November 26, 2017
According to legend, courting candles were used by fathers to set a time limit when his daughter’s suitor came courting. He would adjust the candle in the twisted holder and when the candle had burned to the top twist, it was time for the young man to leave. One manufacturer of reproduction candle holders elaborates imaginatively on this myth, “Rich or poor, the courting candle was used by fathers from all economic backgrounds. It taught daughters to respect their parents’ judgment. The candle also taught the suitor to defer to the father’s ability to judge a man . . . the courting candle served as an important boundary line in the family and social fabrics.” Wow! A real necessity in every household!
Although the candleholder indeed may have been used as a time-keeper for suitors, it was not intentionally made for that purpose. Origin: The candleholder with its spiral shape was popular in Germany before being introduced to the American Colonies by the early Pennsylvania-German settlers. According to Prebys, the appeal of the spiral shape was its practicality. The candle easily could be twisted into the holder. If the candle was soft, the shape of the holder prevented it from falling over. A slide connected to the holder also helped move the candle up or down, thus utilizing as much of the candle as possible. This was important because candles were costly.
Prebys notes that candles were not the preferred source of lighting during the Colonial period because of their cost. Most households used fat lamps, small dishes containing fat or oil and a wick. Fat lamps were more practical and far less costly than candles. Prebys explains that candles were expensive because they required certain skills to make and were labor-intensive and time-consuming.
The article concludes by noting that there are probably more reproduction courting candles today than there were originals made during the colonial era.
Thank you, Anna Schaad Chappelle, Executive Director of Marble Springs in Tennessee, for forwarding this myth.
October 15, 2017
A tour guide wrote in to ask about the origins of “shot glass.” She’d heard it said that the phrase referred to its use as a pen holder. Filled with buckshot, it would keep the ink on the pen nib wet. I couldn’t determine it’s validity, so I threw it out to the universe, so to speak, and the universe answered. Sort of.
Blog reader Noah Briggs pointed out, “As for using them as pen holders, this is total baloney. After being used, quill and steel nib pens were wiped clean with a pen wiper and laid on a rack horizontally, because leaving them vertically in an ink pot (or the mythical “buckshot” in a shot glass) will bend and damage the tip, thus disrupting the flow of ink down the crevice and onto the tip and thus onto the paper. If you need to keep your ink wet, you dipped your pen into the inkwell. After all, that was its function.”
And thanks to Deborah Brower, a calligrapher, who adds, “Leaving your wet pen nib in a glass full of lead shot would be no different than leaving it on a table. The ink would dry on the nib and most likely ruin it. Even if it kept it moist, it would cause the nib to rust. You always clean you pen when you are done.”
The statement is a myth.
So what is the origin of the term? The word “shot” (according to Webster’s Merriam Dictionary) means “A small measure or serving (as one ounce) of undiluted liquor or other beverage [vodka shot], [a shot of expresso].” A glass for a shot of liquor, or shot glass, is merely that.
September 16, 2017
First, the practical. Experiments revealed that it would be impossible to discern a particular pattern of tin lanterns at any distance. S. West reports “I just now performed an experiment with index cards, a hole punch, and a flashlight. In a dark room, if you can see the difference in the patterns – as the dots shine on the walls. However, outside, on the streets the light pattern would not be clear. Also, the more intricate the patterns, the more difficult it would be to tell them apart when looking at the lantern lit up from across the street.” E. Duval writes, “I’m dubious of the tin lantern theory. I work at Conner Prairie, a living history museum in Indiana where we frequently use these lanterns at night. Candles really don’t give off enough light to make the pattern punched into the lantern distinguishable from far distances. By the time you got close enough to see the pattern, you’d also be able to see the person’s face.”
Sarah Uthoff checked with her contacts and reports: Kitty Hillman Latané, a historic tinsmith, wrote, “I’d never heard the ‘family pattern’ thing about tin punching, though plaids and knit patterns have a tradition of family patterns. Here’s what Shay Lelegren, a historical tinsmith at Hot Dip Tin, told me. ‘That story being told in Nauvoo had made its way to Utah and I was asked about it many times in my Tinshop in Salt Lake. There is no documentary evidence to it. None of the museum pieces in the Utah Pioneer museums have patterns. In fact original punched tin lanterns I looked at have more holes than repros. Some have 90% of the body punched. I believe the story was invented by the gift shop industry. . . . In both sites they are volunteers serving a 2-year mission and they are telling the stories they have been taught by the generations before. The Nauvoo Tin shop was set up the late 1970 and has never been a working shop (only narrated) . . . The tinware on display is all repro.'”
Another wrinkle: how would the “family pattern” continue into the next generation? Which son or daughter’s family would “inherit” the family pattern? And Mormon families are so big and interconnected, it would become impossibly confusing.
I think we can judge the “family pattern” tin lantern a myth. Thanks to all the blog readers who helped with observations and information!
August 27, 2017
General agreement from blog readers says that it doesn’t take a beard to create stains on the top edge of a quilt. Hands and faces can do damage easily, which is why a bed properly made folds the top sheet over the blanket or quilt–sheets being frequently laundered and blankets/quilts not so much. After reading the following comments by experts, we can safely conclude that most of this statement is fact, just not the part about the strip being useful in dating the quilt.
Barbara Brackman, quilt historian: “Several years I wrote this about the topic. See below. And I’ve attached a picture of a comforter from about 1910 with a pink feedsack chin protector from about 1940. [above]
Chin or Beard Protectors: Some of the most functional quilts and comforters, those used as everyday blankets, have an extra piece of fabric covering one edge. We call these cuffs “Chin Protectors” or “Beard Protectors”. The women who remember sleeping under them tell us the cuff was added to the edge of the quilt that was pulled up under a man’s scratchy chin to protect the patchwork from wear, sort of like a celluloid collar extending the life of a shirt. The chin protector could be replaced when it frayed. To be fair to men, we must point out that people of either gender can wear out a quilt’s surface by pulling at it every night. A better name for these unquilted additions might be “hand protector.”
Observation indicates that the extra border, a cuff covering both the top and backing of the quilt, is most often made of a fabric produced after 1900. The housekeeper might have added a chin protector to an 1880’s quilt, but it usually looks like that extra piece was stitched in place in the 20th century. Chin protectors, like sleeves for hanging, are often a later addition that is of little use in dating the quilt.”
The International Quilt Museum posted this response from their curator on their Facebook page:
“Sarah asked if we had any comments on the quilt myth mentioned in the second half of the post. Here’s what one of our curators had to say: A “beard guard” or “whisker guard” is something seen on quilts somewhat regularly. It was a way to help keep the area at the top of a quilt clean. It protected the quilt from oils – whether from a beard or from hands. They were used at various times in history, so it isn’t a clue to a particular date, period or region.”
June 18, 2017
Thanks to Eric Olsen, Park Ranger and Historian at Morristown National Historic Park, for this one. Seems new myths are always popping up! Let’s nip this one in the bud.
“I’ve got a new myth for you that I never heard before last week. I was talking with one of our new volunteers after she had completed a tour of Washington’s Headquarters [Ford Mansion, Morristown NHP] and she was excited because she learned something new from one of our visitors.
The visitor told her that parents placed their babies in trundle beds and then pushed the bed underneath the adult bed with the baby still in the trundle bed! The reason for this behavior was that the heat from the adults sleeping in the large bed about the trundle bed would help keep the baby warm.
At this point I explained the whole concept of Old House Tour myths and plugged your book at the same time. I pointed out that parents did indeed put babies in trundle beds but not underneath another bed. By having the baby in a trundle bed next to the parent’s bed, a mother could easily reach her baby for nursing in the middle of the night. If a mother placed her baby in bed with the parents, to make it easier to reach the child when nursing time came, there was always the possibility that the sleeping parents might roll over on the baby. So it was safer to put the baby in a separate trundle bed.
I also suggested that if a baby was placed under the parents bed the baby would probably get a lot of dust leaking out from the mattress above. Also depending on how tight the ropes were on the parents bed, there might not have been much room for the baby.”
Thank you, Eric. The lesson here is always beware of what you hear from visitors and from other guides. Don’t repeat it before you’ve checked it out first.
James “Jake” Pontillosays: