I bought this stick a couple of weeks ago at an antique store.  It is about 12 inches long and the squared end on the right is about 1 inch thick.  I didn’t know what it was, but liked the smooth, worn surface and seemingly intentional shaping.  As I paid my three dollars, the mother of the owner of the store, who was 85, asked me if I knew what it was.  I replied that I didn’t.  “It’s a hot wash stick,” she said.  “I used to use one like this when I was a girl.  When we had really dirty cloths, we would bleach and boil them on a stovetop. We would use a stick like this to lift them out.” Then she demonstrated how she would hold the knob on the right, while poking in the pot with the other end. 

Suddenly this old stick was transformed into a useful tool- desiccated from being repeatedly dipped in hot water, the left side bleached  and the handle darkened from hand oils.  Although simple, the squared handle is quite comfortable to grasp, and could easily be used to stir the pot as well.  Without this verbal labeling, this tool most likely would have spent the rest of its life as an odd shaped stick.It is similar to another tool, called a spurtle, which is a traditional Scottish wood rod used to stir stews. 

Usually, I analyze the material makeup of objects, the technologies used to create them and examine evidence of use to theorize about what an object is.  Here, however, information not directly contained in object gives it context and meaning.

How many other extant objects have lost their labels?

6 Replies to “Labels”

  1. In Australia, where letterpress has almost completely disappeared from cultural memory, I quite often find printing paraphernalia in junk stores and spread out on blankets at markets. One of my best buys was a pristine brass pica ruler for $2, but that was a very obvious tool. Having learned most of my printing knowledge from books and occasional museums and serendipitous encounters with old printers, I worry that I may be overlooking things that might have been commonplace printing tools or jigs and I don’t recognize them. It doesn’t keep me up at night, but it keeps me vigilant!

  2. Hi ampersand- Bookbinding tools tend to be quite rare at flea markets, etc, here in the US, so I have had to branch out to get my tool fix. I find the whole life cycle of these specialized tools quite interesting- first they are used by a craftsman, they it becomes a jumble of getting sold, lost, forgotten, refound, displayed on a wall, stored at the bottom of a tool box, rediscovered by a contemporary craftsman, reproduced by a modern maker, forgotten again, unidentifiable, etc….

  3. Saw a flax hackle today – like a massive nailed cushion for arranging flowers but with 6 or seven inch spikes. Would post an image if I knew how to.

    Nice to have found you.
    Do you remember giving me a lesson in NY on how to pare and skive leather?
    Still dabbling with notebooks!


  4. When we bought our house I found a similarly shaped stick stuck on a dark recessed corner of a shelf. It measured about 3 feet long, one end wider than the other, dark in color and obviously used for something. I hung on to it because it was neat. Our house is well over 100 years old and I love that this was missed by the people who put a bid on the house before us when they had the Realtor clean it of all the antiques including a prohibition wine press. The heavy base sits in my basement sad and alone.

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