular in Zydeco bands as well as jug bands.

 

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The washtub.  This circa 1910 tub is made of galvanized tin, and stands 11 inches tall.  The manufacturer’s paper label is water damaged – like the washboard above, it’s a well-used piece – and now illegible.  The tub was donated by Katherine Poole, and was likely used at Poole family homes in Washington, DC or Rockville.
Original use: Laundry day required multiple tubs, for soaking, rinsing, and bluing clothes and linens.  A metal tub like this one was an improvement over the old wooden tubs, which didn’t last very long, and could give an unwary laundress splinters.  Even better were tubs that were built with legs, reducing strain on the back.
To play: With a few additions, a tub becomes the string section of a jug band.  You need an upside down metal tub, an upright broomstick, and a taut wire stretched between them that can be plucked like a guitar string.  Moving the broomstick varies the tension on the wire, and thus the note achieved.

 

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The jug.  A mid-late 19th century stoneware jug, with no maker’s marks or other identifications, 11 inches tall.  Donated by Charles T. Jacobs, it was likely used by one the many local branches of the Waters and Jacobs families.
Original use: Stoneware jugs of various sizes and shapes were indispensable in the 19th century kitchen.  Usually locally made, and reused over and over again, jugs held water, vinegar, cider, or any other frequently used liquid.
To play: The jug is essentially the brass section, and is played like a trumpet or tuba – you blow across the top, using changes in the position of lips and mouth to affect the pitch and tone of the resulting notes.  (I say that like I can do it; I cannot.)  There’s no jug band without a jug… because then it’s called a skiffle band instead.

All three of these pieces can be seen (but not played, sorry) in the Beall-Dawson House – the washboard and tub as part of the laundry exhibit, and the jug (along with some friends) in the “Old Kitchen.”  Other common jug or skiffle band instruments can be found in our collections, and probably yours as well: spoons, combs, buckets, bottles… Try your own internet search for “how to make jug band instruments” for instructions ranging from toddler- to adult-appropriate, then take a look around your house with new, instrument-seeking eyes! (But don’t break anything.)

Oh, and be sure to visit us this Sunday from 2-5 at “Happy Birthday Montgomery County!”  As always, the party is free.  In addition to the fabulous music, we’ll have children’s activities and crafts; a presentation on the Monocacy Cemetery at 2:15; birthday cake at 4:30; and, throughout the event, a chance to tour our museums, check out our exhibits, talk to reenactors, and learn about local historical and cultural organizations.   A good time will be had by all.

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Tucked away in the back corner of the Beall-Dawson House dining room is a glass-fronted china cupboard, which we use today as a kind of “open storage” for some of our period-appropriate glass and ceramics.  Included in this collection are six syllabub glasses, all more or less resembling this one:

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A cut-glass syllabub or jelly glass, 4.5″ tall, maker unknown (probably English or Irish).  It was donated by long-time MCHS volunteer Jane Cyphers, in memory of her mother Willie Ryan Rolfe.  Our glass curator assigned the date range 1770-1820, based on the manufacturing technique and the trumpet shape (earlier versions had handles and/or a spout).  It may be possible to narrow that down, but not for me; I particularly like this description of the form, from the Victoria & Albert Museum catalog: “Fundamentally they were just a cone on a small foot . . . produced from about 1700 to at least 1845.  They differed in details which are often noticeable only to specialist collectors.”

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What is syllabub (other than an increasingly funny word to say/type)?  Syllabub, or sillabub, was a popular dessert drink from the 17th to the early 19th centuries, consisting of wine, claret or sack (sherry) topped with a frothy mixture of whipped cream, lemon juice, sack, and other spices, depending on the recipe.  According to Merriam-Webster, the word was first used in 1547.  By the late 18th century syllabub was typically served in these little flutes, sometimes stacked into pyramids or arranged on salvers just to make the presentation that much more fabulous.

Judging by this morning’s internet search, syllabub is having something of a foodie revival.  Food historian Ivan Day (whose website and blog include many syllabub meditations, images, and recipes) notes that many of the modern recipes are versions of the “everlasting syllabub,” essentially a kind of whipped cream, as opposed to a whipped syllabub, where the froth lies on top of your sweetened alcoholic beverage of choice.  The 1805 edition of Hannah Glasse’s The Art of Cookery Made Plain and Easy; Excelling any Thing of the Kind ever yet published (first published in 1747) includes recipes for “Whipt-Syllabubs,” “Everlasting Syllabubs,” and “Solid Syllabubs.” She instructs makers of the whipped variety “do not make these long before you use them,” whereas the everlasting “will keep above a week and it is better made the day before.”  Her whipped syllabubs require “a quart of thick cream, half a pint of sack, the juice of two Seville oranges or lemons . . . the peel of two lemons, [and] half a pound of double-refined sugar,” as well as “sweeten[ed] red-wine or sack” to “fill your glasses as full as you chuse.”

One of the keys to a good syllabub was (and probably still is) the froth.  Mrs. Glasse recommended a whisk for making the whipped, but “the best way to whip [everlasting] syllabub is to have a fine large chocolate mill, which you must keep on purpose, and a large deep bowl to mill them in.  It is both quicker done, and the froth stronger.”  Other options included an invented “engine,” rather like a bellows.  Mr. Day has images and descriptions of your implement choices here.

Though newly-invented ice cream eventually replaced syllabub as the favorite dessert, the frothy beverage did not quite vanish entirely.  The Practical Recipe Book, Compiled by Ladies of the Episcopal Missionary Society for the Benefit of Emmanuel Church, Norwich, N.Y. (1878) has a  “Whipped Syllabub” with eggs in the “Custards and Creams” chapter (along with three recipes for ice cream).  Montgomery County’s own Elizabeth E. Lea, author of the popular cookbook Domestic Cookery, Useful Receipts, and Hints to Young Housekeepers (first published in 1845), includes a non-alcoholic version of “Whips.”

The Practical Recipe Book, 1878

The Practical Recipe Book, 1878

Domestic Cookery, E.E. Lea, 1856 edition

Domestic Cookery, E.E. Lea, 1856 edition

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Faux syllabub!

As for the dessert habits of our own Beall family, who moved into their fancy new Rockville house around 1815, we don’t know for certain.  Upton Beall’s estate inventory, taken shortly after his death in 1827, mentions only a half dozen silver dessert spoons and $20 worth of “China and glassware in cupboard.”  Upton came from a well-to-do family in sophisticated Georgetown, and it is believed he did some relatively high-class entertaining at his Rockville home; it seems likely that he would have glasses on hand to serve the still-trendy dessert.

Intrigued by our little glass and its awesomely-named contents? (I really wanted to simply title this post “Syllabub!”)  There are far more recipes, old and new, available online than I could link to here; try your own internet search to get started.  If the vessel itself is what you like, there are examples on view in the collections of the Victoria & Albert, the Met, the MFA, the Philadelphia Museum of Art, and Winterthur (and probably many others).

“There is as much difference in toast as there is in bread, but unless you have toasted toast made on a UNIVERSAL Electric Toaster you have never enjoyed real toast.”

A Fine Collection readers have occasionally pointed out that many artifacts – perhaps more than seems reasonable – have been described as my “favorite.” Well, here are two more!  This week, let’s look at a pair of electric toasters made by Landers, Frary & Clark of New Britain, Connecticut.

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First, a Universal Number E944 (7 inches tall), patented in 1915. It is missing its “Six Foot Mercerized Silk Cord and Hubbell Attachment Plug,” and its nickel-plating is a little dull, but otherwise it’s in good condition. This model features ornamental cut-out designs on the doors, base and top, making it much more than a utilitarian piece. The theory was that you could make your toast (and, if you purchased a Universal percolator, your coffee) right at the breakfast table, conveniently and in style.  The top ad here shows you how to do it right; the fifth ad on the same page, which touts our E944, is the source of the toasty quote that started us off. 

The modern electric toaster was made possible by the invention of Nichrome, an alloy of nickel and chromium patented in 1905, used to make the radiant heating element. In this case, the Nichrome coils are in the center; a spring-hinged door on each side lets you insert two slices of bread. The flat top serves as a warmer for your finished toast (the next model, the E945, featured an honest-to-goodness toast rack up top). So much faster than toasting over the fire or stove! There were a few limitations, however: you had to open the doors and turn the slices over to tend to both sides of the bread, and like other early electric models, there’s no timer or variation settings; when it came to degree of toastiness, you were on your own.

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Here’s a later model, miles ahead in both function and design (although, like its earlier friend, it’s now missing its electric cord). This is a Universal E9410 (9 inches tall), known to collectors as the “Sweetheart” toaster; the design was patented in 1929. The bread sits securely in metal-framed baskets, one on each side of the center Nichrome heating unit. The nickel-plated body is embossed with “classical” motifs, and the feet, buttons, and dangly handles are made of ivory-colored Bakelite. Isn’t it pretty? You’d look super-stylish with this in your breakfast nook! Even better, pushing the buttons makes the baskets flip around, so that you can hit both sides of the bread in relative ease and comfort. You’re still on your own when it comes to timing and toastiness, though. Thermostats, timers, and pop-up slots didn’t become standard until the 1930s and 1940s.

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I do love toasters. They often feature great design, and they make toast – that staple of life – possible. (Apparently there is scientific proof that toast tastes better than bread!) I am not alone; there are lots of websites and collecting clubs dedicated to the history, and seemingly infinite variety, of the toaster.

The E944 was donated to MCHS in the early 1950s and, unfortunately, its donor and history have been lost. The E9410 belonged to Alice Maddox Proffit of Georgia and Washington DC, and was donated by her daughter Edith Proffit in 1963.

In honor of today’s date, 12/12/12, here’s an assortment of ‘twelves’ – some deliberate, some accidental – from our collections. (And no, there aren’t twelve of them; that seemed excessive.)

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First up: two twelve-candle molds, tin, late 18th or 19th century. The one on the left, in original (if well-used) condition, was donated by Mary Kingdon, and probably used by her family in Rockville. The one on the right – the handle has broken off, and it was painted black sometime in the late 20th century – came from the Tschiffely family of Gaithersburg, donated by Jean Seeback. Both of these make 10½” tapers, twelve at a time (we also have molds for 4 at a time and 6 at a time, but of course, today is 12 day).  In the interest of saving space, I refer you to either your favorite life-in-olden-times novel or YouTube to learn how to make candles with one of these.

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These miniature metal soldiers were made by the Barclay Manufacturing Company of New Jersey; they’re “podfoots,” a style created in 1951 by Barclay to conserve metal (instead of standing on a flat base, they simply have flattened “pod” feet). They saw action in Bethesda, and only these twelve comrades survived. Owned, and donated, by Bill Allman.

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A box of H.B. Marking & Embroidery Cotton, still containing its original twelve spools, circa 1890. Until the 1880s, red was a notoriously unstable dye; the introduction of “turkey red” floss (developed in Turkey), colorfast and cheaper than silk, started a fad for redwork embroidery on everyday household linens.  These embroidered pictures were generally outline-stitch pictures of flowers, fruit, children, animals, humorous sayings, etc.; designs were published in magazines, pre-printed fabric squares were available for a penny, or you could of course draw your own.  Redwork stayed popular through the 1920s and ‘30s – examples can be found in antique stores everywhere – and is experiencing something of a resurgence in today’s retro-crafty communities. Purchased by MCHS.

x20031201alTwelve hand-wrought iron nails removed from “Pleasant Hills,” a house in Darnestown, during gutter work in 2003. The center block of the house was built in the 1760s for Charles Gassaway; the wings were constructed in the 1870s and 1910s. Someone could probably tell us more precisely when these nails were made and used, but we haven’t yet made that attempt. Donated by Mary Wolfe.

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And last but not least, a tin suppository mold, mid 19th century, with twelve holes.  The box is 5.5″ long and 3.5″ deep, with the ‘thimbles’ making suppositories a little less than 2″ long.  Yes, it makes exactly what you think it does; 19th century doctors and pharmacists made their own recipes using  these handy tools.  According to “The Art of Dispensing,” 1915, by Peter MacEwan, “an American style [of suppository mold] consists of a circular metal box pierced with holes into which thimbles fit. The box can be filled with iced water or a freezing-mixture. The thimbles are filled with the suppository-mixture, dropped into the box, and owing to the chill the contents of the mold contract, and are easily tapped out when solid.” This piece was donated to MCHS by John Bentley of Sandy Spring. Mr. Bentley served as the MCHS curator in the late 1940s-early 1950s, and many of the items credited to Bentley were in fact collected by him from other county residents; thus, unfortunately, the specific history of this item is unknown.

I hope you all enjoy your Last Consecutive Date Day (especially if today is your birthday) until 01/01/2101. Go forth, and do something twelve times!

Historical Society interns work hard on a wide variety of projects. This past spring and summer we’ve had five students dedicating their time and energy to MCHS needs. You might get to hear from them in person in the near future, but in the meantime, let’s take a look at some fruits of their labors.

Josh, an MCPS student (and repeat intern, our favorite kind!) has been transcribing a 19th century diary, written by Caroline Miller Farquhar of Norbeck. Carrie’s diaries have been featured a few times before (and one of the earliest volumes is currently on display in our exhibit on Montgomery County women in the Civil War), but there is still this one last volume to transcribe. Thanks to Josh (and the many other students who have taken their turn with Carrie’s peculiar handwriting), we’re almost there.

Two students from GW’s Museum Studies program chose to fulfil their internship requirement here at MCHS. Maggie has undertaken the task of updating the location inventory for our main storage area; in the process, she’s seen many of our artifacts and, I think, learned some interesting new facts about household management in the 19th century. Here is our brass clock (or spit) jack, a mysterious item which inspired some internet searches. This puppy is worthy of a whole blog post to itself, but for now here’s a quick summary: clock jacks were used to evenly roast meat in a fireplace without too much tending. Once wound up, the clockwork mechanism – shown below – kept the spit (which hung from the bottom) turning.   This brass clock jack, circa 1850, was made by George Salter of England and is thought to have been used at the home of Charles England in Potomac. Ours still has its key, but it’s missing the round spit from which the meat hung; here’s a picture of a more complete one, from the collections of the New-York Historical Society. 

Maggie’s fellow-student Caitlin cataloged a significant portion of our medical book collection, adding the records to our computer database. One entertaining gem is the 1860 edition of Walker’s Manly Exercises and Rural Sports, published in London and owned by George Minor Anderson of Rockville. You will no doubt be delighted to learn, O manly readers, that this fine volume is available as a free ebook, complete with illustrations (for example, the link here takes you to the section on “vaulting” and “pole leaping” – scroll down to the picture, I implore you). Inspired by the artistic gymnastics portion of the London Olympics? Try it for yourself! (Note: MCHS is not responsible for any injuries incurred during Manly Exercises.)

Becky, a recent graduate of UMBC, interned here during the spring semester and stayed on as a summer office assistant. Her current project will be on view at the County Fair next week, as the “Old Timers” have once again kindly lent us space in their building. Becky surveyed our artifact and library collections for an exhibit on entries at both the past and current incarnations of the Fair. It’s good to have interns – they help you get to the things you haven’t yet gotten to, like taking photos of an 1884 knitted bedspread with crochet-lace border, made by Annie H. Settle of Virginia and entered in the “antiques” category of the Rockville Fair sometime in the early 20th century.

Our fifth intern’s project is not quite ready for the internet yet, but it will be soon! Cathy, a student of the Johns Hopkins online museum studies program – and also a professional videographer – is creating a short promotional video to help MCHS tell the world about all the cool stuff we have and do.

Of course, this only brushes the surface of the many things our interns have done over the past few months. Less ‘exciting’ activities included stocking the shop, scanning photos, cleaning out the Dairy House, labeling newsletters, washing coolers, and dressing a mannequin in a 19th century gown (well, hopefully they thought that was exciting). Museum work, especially in a small institution like ours, requires a certain willingness to do all kinds of boring and/or unexpected tasks.  The hard work of our interns (and of all our volunteers) helps keep MCHS running – we couldn’t do it without them!

Carrie Farquhar’s diaries donated by Roger Brooke Farquhar, Jr.  The clock jack donated by Warren Conklin.  Exercise book donated by the Anderson family.  Annie Settle’s bedspread donated by Gladys Benson.

This little metal machine is a cherry stoner, circa 1870, donated to us by Mary Kingdon (1906-1971) in 1970. Miss Kingdon did not share any specific stories about this piece, but it is old enough to have been used by her grandparents in Montgomery County, DC or Baltimore (depending on which side of the family it came from) as well as her own immediate family in Rockville.

There are no helpful markings on the artifact, so the exact maker and date are unknown.  However we have several other cherry stoners in the collection, including a similar model (missing its legs) marked “Pat’d Nov 17 1863, May 15 1866.” Two later cherry stoners (also helpfully marked, with their respective patent dates of 1883 and 1917) made by the Enterprise Manufacturing Company were designed to clamp onto the table; Miss Kingdon’s little guy here just sits, although it looks like you could screw the feet into the work surface to hold it still.  The whole cherries go into the funnel at the top; turn the crank, and the blade slices them up and, I think, moves the split cherries out the spout into a bowl, and the pits get dropped underneath…?  Anyone want to correct me here?  (Sometimes there are disadvantages to not being able to try out the artifacts.)  At any rate, you end up with pitted cherries, ready to eat.

What’s it for? Well, here’s a sweeping generalization: Americans love cherries, but cherries are hard to eat. Nineteenth century cookbooks include many cherry-based recipes, along with advice on how to prepare them. For example, in Miss Leslie’s 1839 Complete Cookery the author notes, “The common practice of drying cherries with the stones in, (to save trouble,) renders them so inconvenient to eat, that they are of little use.” In other words, take the stones out first, ladies! Many inventors have turned their attention to labor-saving devices to benefit frustrated fruit lovers; a search for “cherry stoner” on Google’s patent site brings up several pages of designs, from the 1860s through the 2000s.

The inspiration for today’s artifact comes from an exhibit at the National Museum of American Art in DC. The Great American Hall of Wonders (open through January 8, 2012) “examines the nineteenth-century American belief that the people of the United States shared a special genius for innovation. It explores this belief through works of art, mechanical inventions, and scientific discoveries…” and combines paintings, drawings, patent models, and other artifacts into one exhibit. (And best of all, it opens with one of my favorite paintings, Charles Wilson Peale’s “The Artist in His Museum.”) Partway through the display I spotted an old friend, a gilded version of our little standing cherry stoner: a presentation-worthy (gilded!) model of William Weaver’s Improved Cherry Stoner, patented May 15, 1866 (i.e., the same as our legless model).

Many antique kitchen and household tools are, depending on your age and background, either instantly recognizable or completely mysterious. Sadly, what doesn’t make immediate visual sense to us is often simply overlooked, so my “old friend” the gilded cherry stoner may not be noticed or remembered by exhibit visitors. It didn’t make the online slide-show version, and it doesn’t seem to be included in any of the press. (All the photos here show our own piece, not the patent model.) The exception is Linda Wertheimer of NPR, who mentioned it in her July 17, 2011 interview with the curator; but she called it (not without cause) a “gadget that looks like a giant golden beetle.” If any of my readers get a chance to see this exhibit, take a moment to admire Mr. Weaver’s patent model, along with the more recognizable clocks, guns and steam engines. You can quote Miss Leslie’s advice! Believe me, randomly quoting old cookbooks is always a big hit with your friends! (Not really.)

** Bonus blog recap!  Today’s date, October 12 2011, falls in the middle of both National Fire Prevention Week and National Veterinary Technician Week.  Check out these previous posts for some fire prevention and vet tech artifacts.

Here’s another scale, this one for weighing eggs rather than infants.

A thoughtful predecessor left a wooden egg in the storage box for demonstration purposes.

This compact (6″ tall) spring scale, dating from the 1920s or ’30s, was used to weigh individual eggs so that they could be sorted by size. A number of different companies produced these little tools; ours was made by the Oakes Manufacturing Company of Tipton, Ohio. Other brands (and a later version of this particular scale) included color-coded size markers on the dial, from Small to Extra Large, in addition to standard weights. Our scale measures in ounces without assigning a size category, but the top of the dial does calculate for you the weight in ounces of a dozen eggs of like stature, no multiplication required.

The scale was donated in the early 1960s by Henry L. Meyer of Gaithersburg. Unfortunately, we did not get any additional information from the donor, and I have not been able to track him to a particular time or place. Mr. Meyer or his family may have used the scale for years . . . or he may have picked it up at an antique store. For the sake of argument, however, let’s say it came from his family and was used in Gaithersburg. Why would the Meyers need an egg scale in their kitchen? Many parts of Montgomery County – the Gaithersburg area included – were still pretty rural in the 1920s and ’30s. Whether or not your family had a large farm, you were still likely to have a chicken or two in the yard. As modern-day adherents to the suburban poultry movement may have noticed, sometimes you can only eat so many eggs; extras and leftovers have to be given away or sold. Although today (according to the American Egg Board) egg grading has nothing to do with size, eggs are still sorted by size and weight for sale. The same was true in the early 20th century. A woman with an egg scale on hand could more easily sort her eggs for market. Like the family kitchen scales mentioned last week, antique egg scales are relatively plentiful in the internet auction/sale world, possibly indicating that they were equally plentiful in rural and suburban households of the early 20th century.

This is one of those artifacts that could lead to multiple avenues of research: suburban farming in the county, the changing roles and duties of farm wives, home finances and supplemental income in the 1930s, the introduction of technology and standardization into the home… which is great, who doesn’t love additional research avenues?  But since those investigations don’t often make it onto the blog, this endeavor can sometimes seem a little shallow: ‘Look, a neat artifact!  The end!’  I hope that every artifact I put up on the blog sparks at least a little curiosity in my readers, just as it does for me.