Overlooked Objects, 2016


In 2016 our former Curator, Emma Ballou, had the idea of highlighting some objects from our collection that one could easily walk right by while touring the Halsey House. These objects were all either small in size, or could easily be overlooked by being a seemingly common item. But every single item on display at the Halsey House is historic in nature. The majority of items on display in that home are older than the United States itself and all tell their own amazing story. Below you can find this great digital exhibit that was posted to our social media accounts in November 2016.

Day 1:

Small Creamware Plate with Blue Rim

This lovely small plate from the Thomas Halsey Homestead is classified as CREAMWARE. This cream-colored English earthenware plate was most likely produced in the late 1700s when European potters were trying to find an inexpensive substitute for expensive Chinese porcelain. Originally, the cream color was considered a fault but it quickly proved ideal for domestic ware. Creamware, like this sweet little plate, grew in popularity and was produced throughout the 19th century and later.

Day 2:

Tin Candle Snuffer

This small hollow tin cone is called a candle snuffer, an instrument used to extinguish burning candles. In early America candles were ABSOLUTELY essential to daily life. Candle makers (also known as chandlers) made candles from animal fats saved from the kitchen called tallow candles. The unpleasant smell of tallow candles was due to the glycerin they contained. The smell from manufacturing these candles was SO unpleasant that they were banned in several European cities. Beeswax was and excellent substitute, but of course, because it didn’t have an unpleasant smell it was more expensive.

Day 3:

Small Wrought Iron Peel

A peel is an ancient baking tool that is still used today by professional bakers. This shovel-like kitchen tool was most commonly used to slide lumps of dough neatly off a flat spade in an oven from a distance. One can conclude, that due to the smaller size of this particular peel, it most likely would have been used for turning small cakes or rolls. In colonial America, a home brick oven was designed and used exclusively for the making of breads, cakes, and pastries that they ate at every meal. In 1728 the "Boston News Letter" estimates the food needs of a middle-class ‘genteel’ family to consist of: bread and milk for breakfast; pudding, bread, meat, roots, pickles, and cheese for dinner; and finally bread and milk again for supper. How thrilling compared to today’s conversations about what to have for dinner, “do you want Chinese or Italian (again)?”!


Day 4:

Small Leather and Brass Hanging Mirror from the 19th century

Mirrors throughout history were incredibly costly since manufacturing them was dangerous, delicate, and required expensive materials. Some relief came in 1835 when a German invented a new method of backing sheets of glass with real silver, forever replacing the toxic material that was used up until that point, mercury. This petit mirror is rather unusual, with its leather frame and brass tack detailing it was most likely meant to hang on a wall in a stylish woman’s bedchamber.

Day 5:

Colonial Eyeglasses - Double Fold Spectacles from the 1700s

The constant problem of eyeglasses not staying in place was solved by Edward Scarlett of London. Around 1730 he perfected the temple spectacles which had short rigid arms that pressed against the head above the ears. The made wearing glasses more convenient and relevant to the current styles of wearing wigs or having long hair. A few decades after this innovation, eyeglasses with longer arms with hinges in the middle, increased in popularity. In 1752, a fellow Englishman, James Ayscough is credited with inventing the first double hinged temple. He also developed tinted lenses which were popular throughout the end of the century. Multiple design patents were issued through the end of the century, some which even suggested using four lenses to solve various issues.

Day 6:

Tin Wall Candle Sconce

Although it is one of the oldest light sources, candles have not change much throughout history, but their holders have. This simple tinsmith-made candle sconce, with its pressed lines on the top, is a popular colonial design. At one point this wall sconce most likely had small mercury washed glass pieces inserted along the top, which was used to enhance the light from the candle into the room using its reflection.

Day 7:

English Cane Chair – 17th century

Cane furniture first appeared in Holland, England and France around the 1660s thanks to a bustling trade with Asia. Caning was typically used for the seats and backs of wooden chairs. Cane chairs were sought after for a variety of reasons during this period, one was that they were durable, light, and easy to keep clean; also these chairs enabled a member of the middle class to own their very own piece of the ‘orient’. Cane chairs were in such high demand in London that furniture companies had to hire 10,000 specialized artists to fuel a very efficient production process. Because of their popularity, cane chairs influenced the design of other furniture, such as the banister back chair that became a standard form of seating in colonial New England.


Day 8:

Large Hand Woven Cheese Basket

This antique hand woven basket from the early 1800s is a beautiful example of a New England Shaker style cheese basket. Shakers began weaving their own baskets when those purchased from the local Native Americans couldn’t meet their needs. Most Native American baskets were made from lightweight splint that wasn’t highly durable; the Shakers were using baskets for every day agricultural work and needed something that could withstand this heavy usage. Their baskets were made from local wood, predominately ash, and processed completely by the shakers. The brethren were responsible for cutting and preparing the “basket stuff” as they called it, while the majority of the basket waving was done by the sisters.

Day 9:

Federal Period Looking Glass

The Federal style in America took place from 1789 to1823 and hinged on the Roman motifs that felt so politically relevant to America during times of turmoil. As the newest Republic images of an eagle or a griffon were thought to conjure up the power of the Roman Empire, which conveyed America’s political ideals of patriotism and democracy. Looking closely at this wooden mirror one can see the proud eagle at the top spreading its wings, readying itself to take flight.

Day 10:

Colonial Foot Stove with Embers Box

Portable heaters have been used since ancient times to heat our extremities (the very vulnerable feet and hands), using either charcoal or oil. By the 18th century, the use of foot stoves with a pierced tin and wood construction was essential in America. Although there were variations to the making of a foot stove in America, the most common type was a wooden frame with four turned corner posts and a perforated sheet iron box with a hinged door. On the door and sides of the tin box designs of hearts, stars, circles, and diamonds, were a great example of American folk art.

Day 11:

Scrimshaw Horn Cup

Scrimshaw is an art form that is considered by some to be the only art form that originated in America. This is because Scrimshaw was first practiced by sailors working on whaling ships out of New England. On these whaling ships, Scrimshaw engravings were done with a pocket knife or a discarded needle from the ships sail maker. The sailor then would cut and/or scratch a picture into the laboriously polished surface. Periodically, during the engraving process, the sailor would rub a pigment such as soot or dyed gun powder, into the cuts and scratches to make the pictures they engraved come to life.

Day 12:

Great Turned Armchair, Possibly from Coastal Massachusetts or New Hampshire (early 1700s)

The turner made simple stools, slat-back chairs, and his specialty, the great turned chair (like this one). A surprisingly large number of New England great turned chairs survive, but unlike this one, most need major restorations. Turned chairs were made throughout New England; the greatest number surviving examples probably originated in or near Boston. Turners continued to produce spindle-back chairs well into the eighteenth century. Numerous late example survive; many are side chairs, whose turnings are not at all comparable the robust work epitomized in this example. (Information found in the book New England Furniture, the Colonial Era)

Day 13:

American Redware Slip Pie Plate

The 18th and 19th century pottery of New England was plainly decorated and utilitarian pieces such as jugs, storage crocks, platters, plates and bowls. Redware was the first pottery made by European colonists after settling in North America. They brought the tools and knowledge necessary to produce serviceable pottery using this native clay abundant along stream and riverbeds along the East Coast. Despite its widespread availability, it had one drawback, it was extremely porous so it could not effectively hold water unless it was coated with a lead-based glaze. Redware continued to be widely used despite its poisonous glaze until the 1850s, when more durable stoneware and ironstone ceramics became popular.

Day 14:

Dutch Delft Blue and White Tobacco Jar with Brass Cover (18th century)

This handcrafted Delft Jar was originally used in Colonial America for storing herbs, spices and leaf tobacco. Delftware or Delft pottery is blue and white pottery made in and around the city of Delft in the Netherlands. The Dutch East India Company had a lively trade with the East and imported millions of pieces of Chinese porcelain in the early 17th century. Because of the popularity of Chinese porcelain the Dutch started experimenting trying to create a more affordable imitation of Chinese porcelain. Delftware ranged from simple household items to fancy artwork. Most Delft factories made storage jars, like the one here. The word painted on the front of the jar “Rappee” is the French word for a strong snuff made from dark, rank tobacco leaves that was popular with American Colonists.

Day 15:

Colonial Wooden Board Baby Cradle

Cradles were generally used in the lower rooms of homes and not in the bedroom. Inventories suggest that cradles were not as numerous as their representation in historic house museums suggest. The most common form of cradle in New England in the 18th and 19th centuries was the board cradle, like the one pictured here. Based on the simple arch of its hood, this example would probably be dubbed Queen Anne. When it came to adopting new styles, the form of furniture least susceptible to change, the form that stood still for over a century, was the cradle.

Day 16:

8 Tube Tin Candlestick Mold

To the modern American who lives their nights in well-lit places with modern electricity, a room lit with seven candles would appear dim and dark, but to an 18th century colonist it would be luminous. Most colonial homes included around 5 candles. At nightfall most activities such as reading and sewing ceased due to insufficient light, so one was forced to either sit and talk or retire for the night. Tallow candles, made of animal fat – the best tallow candles were made from half sheep and half beef fat. After the fat was melted and purified it would be poured into a mold, like the one pictured here, with a wick inserted, then they were allowed to cool and then be removed.

Day 17:

Cast Iron Kettle

In America, before the introduction of the kitchen stove in the middle of the 19th century, meals were cooked in the hearth or fireplace. This meant that cooking vessels (like the one pictured here) had to be designed to be suspended on, or in, a fireplace. This cast iron kettle has a handle that allows it to be hung over a fire and small legs so that it could also stand up in the hot embers of a fireplace. This kettle has a rather unusually refined spout and a bulbous body.

Day 18:

Iron Door Hinge

From the Colonial era until the early 19th century, builders’ hardware was usually handcrafted from wrought (aka pure) iron by blacksmiths. Blacksmithing was among the most popular occupations in the later colonies, thanks to ongoing needs for domestic hardware, including hinges. Even though blacksmiths were mostly concerned with keeping cost low they also had an eye for design and aesthetics despite the functional nature of the objects they made, as can be seen on the hinge pictured here in the beautiful subtle details and ornate curves of the hinge.


Day 19:

Diamond Glass Windows

In the 1670s, the young middle class in the English North American colonies began to acquire money. Colonists purchased imported glass and had the diamond shaped panes placed into their windows that sparsely covered their homes. Windows were small in size and few in number, due to the cost of glass, and in northern climates, for greater protection against the harsh winter weather.

Day 20:

Adjustable Wooden Candle Stand, New England, c. 1750

Most modern homes can easily adjust the brightness of the lights in a room, but this was harder to achieve for Colonial Americans who relied on candles to light their homes. With these adjustable candle stands the two candles placed on them could be moved up and down the central stem by spinning the horizontal bar on which the candles stood. With the candles at their highest point they would help to illuminate an entire room and at their lowest position they would provide light for someone reading or knitting while sitting down. This design remained popular for many years to come although later versions were made with iron in place of wood.

Day 21:

Colonial Pewter Flatware

Pewter was the common tableware of Colonial America in the 18th century and well into the 19th century and was used both in the home and in churches. Everything from plates to tankards to spoons to nursing bottles were made from this tin alloy. The two plates pictured are made of pewter and the knife and fork are also made of pewter but have wooden handles. Sometimes utensils like forks, spoons, and knives would be made entirely out of pewter or have wooden or bone handles.

Day 22:

Colonial Tin Liquid Warmer

This is a very rare and unusual example of colonial craftsmanship. We do not know exactly what this object was used but because the handles were placed so far away from the body of the object one can conclude that the object could get quite hot. Also, there is a small chamber with vents that one could put hot embers in the base to heat up the removable cup that fits snugly into the top of the cup. Judging by the form of the object one can assume that its function was to heat up small amount of liquid, perhaps milk for a baby.

Day 23:

Accelerating Head of a Great Spinning Wheel

This is a small part of a “Great Wheel” known as an accelerating head. A Great Wheel is an early type of spinning wheel that the spinner holds the fiber in their left hand and slowly turn the wheel with their right. The wheel is normally used to spin short-stable fibers such as cotton and wool. Reportedly, Great Wheel spinning feels quite different from Flyer Wheel spinning because more of your body is involved. The spinner stands during the process and is continuously moving in a rhythmic dance.

Day 24:

Lath, Plaster, and Wooden Beams in Halsey House

While constructing walls with lath and plaster today is not usually seen as the best method, prior to the 1950's and the widespread growth in the use of drywall, it was a highly popular method used for hundreds of years. Pictured here we have a rear view of an interior 2nd floor wall at the Thomas Halsey Homestead. While the large diagonal wooden beam has some graffiti reading "1805" this section of the house actually dates back to the 1730's.

Day 25:

Animal Hide Chest

Storage trunks were a popular item in the Colonial American home. They were typically used as a way to store extra clothing or bed linens when they were not needed, but could be used to store anything as needed. If someone were to travel, trunks like these were often used as travel luggage. This dome-top trunk is coated with animal hide, possibly deer, and decorated with tacks. "MSJ" is spelled out on the top, most likely the initials of this trunks original owner from the 1700's.

Day 26:

William and Mary Child’s Size Ladder-back Mushroom Armchair, New England, c. 1750s

Ladder-back armchairs with rush seats were made in New England from the late 1600s. This chair has two flattened disk finials on the back two posts of the chair that are called “mushrooms”. The chair is very rustic and the legs and rails are not turned, showing that it was simply made with the only turned element being the mushroom cap details. The chair is currently short and would only be comfortable for a child, but a keen observer will notice how close the spacers are to the ground and how the chair is not level. These details mean that over-time the chair legs were worn down to make it shorter than it was when it was organically created.

Day 27:

Colonial Hand-painted Glass Decanter

A decanter is used to store the decantation of a liquid, generally a wine, and would be poured from here into a glass for consumption. Decanters could be made in all different shapes and designs and most oftentimes came with a stopper to close the bottle. This example is rectangular in shape with a small opening at the top however it is missing its stopper, but it is beautifully decorated with hand-painted folk art scenes. So this piece doubles as an artifact showing what kind of glassware was popular in Colonial America, but is also a beautiful art piece.

Day 28:

Colonial Hanging Cast Iron Fireplace Skillet

The skillet was a basic cooking tool in Colonial America. Early skillets were made with three or four legs and were placed on the floor of the hearth. The skillet pictured above hangs from a crane that lifted the skillet off the floor and allowed for food to be cooked over the flames. This meant that whatever was being cooked could be heated more directly and from different angles. Using a crane allowed alleviated some of the dangers that came from cooking in the hearth, these cranes often had hinges which would swing the skillet out and allow the cook to work on their meal without directly standing over the fire.

Day 29:

Shaker Style Buttocks Basket

Despite this basket’s rather hilarious name, the buttocks basket appeared commonly in the 17th, 18th, and even 19th century household. Its curved bottom with two separate sections cradled delicate materials, such as eggs, perfectly. Its beautiful design and handmade quality reflect the Shaker’s exceptional craftsmanship.

Day 30:

Colonial Creamware Pitcher, 1790s

Creamware is a type of pottery that is characterized by its clear glaze and cream-colored body. Creamware became popular in England and its colonies, as it was used to serve tea. This creamware pitcher features images of General George Washington in his military uniform, holding a short staff in his right hand, standing next to "Liberty," who holds a staff with a "Liberty Cap," while gesturing towards an oval map of the Eastern United States. A winged angel blows a trumpet and a scroll marked "Washington," which indicates that this pitcher celebrates his military accomplishments as the Commander of the Continental Army during the American Revolution. Seated beneath two maidens, and opposite Washington, is an image of Benjamin Franklin holding a book marked "July 1776".

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