A good housekeeper keeps track of the household linens.  When was that tablecloth last used?  Which pillowcase needs mending? Did all the sheets come back from the laundress?  And whose towel is that, anyway? As Sidney Morse, author of Household Discoveries (1908), remarked, “All fabrics will wear better if not used continually, but allowed to rest at intervals . . . linen and other articles are often mislaid or stolen when sent to laundries, and sometimes taken from the line or blown away when spread on the grass to bleach.” Advice books and magazines from the 19th and 20th centuries suggest a variety of methods for inventory management, such as keeping a memorandum book, or tacking a list to the inside of the closet door. However, towels and sheets are not noted for their individuality.  The easiest way to maintain control is to mark them, either in embroidery or ink.

Elizabeth Ellicott Lea (1797-1858) of Sandy Spring wrote a cookbook, Domestic Cookery: Useful Receipts and Hints to Young Housekeepers, and published it herself in 1845.  The book was popular, and eventually went through 19 editions.  Our copy, published in 1856, includes this helpful tidbit on page 208:

House Linen. Have a book in which to set down all the bed and table linen, towels and napkins; every article of which should be marked and numbered, and counted at least once a month.”

I particularly like this piece of advice because it goes so nicely with these two artifacts, donated by Lea’s great-granddaughter Isabel Stabler Moore: a pair of pillowcases, marked respectively “M.L. No. 2″ and “M.L. No. 6.”

both cases
These linen cases are handsewn. Number 6 is larger, 33″ x 18″, with attached twill tapes to close it around the pillow.  Number 2 measures 28″ x 16.5″, is made of a slightly coarser linen, and shows more evidence of use; it is stained and mended.  Both cases are carefully marked in ink (which has created a slight stain around each set of initials).  The donor told us they were made and used by her grandmother – Betsy Lea’s daughter – Mary Lea Stabler (1822-1888) of Sandy Spring.  It’s worth noting, however, that the initials don’t actually match:

ML 2 and 6
Researcher Mary Robare* kindly provided us with a photo of Mary Lea Stabler’s embroidered initials, on the Pidgeon Family Quilt.  The form of the M there matches – or at least is closer to – our pillowcase No. 6 … assuming, of course, that Mary embroidered the quilt signature herself.

"M.L.S." embroidered on the Pidgeon Family Quilt, in the collections of The Colonial Williamsburg Foundation; photo copyright Mary Robare.

“M.L.S.” embroidered on the Pidgeon Family Quilt, in the collections of The Colonial Williamsburg Foundation; photo copyright Mary Robare.

At any rate, the two cases were marked by two different people, whoever they were. Did other family members mark them for Mary, as a gift, or just to give her a hand?  Was one of the cases made, marked, and/or used by Martha Lea, Mary’s sister – or by someone else entirely?  Initials can be deceptive; some women chose their middle name over their maiden name, or put their final initial in the center of the mark, or even added their husband’s first initial before their own.  A third pillowcase in this donation is marked “E.W.S. No. 6″; we haven’t been able to trace E.W.S., thanks in part to these issues.  However, based on the donor’s genealogy, it seems likely that one or both of the M.L. cases belonged to Mary Lea Stabler, following her mother’s published advice.

Household linens were not the only items that required marking.  Anything that was going to be sent out to the laundry would benefit from an identifying laundry mark; our collections include gloves, collars, shirts, aprons, dresses, and underthings that are marked in ink with initials and names, or have pre-made name tapes sewn inside.  For example, we have a pair of black cotton knit stockings, donated by Mrs. Jack Stone; each stocking has an attached strip of twill tape on which is written in ink “M. Clements No. 2.”

Mary Elizabeth Clements (1865-1962) of Rockville married Lee Offutt in 1888; awesomely, she won a Discretionary Premium for her knit stockings (including these??) at the 1889 Rockville Fair.  She must have had more than one pair of black stockings (since this is pair number two), and she may even have made them herself; I don’t know where she sent her laundry, but she clearly wanted to be sure she got all her belongings back in good order.

Laundry exhibit status: Both Domestic Cookery and Household Discoveries are on display in the exhibit, through January 12, 2014.  Though Mary Lea Stabler’s pillowcases and Mary Clements Offutt’s stockings are not included, there are plenty of other examples of laundry marks to be seen.

*By the way, there’s a new Sandy Spring Quilt installment on Mary’s blog, Quaker Quilts.


One of your blogger’s personal favorites from the MCHS collections, the Sandy Spring Quilt, has a fascinating – and somewhat puzzling – history.  It is a “friendship quilt,” made and signed by (or on behalf of) 36 women, most from the Sandy Spring area, sometime around 1860. Each block consists of a pieced “Blazing Star” with an ink signature, such as Anna Farquhar’s, below (her signature is in the upper left corner).


Over the past several years, researcher Mary Robare has dedicated time to helping us solve some of the quilt’s mysteries, such as who made each square, when the full quilt was completed, and why it was created in the first place.  (As Mary says, the quilt “offers a dizzying array of seemingly contradictory clues.”  The best kind of artifact!) Thanks to her efforts, the quilt has been featured in scholarly articles, off-site exhibits, and now on the Quaker Quilts blog.  Curious about the quilt’s mysteries? Want to see some more photos? Take a look at Quaker Quilts!  “The Sandy Spring Quilt – Part One” is here, and “Part Two” is here, with more to come.


Today we have some tooth extractors – or, more precisely, English pattern dental extracting forceps #24.  Made of steel, and measuring 5.75″ long, they were made by the S.S. White Dental Manufacturing Company of Philadelphia, and used by Dr. Steven O. Beebe of Montgomery General Hospital in the mid 20th century.

These forceps are only one of a larger set of dental instruments donated by Dr. Beebe’s family, including seven forceps of different styles and uses:

DSC06367If, like me, you tend to have your eyes squeezed shut when enduring dental work, you might think that the dentist has only one unpleasantly-pliers-like tool. Indeed, no!   There are so many options!  To illustrate, this sales website includes 118 varieties in the English pattern, and another 71 in the American pattern (differentiated by the type of hinge, as noted on the American page linked above).  Note: Please do not click the links if you are susceptible to phantom tooth pain. (If you’re really terrified of the dentist, I assume you’ve stopped reading this post altogether.)  The angle, size, and shape of the pincers informs the intended use; the #24 forceps are designed to easily extract lower molars.

s0436-2I do approve of an artifact that’s clearly labeled.  This one is stamped with the initials/logo SSW USA, and “Pat. Jan. 16 ‘94.” (The “24” mark is on the end of one of the handles.)  U.S. patent # 513,015 was granted on that date to one Woodbury Storer How, assignor to the S.S. White Dental Manufacturing Company, for “a certain new and useful Improvement in Forceps, Pliers, &c.”, specifically a new handle design “to enable the implements to be used with greater efficiency and less discomfort to the user.”  The manufacturer, named on both the patent and the instrument itself, was founded in Philadelphia in 1844 by dentist Samuel Stockton White, and is still in business today.

DSC06352The handle is also conveniently engraved (by hand) with the name “Dr. Beebe.”  Dr. Steven O. Beebe (1902-1983) moved to the historic 1886 Mary G. Tyson house, in Sandy Spring, in 1935, and around the same time was hired as the staff dentist at Montgomery General Hospital in Olney.  Here he is in the program for the hospital’s Annual Supper, 1938 (below). One source says he worked there until his 1982 retirement, though I’ve not found him on any official staff lists past 1960; do any readers remember Dr. Beebe and his work?

1938 Mont Gen staff

The MCHS collections storage spaces are filled with wonderful things.  Some are on exhibit; others are featured here on A Fine Collection; and still more are patiently waiting for their day to shine.  It’s important to remember that they can be waiting for YOU, dear readers, as well as my curatorial self!  Our collections are held in the public trust, and (with an appointment) can be made available for research and study.  For example, here’s a fabulous blog post on one of our quilts, written by researchers Mary Holton Robare and Lynda Salter Chenoweth.  Their expertise is in Quaker quilts, and their work has added greatly to our own information.  Take a moment to read about the Fairfield quilt!


DSC02838Here’s a wood and punched-tin foot warmer, by an unknown maker, from the mid 19th century.  It measures 9″ x 8″, and is 6″ tall. The wood frame and turned balustrade-style supports are constructed with mortise and tenon; there are no metal nails. The punched-tin sides feature a circle-and-diamond pattern, simple but decorative. A small tin bucket (now missing) would have been filled with hot coals and tucked inside; the punched holes on the top and sides allowed the heat to filter through. The top is braced with two extra pieces of wood, so you could rest your feet on it without touching the metal, and a metal handle allowed you to carry it around as necessary.


This is a fairly typical form of American foot warmer; there are plenty of similar artifacts to be found at auctions and antique stores, most with the same turned supports, but with a variety of designs punched into the tin. If foot-warmer-collecting (actual or virtual) strikes your fancy, there are many other forms to choose from, from metal or ceramic hot water bottles to carpet-covered footrests (with a cup of hot coals inside) to soapstone blocks with metal handles to heated bricks, flatirons, and even hot potatoes. Foot warmers were used in carriages, sleighs, and trains; 19th century sources also note their usefulness in (large, poorly heated) churches.

The Sandy Spring Friends Meeting House, built 1817, in an undated photo.

The Sandy Spring Friends Meeting House, built 1817, in an undated photo.

Our foot warmer was donated in 1953 by Mary Briggs Brooke (1875-1964), a Quaker who lived all her life at Falling Green in Olney. According to Miss Brooke, this foot warmer was used “in the Sandy Spring Meeting House,” probably by multiple generations of Brooke ladies. It seems likely that it was used in the carriage or sleigh to and from the Meeting House, as well as during the service itself. Thanks to yearly summaries in the Annals of Sandy Spring, we know that some 19th century winters were mild, while others were not; for examples, winter 1871-72 was described as “of unprecedented severity,” and January 1875 was “the coldest… since 1867.” On today’s roads, Falling Green and the Meeting House are about 3 ½ miles apart; my quick and probably inaccurate internet search tells me that 4 miles an hour is an acceptable average speed for a horse and buggy – so let’s say it was an hour’s drive each way in an unheated (and possibly uncovered) vehicle. You can see why a foot warmer would be a useful item!

Buggies parked at the Meeting House, in an undated photo.

Buggies parked at the Meeting House, in an undated photo.

Last week, a reader admired the tidy little boots sported by the Parsly children in their family portrait. Here’s a closer look at a similar, though slightly earlier, pair.


These side-button black leather boots are six inches from toe to heel. They’re fairly worn and scuffed, and the right shoe has a hole worn through at the big toe, but otherwise they are in stable condition.  They were probably sturdy, everyday shoes, worn until outgrown.


The boots were likely worn by their donor, Isabel Stabler Moore (1885-1971), daughter of Dr. Augustus and Helen Snowden Stabler. Isabel was born in Lawrence, Massachusetts, but the family returned to “Roslyn,” Dr. Stabler’s home in Brighton (Sandy Spring area), after the death of his father in 1890.  An interesting – and currently unanswered – question is, why were they saved?  For sentimental or practical reasons, or perhaps it was simply an oversight?

Inside the left boot is a label for “Best & Co., New York,” a high-end children’s clothing store (originally, anyway) founded in 1879. I can’t find catalog images for that shop, but here’s a selection of children’s shoes from the 1886 Bloomingdale’s catalog. Isabel’s boots resemble the “spring heel” boot on the right (minus the scalloped edge), suitable for both boys and girls.

1886 bloomies shoes

In surveying 1890s images from our photo collections, most of the girls are wearing side-button boots while the boys have front-laced ones, but I don’t believe that was a hard and fast rule.  Slightly older girls had heeled boots, but otherwise toddler shoes of the late 19th century seem fairly interchangeable.

warfield and pooleLeft: Robert Leroy Warfield (1889-1970) of Rockville, donated by the Warfield family. Right: Martha Sprigg Poole (1890-1972) of Poolesville & Washington DC, donated by Katherine Poole.

Want more children’s shoes? We have a nice selection, some of which will probably end up on the blog eventually, but in the meantime check out the collections of the Wisconsin Historical Society, which has gathered their 1890s children’s footwear onto one page (including a fabulous pair of blue boots, which I covet).

Today we have a silk quilt, an absolutely gorgeous one if I do say so myself (not that I had anything to do with it). It was made circa 1860 by two sisters from Sandy Spring, and is in a pattern known as “Grandmother’s Flower Garden,” created with the English paper piecing technique.

First, the quilt itself. It is 8 ½ feet square, and is made up of . . . a lot . . . of silk hexagons, each one just under 2 1/4 inches wide. The borders on the sides and bottom are 12 inches wide (the top border is narrower, a design feature common to bed quilts), and quilted in clamshell and ocean wave patterns.  The silks are iridescent, and the same patterns appear frequently; it was probably not made of ‘dress scraps,’ but with purposely bought fabric. It is backed with a brown glazed cotton, with cotton batting or filler.

The ‘flowers’ were carefully, meticulously cut out so that there are matching patterns on each petal. The colors across the quilt were balanced, to create a pleasing whole. Each hexagon was quilted (that is, sewn through all three layers of the quilt) in a simple outline. The quilting is fine and even, and the stitches attaching each hexagon to the other are TINY. Perhaps it’s unprofessional of me to marvel this much over one of our artifacts, but seriously, look at these stitches:

Mosaic-type patterns (this one could also be called a variation on “Honeycomb” or “French Nosegay”) were popular in the mid 19th century, and have returned to fashion on and off throughout the next century. This quilt top was most likely created using a technique known as English paper piecing, often used for mosaic patterns. Each piece is wrapped around a paper template, cut to size, and the seam allowance is basted to the paper. Then the pieces are sewn together in whatever pattern the quilter chooses. Using a paper backing allowed the quilter to create precise shapes, and to attach small pieces together without the whole thing flopping around. The paper was usually removed after the quilt top was completed, but before the whole quilt (binding, filler and backing) was finished.  Here’s an example of a quilt with the paper still in, from the State Museum of Philadelphia.

Although a few of the silks suffer from inherent vice, and some of the purple border fabric is fading to green, this quilt is in remarkably good shape; the colors are bright, and there’s little sign of wear. It seems likely that, whether it was made for everyday use or not, it was packed away for posterity and seldom exposed to light, grubby hands, or drooling sleepers.

The quilt was donated by Dorothy Wetherald, who told us it had been made by her great-aunts Mary (1811-1877) and Esther (1814-1902) Wetherald of Sandy Spring. Mary and Esther were born in Liverpool, and in 1819 they emigrated to the United States with their parents Thomas (a butcher and Quaker preacher) and Anne, and two younger brothers. The family lived in Washington and, later, Baltimore, where Mary and Esther ran a school for several years. After Thomas’s death in 1832, his widow Anne moved to Sandy Spring with three of her children, Mary, Esther, and Joseph.

The census records do not indicate professions for the two sisters, except for 1880, when they are “keeping house” for their mother, brother, and his family. (Interestingly, that same year Joseph’s wife profession is noted as “Sews.”) More helpful, at least in the general sense, are the obituaries for each sister, reported in the Annals of Sandy Spring, though I can’t find anything that references their skills with the needle. Both Mary and Esther are noted as intelligent women, avid readers, and French scholars, who “seldom left the neighborhood.” Esther’s obituary adds that she wrote “stories for magazines,” and “enjoyed excellent eye-sight, never needing spectacles.” (No wonder the stitches are so tiny.) Mary’s obituary – she died first, remember – ends, “her inseparable companion and sister had much sympathy in her loss.”

(Here’s the back – note the hexagon-outline quilting.)

In town for the holidays?  Mary and Esther’s fabulous quilt is on display in the museum, but only through January 6, 2013.  My not-so-great photos do not do it justice; come take a look!

While looking for something else in our Library special collections yesterday, I came across a mid-19th century notebook in the Farquhar collection.  I could tell it was from the Farquhars – beyond the archival location info, of course – because it has one of Roger Brooke Farquhar, Jr.’s typed notes pasted to the cover:

Roger Brooke Farquhar, Sr. grew up at “Olney” (the house, that is, which was conveniently located in what later became the town of Olney) and as a young adult moved to the farm “Lonesome Hollow,” between Olney and Rockville.  Thanks to his son RBF Jr. we have a large archival collection of diaries, letters, photos and other materials that tell the personal story of his family. 

Inside this particular volume, as promised, are poems and literary excerpts written by a variety of hands.  I glanced through and was struck by the following page, annotated in pencil by RBF Jr.* (Click the photo to enlarge.)

The circled bit is the final stanza of “A Psalm of Life” by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, with an underlined “me” in place of “us.”  The “M.P.C.” who copied this bit may be, as RBF Jr suggested, Mary Coffin, a Sandy Spring teacher – she married Willie Brooke in 1871.  RBF Jr circled the lines and added, “Remember!!!!  RBF Sr to RBF Jr to RBF III.” 

It’s not clear whether RBF Sr. specifically pointed his son toward this piece of poetic advice, or if RBF Jr. found it years later and took it to heart.  What is clear is that RBF Jr. saw this passage as fatherly advice, which he wanted to share with his own son and namesake.  So many different personalities – the original poet, Mary the teacher, the three Rogers – intersect in just this one snippet of a page.  When the words on the page make their own connections across the generations, old papers turn from “archival material” into a real, physical story.

*I recognize his handwriting, as he was one of the Society’s curatorial volunteers in the 1950s; his shaky writing and firm pencil are often found on our early paperwork.  Roger has helped us out with Father’s Day posts before; see his adorable tiny hand-ax


Here we have one of those once-commonplace, now-mysterious household tools: a fluting iron. This little (9” tall) machine was used to make and launder clothing, specifically fluted trimmings, in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

A wide variety of fluting irons, or fluters, was manufactured.  Some were ‘rocker’ style; others, like this one, operated with a crank.  All were improvements over the earlier method of pressing pleats into fabric, which involved wrapping each individual crease by hand around a goffering iron.  Ladies’ and children’s clothing of the late 19th century featured a lot of pleated (also known as fluted or plaited) trim, probably the impetus for the invention of an easier way to create and care for your ruffles and ruches.

Our model here was invented by a Mrs. Susan R. Knox, patented by her on November 20, 1866, and manufactured by H. Sauerbier & Son, Newark, NJ.  In case you forget those facts, they’re written on the base.  The machine is iron, with brass rollers and a wooden handle.  Here is a description of the device, taken from her patent (“Improvement in Fluting Machines,” No. 59,913):

“This invention relates to a machine having a pair of corrugated rollers, between which the fabric or material to be fluted is drawn by the rotation of said rollers, the fluting effect, as well as the simultaneous rotation of the rollers in opposite directions, being caused by the intermeshing of the corrugations of one roller with the corresponding grooves of the other.  These rollers are made hollow in order to heat them by the introduction of heating-irons or otherwise, and thus render the fabric more susceptible to the fluting action of the rollers.”

The machine was donated to the Historical Society in 1962 by Mrs. Josiah Waters (Margaret Elgar Sherman) Jones.  Though no specific stories were shared about this artifact, many of the pieces donated by Mrs. Jones were from her husband’s family’s home, The Briers, in Olney, and this fluting iron was likely used there.

Bonus!  Here’s another fluting machine from our collections.  This one is, sadly, missing its bottom roller, but it has a decorative paint job and a few extra ‘conveniences’ (a table clamp that swivels up and out of the way; a lever to keep the top roller from flipping up by mistake) so I thought I’d throw it in.  This one is a Crown, patented in 1875 and manufactured by the American Machine Company of Philadelphia; a similar model can be found in the 1902 Sears, Roebuck catalog, for $3.25 (including “four heaters and a pair of tongs”).  It was donated to us in 1962 (a good – indeed, the only – year for fluters here at MCHS) by Mrs. Henry H. Griffith.  Again, nothing specific was shared about this item, but much of Mrs. Griffith’s donation came from her husband’s family’s home, Crows Content in Laytonsville.

Above: “side plaiting” trim at the hem of Isabella Snowden Stabler’s wedding gown, worn in Sandy Spring in 1884.  For more examples, try an internet image search for 1870s or 1880s fashion plates.  This site has photos of many other fluting machines, both crank-operated and rockers.

The inspiration for today’s post: Our copier decided to try a little fluting-machine action of its own, crimping all our papers. (It’s fixed now, don’t worry.)

Let’s take a break from accessories, and get back to reading other people’s mail. A large portion of the Society’s postcard collection comes from collector Joseph Valachovic, including this lovely real photo postcard:

The message begins on the front, and serves as a caption: “Sandy Spring Md.  A tremendous chestnut tree between Sandy Spring and Laurel.” On the back, the sender continues, “It was very much prettier before the top was cut out to let telephone wires go through . Hoping that thee is well and happy, I am, Thine lovingly, Annie Archer. 6 Mo 29th, 1908.”

This card has several nice elements worthy of mentioning. The first thing that struck me is the comment about cutting trees to let through the telephone lines.  Sure enough, the photo shows a gap in the branches near the top, and there’s the offending telephone pole on the right. Fans of Montgomery County news coverage may remember the recent (and on-going) controversy over Trees vs. Power Lines; here’s a reminder that our modern concerns are not always as new as we might think.  

There’s also an open-topped automobile at the lower left, presumably traveling somewhere between Sandy Spring and Laurel. (The sender doesn’t specifically say the tree was “on the road between” the two cities, but perhaps this shows a scene along Route 198.) The current list of Montgomery County Champion Trees includes three American Chestnuts, but not in the Sandy Spring area; anyone recognize this fine tree as still standing?

The second thing I noticed when transcribing this card was the sender’s use of “thee” and “thine,” a traditional Quaker form of address. The card was postmarked in Sandy Spring, a Quaker community, and the recipient’s address includes “The Friends Home,” a retirement home (or the 1908 version thereof) for Quakers in Germantown, Pa. The “thee” caught me off guard; I had thought that most Quakers would have abandoned this practice by the early 20th century. This card prompted me to do a little poking around to learn that, indeed, I was wrong. Primary sources like this can help to bring home the reality of everyday life; knowing something academically – “Quakers use(d) different pronouns” – is different than seeing a fact in action.

There are other avenues for exploration here, including the close connections between Quaker communities (the recipient is in Germantown Pa; the sender may, according to census research, live in Baltimore, but has ties to Sandy Spring), the rise of telephone communications and automobile travel, the history of postcards in general and real photo postcards specifically. . . all from a little informal snapshot, with a few dozen words jotted on it, mailed for one cent over 100 years ago. Ain’t history grand?

P.S. I don’t normally call attention to specific links added to the “Fellow Museum Blogs,” but a new addition is the National Archives blog which includes the awesome feature “Facial Hair Fridays.”  That puts my “Local Postcards on the First Wednesday of the Month in 2012” idea to shame!