Archive for November, 2012

Bleeding was used to treat conditions like inflammation, pain, epilepsy, insanity, pneumonia, syphilis, fractures, and hemorrhages. Bleeding was often used alongside other treatments such as purging (inducing vomiting) and sweating. It was generally abandoned by the early 1800s although some doctors used it until the mid 1800s.

1983.269The fleam is a hand held blood-letting instrument that has one or more blades at right angles to the handle. The blades were variously sized to offer a selection to the phlebotomist. Fleams were used on both humans and animals.

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Sugar cutters or nippers were important food processing tools. The sharp blades were used to break off pieces of compressed sugar cones before being pounded by a mortar into finer pieces. Sugar loaves were replaced by granulated sugar in the late 19th century, rendering nippers obsolete.

Sometimes heavier cutters were set into a wooden base which allowed for greater leverage and improved safety.

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This week’s mystery object belonged to WWII veteran Roland Winslow Junkins (1925-2002). He served with the 83rd and 89th infantry divisions during WWII in Germany, France and post-war Austria. 

This shell casing-turned into shot glasses and carrier-set was made for Roland’s 20th birthday by two German prisoners of war, Erich Ellinghausen and Hans-Jochen Falk, whom Junkins had befriended while serving at Camp Lucky Strike, in Normandy, France. The German shells date between 1936-1938 and were brought together in their new form in 1945.

Decorative items made by soldiers, prisoners of war or civilians from the refuse connected to war are commonly called “trench art”. The Museums of Old York has trench art from both WWI and WWII in its collections.


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Often associated with logging and lumbering activities, spruce gum boxes, also known as gum books, were the work of the Maine lumberman, made deep in the woods for a loved one. They were usually made from a solid piece of wood, often with a sliding top and bottom. Most gum boxes date from 1850-1920, after which improved transportation allowed lumbermen to return home more frequently and thereby ended this distinctive Maine folk art.

Traditionally spruce gum was harvested by woodsmen: lumbermen, trappers, and even professional “gummers.” Spruce gum comes from sap that is hardened into resin. While it can be collected from any species of spruce, it mostly comes from red and black spruce. It takes about two to four years to cure before it can be chewed, depending on the size.

In the 1800s, an entire industry developed around spruce gum. Maine was the largest and probably first producer of gum in the Northeast with nearly two dozen companies emerging between 1848-1910.

Hope you had fun guessing!

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