Monday, January 18, 2021

Five Western Mystery Objects Revealed

This Mystery Object post has created quite a discussion. All in all there were 39 correct answers given. Congratulations to Rosemary, NYChatham, and Tundra Bunny, who tied for first place with four correct identifications each. A special shout-out goes to Mariette, who was the only one who guessed the apparently difficult #3.

Here are the answers:

#1 Button Hook

Mariette, Debra, Michelle, Jack, NYChatham, Rosemary, Sue Bursztynski, The Contessa, Travel, Mrs. D., Pipistrello, and Tundra Bunny all got this one correct.

In earlier times there were many buttons that held clothes together. Shoes and gloves especially were held on by rows of buttons. The button hook made the job easier. You put the hook through the buttonhole, grabbed onto the shank of the button, then pulled the button through the hole.

I have tried this and it is very easy to become skilled with a button hook. The tiny example pictured here was likely meant for gloves—the larger, tighter buttons on shoes would probably break it.

Here is a photo of a few more buttonhooks from dresser sets that my sister was kind enough to send to me:

#2 Hair Receiver

This direct top view shows the center hole more clearly.

NYChatham, Rosemary, Kirk, The Contessa, Mrs. D., Pipistrello, and Tundra Bunny all identified this object.

Hair receivers once adorned virtually every lady’s dresser top. Women would brush their long hair, then pull the hair out of the brush and push it through the hole in the lid. When the receiver was full, they could take the accumulated hair out and make a small cushion called a rat, which was used to supply extra volume and height for elaborate hairstyles.

There are many hair receivers (such as this one) made out of celluloid, an early kind of plastic. A great many were also ceramic, and some were even made of sterling silver. Here is an unusual square ceramic one with a square hole, again courtesy of my sister:

#3 Corn Husker

This was correctly identified only by Mariette.

This item was dedicated to Kirk, whose blog Shadow of a Doubt recently honored Carl Sandburg. Kirk in that post mentioned Sandburg’s 1919 award-winning poem collection called Cornhuskers.

When you buy fresh corn (maize) the ears are covered with leaves or husks which must be shucked off. This is not so bad if you are boiling a few ears for dinner, but if you have an entire field of corn to husk, especially when it has been left to dry in the field for animal feed, these tough husks would rip your hands to shreds. Enter the corn husker, of which there are many varieties around.

The leather strap went around your hand, and the point could be used to puncture and start splitting apart the husk, which was then easily removed by hand. Farm workers were incredibly fast with this tool, and indeed corn husking competitions were common in earlier decades, and there is some footage of these on Youtube.

I didn’t plan for this one to be so hard. Corn huskers can easily be found at flea markets or online. Here is a group that I bought together (the one used in the quiz was purchased separately). You can see some of the many forms these came in:

Proof that Necessity is the mother of Invention

#4 Jug Cover

Mariette, Debra, Michelle, Hels, NYChatham, Rosemary, slf, Jenny Woolf, Travel, Bazza, Pipistrello, Loree, and Tundra Bunny all knew what this was.

This is an object that could still be useful. When flies are numerous, cream jugs, drinks, and various dishes of food could all be protected by these crocheted (or knitted or whatever) covers, whose edges were weighted down with glass beads so they would not fall off easily.

The one illustrated above has a kookaburra in the center, indicating that it came from Australia, as Hels explained. In fact, these are found all over, but there does seem to be a predominance of them in Australia, where my examples came from.

I am adding a picture of a plainer one, an intricate one topped with a teacup, and a view of the whole group to indicate the variety these can be found in.

#5 Collapsible Cup

I admit this one was a bit of a perspective trick, as most of you have probably seen these. However, Debra, NYChatham, Rosemary, The Contessa, Travel, and Tundra Bunny all identified it correctly.

These compact cups were used to carry on one’s person, in traveling bar kits, and as camping equipment. They must have been a blessing for fastidious people in the days when drinking fountains or other sources a water had a single public tin cup for everyone to use.

The side view immediately identifies both its use and its telescoping mechanism. This one is very small, about the size of a shot glass.

The top view would have given it away, with its inscription Vest Pocket Cup in pleasantly old-fashioned writing.

The rivet on the bottom is a little mysterious. It doesn’t indent too much on the bottom, but given the size of the cup, I am guessing this might have been part of a traveling bar set, and the cup snapped into place.


Thank you to all who participated in this quiz. The answers and guesses were very well thought out, especially for items that were unfamiliar. Tabulating all the answers was quite a job, so if I made a mistake, let me know and I will fix it.

Please don’t worry that I will run out of mystery objects, either Asian or Western. In fact, when my sister was sending me the photos, she sent one of an item she had just obtained, that I believe will make the corn husker look like child’s play!

All of the objects and photos shown here are property of the author, except as noted. The group photos of the corn huskers and the jug covers (except for the kookaburra, again, courtesy of my sister) were the original listing photos when I purchased them.

Friday, January 8, 2021

Mystery Objects -- Western Edition

In the past all of my Mystery posts have been of Chinese items, which has made many of them difficult to guess. Other cultures might use the same items, but they can be hard to recognize when buried in carvings of dragons and the like.

Since turnabout is fair play, I have decided to do a mystery post of Western objects, but this time the rules will be a little different. I am afraid that some of these will prove too easy, so I am including five mystery objects in this post. Each correct guess will count, and the grand winner will be the one with the most points.

#1  This is the epitome of antique or bygone objects, once found in literally every Western home. While the handles could be made of any material, the business end was usually steel, and the entire object ranges from about three to six inches long. This diminutive example, made from bone and steel, is less than three inches long, but it works fine.


#2  These items for a long time were nearly as ubiquitous as the above object. They could be made of many materials, especially china, but this example is made from celluloid. They seem to average about five inches across.

#3 top

#3 bottom
#3  This article is perhaps more of an American specialty. Many designs and varieties exist. This one is made from steel and leather, and is almost five inches long.

#4  These crocheted pieces bordered with glass beads seem so handy that I am surprised they are not in more general use, although possibly in some places they still are. They are typically six to eight inches across.

#5  These frankly are still available, although their greatest popularity was a while ago. Often about one to three inches in diameter, this small-sized example is made of nickel-plated brass.

If you can identify any or all of these objects, please do so in the comments. The usual mystery object rules will apply. Comment moderation will be turned on. Incorrect answers will be printed immediately, so people can guess again with more clues. Correct answers will be withheld until the Reveal post in about a week.

Good Luck!