Friday, May 31, 2019

What is it?

My last post talked about finding objects in the Benton County Historical Museum's collection that I had never seen before.  Here is another such object which I found appealing in form but puzzling.  How was it used?
Buggy whip rack
The object is a rack for buggy whips. In the photograph below, coachman Scotty Dryden is holding such a whip as he drives the Oswald West family carriage.

Oswald West's family carriage
I can imagine the whip hanging vertically through one of the loops in the rack. For a moment I wondered why someone might need spaces for so many whips.  But, of course, this wasn't hung in an individual’s carriage house or barn but in commercial establishments such as a country store or blacksmith's shop which sold whips. 

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

Thursday, May 23, 2019

19th Century Mining by Candlelight

Sometimes when I am retrieving something from the Benton County Historical Museum's collection storage facility, I see an unfamiliar object with a strange shape. I wonder what it is and what is it used for.  This piece of iron is one such object.
According to donor Louis Raymond, this is a miner's candle holder given to him by the editor of  The Mining Journal. Reportedly, it came from a mine near Nanimo, British Columbia.

Before the mid-1800s, miners used oil lamps to light their work. After Joseph Morgan invented a candle-molding machine in 1834 and the supply of paraffin and tallow increased as by-products of industrialized meat packing and oil refining, the price of candles fell.  Now candles became a cheap source of light. Miners began to develop holders which met the needs of the mining industry, with the first patent issued in 1872.

The iron spike on one end could be driven into a framing timber or a crack in rock.  The cup-like part held the candle, and the hook helped balance the weight and could be used to hang the holder from a projection when there were no convenient beams or cracks. Miners sometimes used them to hang candle holder from their hats. This device was relatively easy to make and soon over 80 brands were being sold.  Some added decorative features such as perforated shapes on the cup or twists to the handle. Some even had engraved designs.  Others could be folded like a pocket knife.

Here are some others from the museum’s collection:
  Candlestick with “H. Blakeman” on the side
 Candlestick from Shasta County, California copper mine
 Weren't candles a danger in the mines?  Candles emitted less smoke and toxic gases than oil lamps and were less likely to ignite wooden support beams if dislodged.  They were also easier to transport. Candles were used to light western mines until 1918-1920 when they replaced by electric lights. 
By Martha Fraundorf, Volunteer for Benton County Historical Society, Philomath, Oregon  

Thursday, May 16, 2019

19th Century Bank Notes

These bank notes from the Benton County Historical Museum's documents collection are worn and shabby, which is not too surprising as they are over 150 years old!   President Andrew Jackson had vetoed renewal of the federal charter of the Second National Bank which was set to expire in 1836. As a result, there were almost no checks on the activities of state chartered banks and their numbers increased to 1562 by 1860.   When one of these banks made a loan, it gave the borrower a note on the bank.  Because anyone holding such a note could take it into the issuing bank and receive official gold or silver coins, the notes were generally accepted in payment for goods and services. Essentially, they were money.
1855 Bank of the Valley $20 bank note
$2 bank note from Bank of the Valley, Virginia
The first bank note for $20 was issued in 1855 by the Bank of the Valley.  This bank was established in 1818 in Winchester, Virginia and by the 1850s had branches in several other towns in the Shenandoah Valley.  The $2 bank note was issued sometime between 1830 and 1849 by the branch in Leesburg. Bank of the Valley closed during the Civil War but reopened as the Shenandoah National Bank in 1866.
1857 $1 bank note from Savannah, Georgia
The Merchants and Planters Bank of Savannah, Georgia issued this $1 note in 1857, a year after it opened.  The bank failed in the 1860s.

This system created many problems.  The difficulty of redeeming the notes of banks in distant areas made them unacceptable to some businesses just as out-of-state checks might be refused today. Also, people would not know if distant banks were sound.  Would they have sufficient gold and silver to pay out on demand or had they printed so many notes that their reserves were inadequate?   Many notes traded at a discount so that a $1 note would only buy 90 cents worth of goods. Thick books were printed with the discount rates to be applied to each of the approximately 300,000 notes in circulation.
1850 counterfeit bank note
This 1850 note from the Hamilton Bank of Scituate, Rhode Island represents an additional problem.  There was no such bank.  There was a Hamilton Bank in North Scituate which issued notes in 1849 with a different set of officers listed.  A group purposely used a similar name and location in order to pass these notes off in trade without ever planning on redeeming them! Anyone accepting one of these notes suffered a loss.

Interestingly, most of the reverse sides of the notes were left blank.

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