Thursday, December 28, 2017

Pianos at Benton County Historical Museum

One of the large objects features in the Things Come Apart exhibition at the Benton County Historical Museum is a piano.  The pianoforte (the full name) was invented around 1700 by Bartolomeo Cristofori.  By using strings struck by padded hammers with a spring recoil, the new instrument was more responsive to the musician's touch and could play both loud (forte) and soft (piano) tones.

The Benton County Museum has several pianos in its collection.  One square piano is thought to be the first piano in the Willamette Valley.  Sometime between 1872 and 1880, it was shipped by boat around Cape Horn to Portland and then taken by a team of oxen to Lafayette, in Yamhill County, Oregon. Owned by Eva Burbank, the piano with its elaborately carved legs was a real attraction, and people came long distances to see it. 

By the date of the next piano (1927), people would not have traveled so far to view one for they were no longer a novelty.  The number of pianos sold increased rapidly during the period from 1890 to 1920. More Americans had achieved middle class status and owned their own home.  Their next big purchase, which revealed their status and a showed culture, was a piano for their living room or parlor.  This Kohler and Campbell upright has a much simpler than the elaborate carvings on the first piano; instead, the decorative element is the painted floral designs in the corners.  This studio model piano is smaller than usual and would fit more easily into a modest home or apartment.  While most pianos have 88 keys (52 white and 36 black), the studio piano has only 61 (36 white and 25 black), giving it a smaller range of notes. 
Kohler & Campbell 61 key piano
By Martha Fraundorf, Volunteer for Benton County Historical Society, Philomath, Oregon

Tuesday, December 19, 2017

Christmas Ornaments at Benton County Museum

Holiday greetings!  I’m a Christmas tree fanatic and have one in each room of my house.  Some are small and I store them already decorated.  I’m now in the process of decorating the large one in the living room which takes several days as I have so many ornaments, many of which were hand-made by my mother.  I thought you might enjoy seeing some of the ones in the Benton County Historical Museum’s collection.

Originally Christmas tree lights were actual candles, which created a fire hazard.  Strands of electric lights for the trees were first offered commercially in the early 1900s. 
Hexagonal Christmas tree light bulb
Early lights such as this one worked fine until one bulb in the set burned out.  Then all the lights would stop working.  You had to test each one until you found the burned out bulb! I found the hexagonal shape of this one unusual.
"Bubbler" Christmas tree light bulb
Lighted Ice Christmas bulb
When bulbs such as the candle-shaped one got hot, the liquid in them bubbled.  Bubble lights were the big hit of the 1946 Christmas season. In the first two years they were on the market, over 25 million sets were sold. Another type of specialty lights were the “lighted ice” bulb produced by General Electric.  I still have some of each from the trees of my postwar childhood. Unfortunately, they don’t work with the more efficient modern lights strings. 

The first Christmas trees were decorated with food such as gingerbread men and apples.  The tradition of mold-blown colored glass balls began in Lauscha, Germany in the late 1840s and became popular in the United States in the 1890s.  Here are three from the museum’s collection. 
This Victorian ornaments is made of pink celluloid with a metal mesh.
This clip-on tulip is large and rather heavy.  I wonder how it stayed upright!
This glass ball has been hand-painted.
By Martha Fraundorf, Volunteer for Benton County Historical Society, Philomath, Oregon

Monday, December 4, 2017

More Typewriters at Benton County Museum!

In the last post, I described some of the many typewriters in the museum's collection.  Another one which caught my attention is this Simplex typewriter patented in 1892.

As the typist rotates the dial, the rubber characters pass over an ink pad.  Once the dial is at the appropriate letter, the typist presses down to print the letter.  The original Simplex printed only upper case letters; later versions had larger dials with both upper and lower case letters. This machine was marketed to individuals for neat letter writing and sold for $2.50 which was much less than the $100 price of keyboard models.

I noticed this typewriter because it reminded me of a toy typewriter that I had as a child which used  similar technology.  As keyboard machines improved and prices fell, the Simplex was too slow to be  competitive in the office and even home use markets. The company began marketing the machine as a toy for children. The Marx Toy Company also made similar typewriters for children in the 1950s.

Another version of  an index typewriter (one which selects the letter and prints it in separate actions)
is the Odell typewriter which inventor Levi Judson Odell patented in 1889.  Instead of a dial, the typist used a small handle to slide along the vertical bar to the chosen letter then and pressed it to print. The vertical bar then moved over one space. Odell typewriters were sold until 1906.

Another unusual machine is this Elliot-Fisher book typewriter from 1905. In the early 1900s, many businesses and government agencies kept records in bound books and ledgers. To make the entries more legible, the Elliott and Hatch Book Typewriter Company introduced book typewriters in 1897.  In 1903 it merged with the Fisher Book Typewriter Company, a new competitor.  The Elliott-Fisher Company continued to produce book typewriters until at least 1925.

The typist would place the opened book on a special table to hold it in place.  Then the down-stroke typewriter portion moved along the rails as the user typed. The machine was also advertised as especially useful for typing forms that had many layers of paper and carbon paper due to the firm base the table provided.

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