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

Thursday, December 19, 2019

Coloring Book History

Last month the Strong National Museum of Play announced additional toys to be inducted into its National Toy Hall of Fame. To be chosen by the panel of historians educators and museum curators, a toy must have been popular for many years and must “fosters learning, creativity, or discovery through play.” One of the toys added this year is the coloring book.

The earliest coloring books, The Little Folks' Painting Book, was published by the McLoughlin Brothers in the 1880s. They continued to produce coloring books until a merger with Milton Bradley in the 1920s. These books featured line drawings meant to be painted.  Once Crayola began marketing wax crayons, the books became easier (less messy) to use and hence more popular.  Recently, coloring books aimed at adults are being marketed as a stress-relieving activity.

The Benton County Historical Museum has several coloring books in its collection.

The “Color Lessons for Little Folks” dates from 1935 and features simple designs for children to color.
Milt Youngren's “Color Lessons for Little Folks”, 1935
Some coloring books feature pictures and captions with an educational focus, such as types of wildlife or historical events.  This coloring book, from the 1950s, features Britain's royal family, with drawings of Elizabeth before she became queen and her eldest two children.
The Royal Family Coloring Book, circa 1950
If your holiday shopping list includes gifts for children, you might want to check out the entire list of toys in the hall of fame.  To do so, go to

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

Thursday, December 12, 2019

Don't Take Any Wooden Nickels

“Don't take any wooden nickels”  That adage or similar ones dates back to the 1800s when dishonest sellers of nutmeg would mix a wood piece made to look like nutmeg in a bag of real nutmegs which cost more than 15 times as much.   Also, as a nickel bought more then, some people did try to cheat an inattentive seller by “paying” with a wood disk the size of a nickel painted silver. “Wooden” then became associate with fake.  The adage was included in dictionaries by the 1920s.
It was in the state of Washington in 1933 that wooden money made its first real appearance. The bank in Tenino failed as did many others at that time. With the bank closed, merchants could not get change, making it difficult to conduct what little business they had.  Only by taking a long trip could they find an open bank and get the cash for their till. They banded together to issue scrip printed on thin slices of shingles.  They noted that “Confidence is essential if money is to circulate. When money flows freely, prosperity will return.” The wooden certificates could be redeemed for US currency but as long as people were confident that when they received one they could in turn used it to purchase items from other sellers in their community, there was no need to exchange them so these “coins” did indeed serve as money.

Other cities in the Northwest copied this idea and issued similar scrip in various denominations. The coins below came from the city of North Bend, Oregon and were signed by the mayor and city treasurer.
South Bend Oregon wooden coins
Later in the decade, promoters of civic events began issuing souvenir wooden nickels. These could also be used in exchange for merchandise or redeemed at a local bank but only for the duration of the event.

This wooden nickel was created for the New York State Fair's 100th Anniversary, August 25 to September 2, 1938. It could be used in trade in Syracuse New York or exchanged for a US nickel at any Syracuse Bank until noon of Saturday, August 31, 1938.
New York State Fair Wooden Nickel
Some stores also began issuing wooden nickels such as this one from Flowerland in Corvallis.
Corvallis, Oregon wooden nickel
Many of these wooden nickels were never used to buy things or turned in for regular US coins as people saved them as souvenirs and/or collected them. The ones shown above are only a few from
many in Benton County Historical Museum's large collection.


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