Thursday, January 9, 2020

Boatswain's Whistle

The object below attracted my attention for its unusual shape.

It is a boatswain's (or bosun's) pipe.  Although this particular pipe dates from the 1960s, such whistles have been used on English ships since the 13th century.  On sailing ships, a human voice would not carry in storm conditions to men high in the rigging.  The high-pitched sound created by the whistle did.

The pipe is held with the small end toward the mouth with the hand curled around the tube (or gun)..  At the far end is a round ball( known as the buoy) with a hole in the top where the sound comes out.  Boatswain whistles can produce different sounds depending on how many fingers curl around it and how tightly they hold. With the hand open, the pipe produces a low pitch; closing the fingers raises the pitch.  Although one could produce a whole octave of sounds, on ships only one high and one low pitch are used.  Variations in the pattern of high and low pitches and their duration created different signals for different commands. 

The flat part under the tube is called the keel-- not surprising a term for something used on ships. Its main function is to provide stability for the pipe and to aid in hold it.  Some keels were decorated in elaborate patterns.  The loop connected the pipe to a lanyard worn around the bosun's neck. 

By Martha Fraundorf, Volunteer for Benton County Historical Society, Philomath, Oregon

Monday, December 23, 2019

Featured Artefact: The Bodkin

One day several of the volunteers at the Benton County Historical Museum were talking about unusual objects or those not seen much anymore. Some of these I’ve featured in earlier posts. One object that another volunteer mentioned is shown in the picture below.
This is a bodkin.  Once upon a time a bodkin would have been in every woman’s sewing box.  They used these blunt needles with large eyes to pull ribbons through lace or cords through a casing. One might have been used to insert the blue ribbon into this baby’s cap. Pulling elastic through a casing sure would be a lot easier with one of these that with a large safety pin used by many home sewers today!
Bodkins were also used to thread laces through holes in corsets or other clothing closed this way, especially before manufactured cords were fitted with aiglets.
In the 17th century so many items of clothing were laced closed that women kept their bodkins handy in special decorative cases or acquired fancy silver bodkins which they stuck in their elaborate hairdos until needed.

By Martha Fraundorf, Volunteer for Benton County Historical Society, Philomath, Oregon