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A Fourth 'What in the World Is It?'

Can you guess the function of this bit of Millburn memorabilia?

Thank you to the two posters who offered guesses about the function of last week's 'What in the World Is It?' item. Unfortunately neither guess was correct.

Although the item does look a bit like an old toast rack and cast iron bookends, it was called a pen rack. My pens are thrown in several drawers around the house, but before ballpoint and fountain pens, writers used nib or dip pens. An article by Ralph and Terry Kovel notes that "...Early pens were simple. They were just a holder and a point. There was no ink reservoir. Geese or swan feathers were favored because the quills were hollow and held a bit of ink above the sharpened point...Each pen held a point that was dipped into an inkwell for use. But these dip pens dripped, so pen wipes were necessary. The wipe was made of a “sandwich” of fabric stitched together so the point could be wiped quickly on both sides."

After using the pen, the writer would wipe it with the pen wipe, but any residual bit of ink could stain a drawer or anything in it, so the pen(s) could be kept on a pen rack. An 1891 article about a similar pen rack noted that it "effectually prevents the pen from rolling or soiling the desk." The 1911 sketch here shows a horseshoe-shaped pen rack, with pens in place and a pocketwatch holder at the top of the rack. The 1874 patent drawing also seen here shows the end piece on a nearly-identical pen rack, which would have had cross bars and another identical end piece, as the one at the museum does. Based upon the similar patent, then, we are assuming that the one at the museum dates to the 1870s, and based upon the design to accommodate multiple pens, it may have been used in an office, as someone suggested recently, on a partner desk.

This week's item from the historical society museum is about 3.75" in diameter and about an inch high. The underside is covered with a velvety material and you can see here a side sketch of a similar item in a 1923 patent. Can you guess what it is?

We will use this blog to highlight unusual objects at the Millburn-Short Hills Historical Society museum. The objects will be posted with only minimal information, so we encourage you to guess what the object is or what its purpose was. In approximately one week, information about the object will be revealed and a new object will be posted.

The first person with a correct guess will receive a brand new, custom black Sharpie pen marked with a flag and "Happy July Fourth; Millburn N.J." The first person who correctly identifies the item may contact us at mshhs@comcast.net, to let us know whether to mail the pen or expect a visit to the museum (feel free to pick it up).

[Many thanks to Millburn High School volunteer Anna Gracey for scanning the objects and composing the introduction.]

This post is contributed by a community member. The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Patch Media Corporation. Everyone is welcome to submit a post to Patch. If you'd like to post a blog, go here to get started.

Susan Stern May 18, 2012 at 02:51 PM
I believe that the velvety side was used to clean off records before playing them. Susan Stern


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