It has been almost a decade since my first two whatsit posts, Whatsit #1 and #Whatsit #2. Number 2 was identified by Tom Conroy, #1 is still a bit of a mystery. For those unfamiliar with this colloquial American term, a “whatsit” is an unidentified object, short for “what is it”? The Mid-West Tool Collectors association often features a number of them in their quarterly publication, The Gristmill. You get a lot for your annual membership from them, including a reprint of a classic tool oriented book. The Early American Industries Association usually features a panel discussing a number of them in front of a live audience. Full bore geeky fun!
Recently a colleague has sent me images of a seriously odd, unidentified tool she found in her conservation lab. She first thought it was some kind of cloth cutting tool, but it didn’t really work. This makes sense given the conically shaped brass end of it: a cloth cutter would have to have two steel blades. The shape of the handle indicates it is used by pushing forward, but I’ve never seen anything like it.
Here is a more detailed description of the business end. “The cone is not solid. The brass sheet overlaps the wooden handle for about 1.25 in. The cone is secured on the handle with two brass “pins” (visible in the photos, 1 pin on each side) onto the handle. The blade-like part opens wider than is shown in the photo. I can move it to a 90° angle with the cone. When I open the blade fully and squint at the base of the blade, it looks as though the same pin(s) attaching the cone to the handle may also attach the blade to the handle. Maybe it’s a single pin that runs all the way through.” She later mentioned the blade opens to almost 90 degrees.
The size of the brass end seems too large for bookbinding applications, my first guess is it is a type of gardening tool called a dibber or dibble. Possibly the blade would aerate the soil or cut small roots?? It is odd how new the handle and brass cone looks when compared to the wear and discoloration on the blade.
But I’m not sure of any of this And why did it end up in an institutional book conservation lab? I’m stumped.
ADDED: Sept. 27, 2017. MYSTERY SOLVED! John Nove, coment below, and in a personal email sent me the identification. It is a Humboldt Sharpener for Cork Borers. Well done John! https://www.humboldtmfg.com/cork-borer-sharpener.html