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?