Collection Highlights: Miniatures

This week Summer student Shelby Hamp ends a six-week position as Artifact Photography Assistant at the Huron County Museum thanks to the Government of Ontario’s Summer Experience program. Shelby has been photographing museum artifacts in the Victorian Apartment gallery and main storage. In a guest post for our blog, Shelby shares some of her personal favourites among the artifacts she has taken pictures of. 

 

The Huron County Museum is filled with many weird and incredible things. I have come across little critters in jars, intricate designs on silverware and plates, and the miniature collection.

My job at the museum is to photograph the toy collection, and this week I came across the miniatures. There is a ton of them; little Victorian furniture, coffins, washboards, and many other tiny versions of everyday things. Some were tiny product examples; others were children’s toys. These toys are in very good condition and are toys I wish I had grown up with. The neatest toys I have come across were small parlour items: a clock, couch, dinner gong, and a few other items. Everything is gold and the sofas and chairs have mauve fabric as cushioning. These toys were used between 1890 and 1910; the donor’s mother originally played with them and then the donor and her sister also played with them. Other doll items were also donated with this accession (gift to the museum) in 1995, and all have a history that dates to the late 1800s. The best part is: everything is still in mint condition.

 

Visit the Huron County Museum at 110 North Street, Goderich to see more of our collection! Do you have a favourite artefact? Share with us on Instagram or Twitter

Unsafe in any County: Windshields

This is the second instalment of a four-part series, Unsafe in any County, by Special Project Coordinator Jeremy Dechert. The series focuses on the dangers posed by historic automobiles or automobile components and is inspired by the Museum’s growing database of digitized historical newspapers from across Huron County. These newspapers can be accessed by visiting our website. In our first instalment, we focused on the dangers of the 1953 Buick Roadmaster’s braking system.

This week, we will be focusing on the dangers and innovations of early automobile windshields. Windshields were first introduced as optional vehicle components in 1904. Automobile manufacturers such as Ford and Cadillac offered windshields as standard equipment as early as 1911 while other manufacturers such as Studebaker, EMF, and Flanders offered windshields as optional equipment available at an extra cost. Windshields were not standard features on most vehicles until 1915.

The Herald. May 24, 1912 p.5

Originally, windshields were made with single sheet plate glass. The 1925/1926 Essex Super Six, originally owned by the Museum’s founder Mr. Neil, and on display here at the Huron County Museum, has a windshield made of plate glass. This glass was effective for keeping bugs, debris, water and snow out of a vehicle. However, should an accident occur, it was less successful at keeping the driver or passenger(s) in. They could easily be ejected through the window or the glass could break into large, sharp pieces which were liable to cause injuries. There are numerous accounts of such injuries occurring in Huron County as seen in local newspaper articles.

The Seaforth News. September 15, 1938 p.2

 

The Wingham Advance. May 15, 1930 p.1

The Signal. April 29, 1920 p.8

The Signal. June 21, 1917 p.7

In 1909, there was a major development in glass technology: safety glass. Safety glass does not break as easily as plate glass. It is intended to crack and splinter rather than shatter when impacted. This type of glass helps to prevent occupants from being ejected from the vehicle in the case of a crash, provides more rigidity to the car frame in the case of a rollover, and makes it more difficult for thieves to break into a vehicle. The August 2, 1956 edition of the Zurich Herald included a concise explanation of how safety glass was invented by French Chemist Edouard Benedict…by accident.

Zurich Herald. August 2, 1956 p.6

Wingham Advance-Times. July 18, 1929 p.2

Two decades after its invention, Ford was the first vehicle manufacturer to include safety glass as a standard feature on a vehicle under $1500. Meaning, Ford was the first company to put this new windshield in front of the average consumer. Beginning in 1929, triplex safety glass windshields were a standard feature on all Ford models. This triplex glass consisted of three layers. The outer two layers were made of regular sheet glass and the inner layer was made of cellulose, giving the windshield rigidity and form. In 1928, The Seaforth News ran an article describing the manufacturing process for “Non-Shatterable Glass.”


Seaforth News. July 12, 1928 p.7

Although the invention of safety glass undoubtedly saved many drivers and passengers from injury and death, it did not avoid criticism. In 1937, The Department of Highways (US) outlined the shortcomings of safety glass in an article titled Automobiles – and Sudden Death. Though sensationalist in tone, the article notes the danger of partial occupant ejection during automobile accidents. According to the article, the safety glass could “guillotine.” Ralph Nader echoed this concern in 1965. He specifically criticized the quality of safety glass. He named safety glass windshields as the third greatest culprit in causing injury during automobile accidents. He argued that while safety glass windshields often prevented an occupant from fully leaving the vehicle, they did not protect occupants who were only partially ejected. The glass would act as a jaw when the occupant’s momentum came back towards the vehicle following the initial impact. Safety glass has progressed immensely since 1965 but this great innovation was not an instant solution to a serious safety issue facing motorists. For more automobile history, visit our website and search our growing collection of digitized newspapers from across Huron County.

 

excerpt: “Automobiles – and Sudden Death,” Clinton News Record September 2, 1937 p.7

 

The Gathering Place, Part 4: The Opening of the Presumably Absent Meeting Place

Guest blogger and local Wingham artist Becca Marshall finishes her series on the museum as ‘gathering place’ with a behind the scenes look at her exhibit on display now at Brock University. 

After a long year of photographing, developing, printing, and researching, we have finally made it to the finish line. As such, the end of my project was marked with a gallery exhibition of the photographs I took throughout the year accompanied by text and installation pieces on April 13th at the Marilynn I. Walker School of Fine and Performing Arts in St. Catharines, ON. I thought I would include some photos and descriptions of the pieces below for those who wish to see the end result, or, if you are in the area you can go to the gallery and see the installation in person (On display Tuesday-Saturday from 1-5 pm until May 5th).

A couple of photos from the installation process.

Over the course of a couple of days and with the assistance of Matthew Tegal and Marcie Bronson from Rodman Hall, and Professor Amy Friend and Lesley Bell from Brock University, we were able to set up and install the show.

Step Lightly (2017) Pigment print on luster paper and graphite This is the beginning piece of the exhibition. The photo features the train of Jean (Scott) Taylor’s wedding dress and is accompanied by personal writing in graphite directly on the wall next to the image so that it can only be seen up close. A smaller image is hidden to the side of the text of an old bottle of Potassium Chlorate medication.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Shelf Life (2017) Assortment of boxes This piece takes up the span of the long wall. The eclectic boxes are a stand in for the discovery process that a person experiences in the museum. Visitors are encouraged to take their time opening the boxes and looking for things that might have been left behind.

Pulling Threads (2017) Pigment print on luster paper, graphite, and archival tissue paper This piece consists of the large format print of the child’s sewing machine from the museum coupled with a collage of tissue paper with fragmented writing. Beneath these sheets are more hidden photos. The viewer either has to lift the pages up to view the smaller pieces, or they might catch a glimpse when someone walks by and the breeze lifts up the pages for a few moments, exposing the photos underneath.

 

 

 

 

 

Twelve Parts Fragile (2017) Pigment print on cotton rag paper The final piece of the show is a series of artifact photographs presented side by side so that they read like a sentence. This piece ties together the nature of the museum- the bringing together of like and unlike things to share their stories.

 


In many ways, I still cannot believe that this project is over. It was the experience of a lifetime and I am so grateful to the incredible staff at the museum who so generously gave their time and resources to help me better understand the nature of collections, curation, and our relationship to artifact display.

Additionally, without the support of my supervising instructors, Professor Amy
Friend and Dr. Keri Cronin, along with the advice and aid of Matthew Tegal, Marcie Bronson, and Lesley Bell, this project would never have gotten off the ground. Their constant support was of the utmost value. Overall, I learned so much about the silent conversations and nuances that inform our interactions with artifacts from the past – and I am so grateful for those of you who followed
me along on this journey.

The Gathering Place Part 3: Interviews with Museum Staff

Over the course of the past several months that I’ve spent photographing artifacts at the museum, I’ve been lucky to get the perspectives of several different Huron County Museum staff members to see how they encounter objects and their narratives. Below are a selection of responses from interviews with Curator Elizabeth French-Gibson, Archivist Jenna Leifso, Registrar Patti Lamb, and Museum Technician Heidi Zoethout.

Do you have a favourite artifact/archival document at the museum (either on display or in storage)? If so, could you describe why?

Jenna Leifso (Archivist): I really enjoy the photograph collection and couldn’t pick just one photo because every time I catalogue a new collection or look through the photos I find something that delights me. The facial expressions, the clothes, and the hair are all really incredible.

Elizabeth French-Gibson (Curator): My favourite artifacts are the textiles, primarily the clothing. I look at each piece and wonder about the person who wore it – why did they have it & why did they save it? I am curious to know what other clothes they had and wore out, had and ruined or simply had and didn’t think were significant enough to save. We have many pieces in the collection that are the fancy dress, wedding attire, baby clothing, etc. that are beautiful and special but what about the everyday? What did they chose to simply wear and what to wear out?

Patti Lamb (Registrar): So many of our artifacts tell really cool stories, it’s hard to pick out just one. But my favourite artifact has to be Tiger Dunlop’s silver cup with the gold sovereign in it. We just received it a few months ago. It is so incredible to me to be able to hold in my hands the same silver cup that Tiger Dunlop drank from…someone that was so significant politically to Goderich, the county, our county and the world. The cup was willed to his sister in his quirky will.

Beaded necklace: 1957.10.3. Photo from Huron County Museum’s catalogue.

Heidi Zoethout (Museum Technician): I have a few favourites, right now the top of the list is the carved beaded necklace. The detail in the larger beads is amazing. I did not realize that some beads are carved fruit pits. Something that is normally discarded that can be made into something so beautiful.

Close-up of carved bead.

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What is your perception of artifacts? What place and value do you think they have in society to-day?

Jenna Leifso (Archivist): I think I may have a different perception of artifacts than most people. Growing up, my family always went to museums and historical villages. I think it’s cool to see how we have evolved and how we are always trying to constantly improve.

Elizabeth French-Gibson (Curator): I think that artifacts provide us with a tangible connection with the past. It is necessary to have all types of artifacts available to the public in order to have a better view of the past. It would be easy to change the story, or overlook the mundane if the true pieces were not there. Each artifact has the ability to tell a story but the storyteller must be open to what it is truly saying.

Patti Lamb (Registrar): The artifacts create ties with the past and gives history a visual component. In such a disposable world in which we live, I think it’s important to be able to physically see and possibly touch items from the past.

Heidi Zoethout (Museum Technician): Some people look at an artifact and imagine who would have used it and create a scene in their mind. When I am working with an artifact, I think about the work and thought that went into its creation. Some designs have not changed much over time while others can be seen evolving through the collection we have.Through artifacts we are able to see how our thoughts and values have changed over time as a society and where they have not. It is a common refrain when staff are moving large objects that “they don’t make them like that anymore”. From the materials used, the amount of material used and the details that have gone into producing the product. An example of this is a bicycle that I was preparing for exhibit. It had many grease fittings which we no longer require on bicycles and the rims were made from wood. The wood had been lacquered and pin striping had been applied. When I finished working with the bicycle I came to appreciate it as work of art rather than a mode of transportation.

What would your dream project be? (e.g curating a certain type of exhibition, working with a certain set of artifacts, researching a particular area, etc.)

Jenna Leifso (Archivist): One of my dream projects would be exploring how Huron County residents acquired their clothes. I think there is a misconception that rural citizens were out of fashion and that everything was homemade, drab and boring. It would be interesting to have an exhibit that looks at the clothing factories that used to be here, mail order catalogues like Eatons and Simpsons, and how residents were influenced by fashions overseas. I would use photographs, newspaper advertisements, local directories, maps, correspondence, diary entries, and of course, clothes that are in the collection to research and create this exhibit.
Elizabeth French-Gibson (Curator): I would like to be able to spend more time on research for the Gaol. I think there are resources out there that we have not found yet and the resources that we have that have not been given the focus yet. It would be interesting for me to be able to learn more about the circumstances and lives of the people who spent time in our Gaol, as well as the functions and habits of the Gaol itself.

Patti Lamb (Registrar): My dream project would be anything related to glass or to be able to spend a greater amount of time on the Huron Pottery exhibit and the archeological collection.

Heidi Zoethout (Museum Technician): Currently my dream project would be organizing offsite storage so we could have tours available to the public. There are many details and much work required to make that possible.

Overall, throughout this project one of the most valuable experiences has been hearing the varying perspectives on museums, exhibit design, and artifacts, from such a knowledgeable and unique staff. The differing responses speak to how each of us experiences artifacts and their narratives differently according to our own lived experiences.

The artistic exhibition of photographs taken during this project will be on display in St. Catharines at the Marilyn I. Walker School of Fine and Performing Arts from April 11th – May 5th with an opening reception to be held on April 13th from 5-7pm.

The Gathering Place Part II

Introducing a Brock University Student’s Project in Collaboration with the Huron County Museum & Archives, PART II

For those who missed the last post, my name is Becca Marshall – a fourth year student from Brock University where I am working on a school project with the assistance of the Huron County Museum and Archives. Basically, I am creating a series of analog photographs of museum artifacts along with a research paper as I study the theory of removed perception and constructed narratives in museums. If you want more background on my project, check out the original post that introduces my research! Today I want to update you on one of my favourite artifacts to research and photograph thus far – a linoleum block carved by Tom Pritchard.

IMG_1619At first I think I gravitated towards Pritchard’s linoleum blocks because my “art student” side was simply interested in seeing a piece of this artistic practice, as linoleum block printing is not something you encounter often nowadays. Not only does the museum have a collection of Pritchard’s linoleum blocks, but also a sketchbook and some of his art supplies. The most interesting part of this discovery process was going to find out more about Pritchard in the archives, only to discover that most of his folder was full of documents pertaining to his experience in the war. This incident prompted a line of inquiry in my research regarding human nature’s urge to essentially “fill in the blanks” in order to neatly label someone; many of us don’t like loose ends so we try to wrap our understandings of people into neat little boxes. For example, I had labelled Pritchard as solely an artist in my mind until I read his file – after that whenever I wrote research notes I found myself referring to him as a soldier. In fact, this label became so fixed in my head that when I was sorting through my photographs of
artifacts and pairing them with their donors I mistakingly wrote Pritchard’s name next to a WWII gas mask instead of his linoleum block. As I reflected on this little mishap, I remember thinking of what a large role our minds play when looking at history – as we often take what we consider the most important aspects of someones life and define them by it.
The eIMG_1626xperience with Pritchard’s artifacts and archival file significantly directed my research as I have started looking at more museum studies articles and books on how curators negotiate incorporating narrative within exhibitions, and also the role that the public plays in their interpretations. I am finding it endlessly fascinating how key choices made by the curator can cue certain readings from the public, yet also how each visitor’s lived experience often redefines each interpretation. Luckily for me there is a significant amount of literature that touches on narrative theory in museums, as well as the opportunity to ask questions of the great staff at the Huron County Museum and Archives.
IMG_1621I also thought I might take the time to answer a question I receive often in terms of the artistic component of this project – which is “Why analog photography?” To be honest its a question I ask myself repeatedly as well (usually after a long day in the darkroom when only one print turns out). I chose to work in an analog process for this project because I was hoping that my artistic practice would reflect my experience at the museum – essentially embodying the idea of “careful touch.” I’ve found that working and photographing the artifacts feels like a very reverent experience, so I want my artistic process to reflect this as I take the time to physically manipulate the photos in the darkroom. I also find that there are parallels between working with the artifacts and working with the prints in concerns to preservation and value. To me, an analog photograph has a certain amount of value due to the fact that there are normally limited prints (and even then each print might be a bit different from the last!) as well as a certain level of preciousness since each photograph takes such a long time to process and complete. Additionally, I have been getting to learn a bit more about preservation of artifacts from the Museum Technician, which has lead me to make connections to the steps taken to preserve an analog photograph – such as keeping it in the fixative chemical bath for the right length of time so that the light does not deteriorate the print, or the never ending quest to avoid dust. In this way, I find that the analog process simply connects my practice.

Until next time,

– Becca Marshall

“The Gathering Place”: Introducing a Brock University Student’s Project in Collaboration with the Huron County Museum & Archives


In this guest post, University student Becca Marshall examines how photography can reveal the Huron County Museum as a ‘gathering place’ for both people and things, and how the two intersect. 

Hi everyone! My name is Becca Marshall and I am currently a fourth year student at Brock University where I study Concurrent Education with a focus in Visual Art and History. I have always been interested in cross disciplinary studies, so when the opportunity came to combine my love of history and art in the form of an independent study course – I took it! As I considered directions for my project I kept finding myself being pulled back to the Huron County Museum where I was a summer student in 2015. Luckily for me, the museum staff offered to assist me on my year-long project developing a research paper and analog photography portfolio on the topics of ‘removed perception’ and constructed narrative. So today I thought I would give you all a peek at what I have been up to so far.
weddingdressI started my project by photographing artifacts that are not currently on display in the museum’s main exhibition spaces. A large portion of my focus is looking at the museum as a “gathering place” (as one of my supervising professors termed it) and how even the most seemingly unconnected objects end up being tied together by the very fact that they all ended up in the same building. Some of my favourite artifacts to photograph so far have been a wedding dress belonging to Jean Taylor and a child’s sewing machine. Once I have the negatives developed I start working with methods of interrupting the images. Visual negations are a reference to our human tendency to insert ourselves into art and history and how this both enhances our experience, but also illuminates our limitations to understand an artifact’s experience objectively. These visual negations are indicative of my study of removed perception -how every single person will view an artifact (or a photo!) differently depending on their lived experiences. Essentially, the photos both highlight the personal relationships we form with artifacts while also recognizing a barrier – despite providing a window, a photo cannot physically transport someone back to the original objective context.

sewingmachieneMore specifically, in terms of technique I am working with an analog camera to create a series of silver-gelatin prints. Once I take the photos I remove the film in the darkroom, wind it onto a reel, put it in a canister, and then soak it in a series of chemical baths. After this process the film is developed and can be exposed to light as I remove it from the dark room and take it to the drying cabinet. After that I select the negative I want to make a print of and go into the darkroom with the red lights on (as red lights will not harm the light sensitive paper). Next, I insert my negative into an enlarger that will use directed light to expose the image onto my paper. It is during this process that I create any visual interruptions – for example the attached image of the sewing machine was created by dragging a thread across the paper for a split second during the exposure time. I then take the paper over to another series of chemical baths to develop the image. I am currently coming up with new ways to interrupt the images – for example I am experimenting with using a swath of lace during the exposure process on the wedding dress image to see what effect it produces. The entire process is incredibly engaging, and each artifact seems to demand a different sort of treatment that is entirely unique from the others.

darkroom

Dark room.

In terms of my research paper I am currently developing its direction through my experiences at the museum, studies in the archives, and by reading various books and journal articles. Through this process I hope to better understand the intentions, ethics, and reasoning behind how artifacts are displayed in museums. I want to learn how museums negotiate preserving the narratives of an artifact’s provenance, or how they may be used to illustrate larger messages, as well as how they reconcile artifacts with missing information (which arguably can be just as fascinating as an artifact that has pages recorded about its provenance). The inspiration for this research direction came from my encounter with a linoleum block in the collections room made by Thomas Pritchard. When I went to the archives to learn more about him I expected the file to be full of his artistic accomplishments – however much to my surprise, the majority of the documents were about his experience at war. I hope to write about this experience in greater detail in my next blog post as well as have a photo of his linoleum block developed at that time. By engaging in this research practice I hope to develop a better understanding about constructed and interpreted narrative through the display of artifacts in museums.

Overall, so far I am having an amazing experience getting to learn more about museums and engage with such uniquely wonderful artifacts. I cannot thank the staff at the Huron County Museum and Archives enough for assisting me with my studies and allowing me to see how art, history, and museum studies can all cross over and inform each other in the most interesting ways. I look forward to seeing how this project develops this year, and I hope you enjoy my periodic updates throughout the duration.

“Curiouser and Curiouser…”

On Saturday, August 22nd The Huron County Museum is transforming into Wonderland for a Mad Hatter’s Tea Party. In honour of the 150th anniversary of Lewis Caroll’s Alice’s Adventure in Wonderland, Summer Museum Assistant Becca Marshall shares some of her favourite facts about the nonsense-novel and its legacy.VicApt2

ViCApt5

Victorian Apartment, Huron County Museum

 

Have you ever visited the Victorian Apartment at the Huron County Museum? If so, you can probably picture the elaborate dining room set-up and recall the posted list of extensive etiquette required for Victorian tea time. It was social customs and rules such as these that inspired 19th century author Lewis Carroll to parody Victorian life in his fantastical novel Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. Scenes such as The Mad Hatter’s Tea Party were influenced by Carrol’s loathing for the rigid traditions.

Carrol’s subtle digs at the Victorian culture are not the only secrets that this classic holds – so in celebration of Alice’s 150th publishing anniversary here are 14 things you might not know about Alice and the man who imagined her iconic world:

  1. Lewis Carroll was a pseudonym for Charles Lutwidge Dogson (born January 27, 1832 in the Cheshire village of Daresbury, England).
  1. The original title for the novel was Alice’s Adventures Underground. Dodgson then expressed his fears that this title might suggest a book containing ‘instruction about mines’ and then considered other titles such as “Alice among the elves/ goblins, or Alice’s hour/doings/adventures in elf-land/wonderland.” Preferring the final option Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland was the final title.
IMG_1315

Portrait of Queen Victoria, Governor’s House, Huron Historic Gaol

3.  An apocryphal anecdote circulated that Queen Victoria was such a tremendous fan of the story, that she proposed that Carroll should dedicate his next book to her, An Elementary Treatise on Determinants, With Their Application to Simultaneous Linear Equations and Algebraic Equation—probably not what she would have had in mind. Dodgson denied this story.

4. Carrol’s novels were banned in China in 1931 on the grounds that “animals should not use human language.”

  1. Carroll is credited with inventing the words “chortle” and “galumph” in Through the Looking Glass.

6.  There is unconfirmed evidence that Carroll had a rare neurological disorder called “Todd’s Syndrome” (or suffered from similar migraine-induced symptoms). The disorder causes hallucinations that make visual objects appear to be changing sizes – often prompting the individual to feel as though their body is disproportionate. Psychiatrist John Todd discovered the disorder in 1955 and it was later named “Alice in Wonderland Syndrome” in reference to the theme of Alice and her surrounding objects shrinking and growing in odd ways throughout the book.

ALice

Illustration from Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland.

  1. Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland can be best classified by the genre “literary nonsense.”
  1. Carroll illustrated the original draft of his manuscript, but hired John Tenniel to do the published version.
  1. Mock Turtle Soup is a real dish that was popular during the Victorian period. The heads, hooves, and brains of calves were used as a cheaper replacement for green turtle soup.
AliceDisplay6

Mad Hatter’s Tea Party Display, Upper Mezzanine, Huron County Museum

  1. It was young Alice Liddell who inspired the famous novel. During a group boating trip with the Liddels Alice and her two sisters begged Carrol for a story. Happy to oblige Carrol cast Alice as the main character (her sisters Lorina and Edith were ‘Elise and Tillie’ in the Dormouse’s story) and began creating ridiculous adventures for her to go on. Alice enjoyed the story so much that she demanded that Carrol write it down – thus creating the first draft of the book.

11. Why does the Mad Hatter have a 10/16 sign on his hat? Carroll answered this in the abridged “Nursery” Alice for younger        readers, explaining that the Hatter would carry around his hats to sell, and the one he wore was no exception. The 10 and 6        are for “ten shillings and six pence.” This was a rather pricey sum in the Victorian age, alluding to superior quality and style.

12.To answer the Mad Hatter’s famous question “Why is a raven like a writing desk?” we have Carroll’s very own words, from a preface to later editions of the book…

VicApt3

China Cabinet, Victorian Apartment, Huron County Museum

“Enquiries have been so often addressed to me, as to whether any answer to the Hatter’s Riddle can be imagined, that I may as well put on record here what seems to me to be a fairly appropriate answer, viz: ‘Because it can produce a few notes, tho they are very flat; and it is nevar put with the wrong end in front!’ This, however is merely an afterthought; the Riddle as originally invented, had no answer at all.”  (Note how Carroll spelt “never” instead as a backwards “raven.”)

That’s a wrap, did you know any of these facts? Come join the Huron County Museum August 22nd to learn more and celebrate the 150th publishing anniversary of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland at the Mad Hatter’s Tea Party from 11-4:30. Games, activities, refreshments and desserts await!

AliceDisplay3

Mad Hatter’s Tea Party Display, Curated by Becca Marshall

A carpet sweeper for Christmas

By Emily Beliveau, Digital Project Assistant

Santa holding toy sweepers with children and ad text below

A 1910 Christmas ad for Bissell Toy Sweepers that appeared in Hardware Merchandising (Oct-Dec 1910, p. 943). Source: Internet Archive.

Need a last-minute gift idea for Christmas? How about a carpet sweeper? According to this 1910 advertisement, they are a great gift for both children and adults:

The Little Folk drop all other gifts to welcome Santa Claus and his Bissel Toy Sweeper. The lady of the house will appreciate even more than the children a gift of a genuine Bissel Sweeper. She knows there is none better and that it means a great saving of hard work for the coming ten years. We offer a large line to select from, varying in price from $2.50 to $5.00

Carpet sweepers were the forerunner to vacuum cleaners, but remained popular even after vacuums became widely available. They consist of a small box at the end of a handle with rollers and brushes inside to sweep up dirt and crumbs. Although vacuum cleaners have more cleaning power, sweepers remain popular for light-duty cleaning because they can be used quietly and without electricity.

Carpet sweeper resting against general store counter

Bissell ‘Standard’ carpet sweeper on display in the General Store exhibit in the History Hall, Huron County Museum. Object ID: M950.1255.001.

We have several carpet sweepers in the museum collection, one of which is on display in the General Store exhibit. Our display sweeper is a Bissell ‘Standard’ model from around 1919, some 40 years after sweepers were first invented. Melvill R. Bissell first patented the design in 1876, and the basic technology has remained the same since then.

Image from patent US182346-0, illustrating inner workings of carpet sweeper mechanism

First patent for a carpet sweeper, granted to M. R. Bissell in 1876. Source: Google Patent Search.

So if you don’t know what to buy for that special someone, consider how dirty their floor is and whether they could benefit from the timeless utility of a carpet sweeper. Santa approves!

Santa holding a carpet sweeper with ad text below

Christmas ad for Bissell carpet sweepers that appeared in the Christian Herald in 1913. (November 26, 1913, p. 1106). Source: Internet Archive.

If in doubt what to buy for Mother, Wife, Sister or Friend, remember that a BISSELL’S “Cyco” BALL BEARING Carpet Sweeper never fails to please and will be a daily reminder of the giver for ten years or more. It is handsome in design and finish, eliminnates the drudgery and confines of the dust, making it a most practical and appropriate gift. She needs a second sweeper to keep upstairs. Price $2.75 to $5.75. At dealers everywhere. Write for booklet showing our most popular styles. Bissel Carpet Sweeper Co. Grand Rapids Mich. “We Sweep The World”

Remembrance Day 2014

By Emily Beliveau, Digital Project Assistant

115 years ago:
Canada sends troops to South Africa to fight with Britain in the Boer War (1899-1900). It is the first official dispatch of Canada troops overseas.

handkerchief commemorating the Boer War

Handkerchief with blue border from the South African War 1899-1900. EMPIRE WELDERG is written across top. Col. Baden Powel and Lord Methuen pictured in the top left corner; Gen. Gatacre and Gen. Hildyard pictured in bottom right corner; South African map in centre. The initials “RM” are embroidered in the lower left corner. Object ID: M951.0339.001.

100 years ago:
World War I starts. The 161st (Huron) Battalion, a unit of the Canadian Expeditionary Force was formed in 1916. We will be featuring much more WWI history related to Huron County over the coming years, following the 100-year anniversaries of various events.

victory medal front and back wwi

World War I artifact belonging to Gordon Cameron of Brussels who was born on July 3, 1897, and who died during World War I on August 27, 1918 in France.
This Victory Medal was awarded to British and Imperial Forces for Campaign Service during World War I. Never awarded singly, this Victory Medal was given to those who received the 1914 Star or the 1914-1915 Star, and to most of those who received the British War Medal. Over 6 million were awarded. Object ID: 2005.0027.409

95 years ago: 
Remembrance Day and Armistice Day are observed for the first time, marking the first anniversary of the end hostilities on the Western Front of World War I.

canadaatwarrecor00hopkuoft_0013

Canada at War by J. Castell Hopkins. Object ID: M951.0049.001. Image from a full-text scan available at the Internet Archive.

75 years ago: 
World War II starts. Over the past year, we’ve featured many images taken by J. Gordon Henderson at WWII air training sites in Huron County. A less-publicized component of the Henderson Digitization Project are the oral history excerpts that are also available online. Hear about wartime life in Huron County directly from those who were there.

Jeff Mellon on flight instructor liquor runs:

Donald Bruce on surviving a crash landing:

Transcripts and additional recordings available here.

The extinction of the most abundant bird in North America

By Emily Beliveau, Digital Project Assistant

A mounted passenger pigeon (Ectopistes migratorius) from the Huron County Museum collection, Object ID: N000.1713.

A mounted passenger pigeon (Ectopistes migratorius) from the Huron County Museum collection, Object ID: N000.1713.

In 1914, the passenger pigeon became extinct. The last known survivor of the species was a female named Martha (after Martha Washington), who died at the Cincinnati Zoo on September 1, 1914 at 1:00pm. Only 50 years earlier, passenger pigeons were so abundant that giant flocks darkened the sky for hours at a time as they passed overhead. How did the most populous bird in North America become extinct? The short answer: humans. The destruction of forest habitat along with unrestricted commercial hunting annihilated the species over the course of several decades.

The passenger pigeon was a species of pigeon most closely related to the mourning dove, with a nesting range around the Great Lakes and a migration range from central Ontario, Quebec, and Nova Scotia in the north, to the uppermost parts of Texas, Louisiana, Alabama, Georgia, and Florida in the south. Communal in nature and capable of flying at 60 miles per hour, huge colonies of passenger pigeons travelling and nesting were a noisy, messy spectacle. An 1866 account from southern Ontario described a migrating flock that was 1.5 km wide and 500 km long and took 14 hours to pass through the sky. Nesting groups could easily cover 100 square kilometers, with 500 birds per tree.

Imagine the scene. Birds several deep on the branches, a constant roar of wings as birds take off and land, the smell of droppings and of the pigeons themselves—people say you could smell the passing flocks—the crack of branches. So many birds that a man in Ohio could remember firing a 12-gauge pistol into a bush in the dark and bringing down 18 pigeons with the shot. And every hawk, owl, crow, raven, vulture, fox, raccoon, and weasel within miles getting fat feeding on eggs, unfortunate nestlings, and awkward squabs fresh from the nest.
–From “The Passenger Pigeon: Once There Were Billions,” an essay from Hunting for Frogs on Elston, and Other Tales from Field & Street by Jerry Sullivan

News item from The Essex Record (Windsor, ON), April 2, 1875, p.2

News item from The Essex Record (Windsor, ON), April 2, 1875, p.2

Because the birds were so plentiful, the passenger pigeon was an important food source, first for the indigenous population of North America, and later for colonial settlers. When commercial hunters began selling large numbers of birds at city markets in the early 1800s, the decline in population first became noticeable. By the time legislators starting passing laws to restrict hunting the birds, it was too late for the population to recover. Deforestation, wholesale slaughter, a low reproductive rate (one egg per season), and an inability to survive in small colonies all contributed to the irreversible decline of the species. By the late 1890s, wild passenger pigeons were exceedingly rare, and despite large sums offered for live captures to use for breeding, no rewards were ever claimed.

The Huron County Museum is extremely fortunate to have a taxidermied specimen in its collection, which is on exhibit in the upper Mezzanine this fall to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the passenger pigeon’s extinction and efforts to prevent future human-related species decline.

References and further reading: 
Project Passenger Pigeon
The Passenger Pigeon, Encyclopedia Smithsonian