Dressing for Display

By Melissa Cole, Curator

Mounting a historic dress can be challenging, even for the experienced dress curators and conservators.  Inappropriate handling is one of the main causes of damage to museum objects.  Handling should be kept to a minimum; the risk of damage occurring can be reduced by good preparation before, during, and after the historic dress has been mounted.

The condition and structure of the historic dress should be carefully analyzed to determine if it has any structural weaknesses, previous damage, or fragile surfaces.  The condition of the dress will inform how to safely display the piece, or even if it can be displayed at all.  Ensure to consider its stability against environmental conditions and mounts while on exhibit.

A properly dressed mannequin is important for both the visitor experience at a museum and the artefact/garment itself.   The correct style of mount should be chosen, whether it is two dimensional or three dimensional.  For our display at the Oshawa Museum, we have chosen three dimensional mounts using mannequins in various shapes and sizes to create the correct silhouette.  It is important to remember when working with mannequins and dressing historic garments that it is not the same as dressing a store mannequin.  At a store, the mannequin is automatically the correct silhouette and the garment is new and can withstand the stress and handling.

When mounting historic garments, a mannequin should be chosen that is significantly smaller than the garment.  First, carefully measure the garment and ensure to take the time to measure properly.  Measure the entire bodice of a garment, not just straight across the chest.  Carefully measure all the way across the inside of the garment, following the curve of any space created for the bust.

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Areas to measure on the mannequin and the historic dress.  The second photo indicates the measurement of the entire bodice, not just straight across.

 

Once the proper mannequin has been selected, it is time to start building out the mannequin so the historic dress is well supported throughout.  Supplies to build out mannequins include white cotton sheet, pantyhose, quilt batting, cotton twill tape, flexible fabric measuring tape, scissors, and straight pins.  A well-dressed mannequin should go unnoticed by visitors.  This means the visitor will focus on the historic dress itself and not on how it is displayed.  A poorly mounted mannequin can distract the visitor from focusing on the garment and its story.

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When simply placed on a mannequin, this 1860s dress is neither supported nor provides a true representation of its silhouette.

 

The final stage is to ensure the proper silhouette is created.  This primarily comes into consideration with women’s and children’s clothing during certain periods.   Through the addition of appropriate under structure, the garment will be fully supported.  This is completed through the use of petticoats (antique or reproduction) from different time periods, for example, small pillows for bustles, and fabric tulle or netting can be used to create a 1950s crinoline or a 1830s full skirt.

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By using petticoats to fill out the skirt and acid free tissue paper to stuff the sleeves, the garment presents a truer illustration of 1860s fashion.

 

Be sure to watch our social media channels for a glimpse behind the scenes in the upcoming weeks as we prepare for our upcoming exhibition, The Vintage Catwalk!

Image for OMA site

ArteFACTS – Oshawa’s Smith Potteries

By Melissa Cole, Curator

Did you know that Oshawa was once home to the largest makers of hand-painted pottery in Canada, as well as the only artware pottery in the Dominion of Canada?  Smith Potteries operated in Oshawa from approximately 1925 to 1949.

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This collection of artefacts held at the Oshawa Museum is remarkable in that each piece is unique, all individually hand painted.  Smith Potteries produced a range of products such as vases, bowls, candlesticks, lamp bases, ashtrays, and other souvenir novelties with hand painted designs.  Each piece features a maker’s mark that can be found on the bottom of the piece that was either in the form of a stamp or decal – which is most common. The decals are round with gold trim and red centres.  They read “Smith Potteries / Velta Artware / registered / Made in Canada / Oshawa, / Ont.”

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The business opened in 1926 and was located at 353 Kingston Road West and Alexandra Boulevard (today King Street West and Grenfell Street); it was originally owned and operated by Herbert C. Smith.  Mr Smith had previously been the chief accountant for General Motors.  When the plant opened, the head of the mechanical department was A.E. Barker, of Foley-Potteries, Staffordshire, England.  There were seven employees when the plant first opened in Oshawa.  Herbert Smith was manager of the plant from approximately 1925-38.  His brother, Fred A. Smith managed the company from 1939-48.

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The pottery was highly sought after and shipped across North America.  Locally, two other businesses were selling Smith Potteries, D.J. Brown in Oshawa and J.M. Hicks in Whitby, while Smith Potteries also sold retail directly from the store located in the same building as the plant.  Smith Potteries was so successful that they expanded their business in 1930.  Their production of a specialized semi-porcelain pottery, also known as white ware, made Smith Potteries competitively successful with other countries, such as the United States, China, Britain, Japan, Germany, Sweden, and Czechoslovakia.  The white ware pottery was resilient and of fine quality; it was a mixture of clay shipped from England, Kentucky and Saskatchewan.  According to an article published in the Toronto Star in October 1926, they were experimenting with local clay from the area.

A keen businessman, H.C. Smith installed a gas station in the front of the store in order to attract tourists and motorists looking to purchase souvenirs.  Also on the premise was another Smith family operation, Smith Sporting Goods, which was in business until 1968.

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Despite the business’ success, other than basic information, little is known about the business that produced high quality pottery.  We are always looking for more information about the company such as photos of the business and catalogues (if there was any).

It’s All Fun and Games

By Lisa Terech, Community Engagement

A number of years back, a popular board games manufacturer encouraged families to have ‘Family Game Night,’ and their commercials showed people around a table, playing games, rolling dice and having fun. Clearly they weren’t basing it on Monopoly nights at my family’s home; savage would be the best way to describe those experiences, but looked back on fondly.  When we’re all back at home, or if we’re visiting each other, games of different varieties often get brought out: Scrabble, Trivial Pursuit, cards, and Munchkins, as introduced by cousins and my brother.

This desire for recreation, and perhaps a streak of competition, is something we’ve sought out for centuries, and evidence of board games can be found as far back as c. 3500 BCE.  While our collection here at the Oshawa Museum may not stretch as far back as that, there is a wide variety of games that have been donated through the years, and here are just a few of my favourites.

On display in the Henry Parlour is a Fox and Geese board, although it’s often confused with Chinese Checkers.  Variations of this game can be traced as far back as the 14th century, and the object of the game is for one player, the fox, to try and ‘eat’ the geese, and the opposing player in turn tries to trap the fox, or reach a destination on the board.  Reportedly, this game was a favourite of Queen Victoria, which would justify its place in a Victorian era parlour.  This game often gets comments from visitors while on tour, either curious as to how the game is played, or making connections, remembering playing something similar.

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An interesting example in our collection reflects the desire for recreation and normalcy even in the worst of times.  During World War II, the Canadian YMCA made Pocket Chess and Checker Sets available for military personnel.  The example in our collection is ©1942 by Unique Items Co., New York.  Stored in a portable paper sleeve was a checkered board and cardboard sheets, perforated so the playing pieces could be removed.

 

The Young Christian Men’s Association, YMCA, is one of “Canada’s longest standing and largest charities, with a presence in Canada since 1851 and now serving more than 2.25 million people annually across 1,700 program locations.”  With values of caring, respect, honesty, responsibility, and inclusiveness, it is understandable this group would become involved during wartime. The YMCA stated:

From 1866 – 1946, YMCA War Services provided support in the form of recreation, religious, educational, and entertainment services to troops serving abroad. YMCA staff were a welcome sight and became known for offering moral support and comfort by delivering hot tea, equipment, biscuits and more to Canadian soldiers.

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A simple game like chess or checkers, which could be easily carried, could be a welcome form of entertainment during the hardships of war.

Finally, a donation from 2015 brought a HUGE wave of nostalgia for me with the game Touring: The Great Automobile Card Game!  Touring was originally designed by William Janson Roche,  patented by the Wallie Dorr Company in 1906, and picked up by Parker Brothers in 1925.  It’s interesting to note that this card game was created and became popular at a time when the automobile was in its early stages.

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From the rules:
The object of the game is to score 110 miles by completing a set of Mileage cards. To accomplish this, one not only builds up Mileage as quickly as he may, but also adds to the excitement by obstructing his opponents by the play of DELAY cards upon their GO cards.

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I cannot think back to summer times at a cottage, camping, or nights spent with family without thinking of Mille Bornes, a card game of French origin from the mid 1950s, based off Touring. The game is a road race, where you try to accumulate 1000 miles;  you need a green light card to add miles, and your opponents can throw you obstacles along the way, like a flat time or running out of gas.  Edmond Dujardin, the Mille Bornes creator, adapted Touring and added the Coup Fourré, a strategic safety card that can make you immune from different driving disasters.

It’s such a simple game, as it only requires the deck of cards, but my goodness the memories that this game can bring back is amazing.  A few years ago, I got the game as a stocking stuffer, and I’m pretty sure we cracked it open before Christmas brunch.

Games are a source of entertainment and have been for centuries. Our collection is reflective of popular trends and societal influences.


References:

Fox and Geese: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fox_games

YMCA Canada: http://ymca.ca/Who-We-Are/About-Us

Easter Greetings

Happy Easter from the Oshawa Museum!  Here’s a glimpse at Easter in our collection.

From the Oshawa Museum Collection

 

Postcards in the Archival Collection

 

An Easter display at Eaton’s in the Oshawa Centre, from the Oshawa Museum photography collection (A999.19.654-658)

From Exploding Cigars to Whoopie Cushions! Novelty Items

By: Melissa Cole, Oshawa Community Museum Curator

So what does a Joy Buzzer, Whoopee Cushion, chattering teeth and the old “fly in the ice cube” have in common……they are novelty items.  Throughout history people have loved to play practical jokes on each other.  From one of the earliest being the exploding cigar to the Whoopee cushion, which is still funny today.  Novelty items became a lucrative business in the 19th and still are today.

Recently the museum received a large donation of items that belonged to Gladys Muriel Mowbray (Adelaide McLaughlin’s sister).  This collection contained over 50 items that included a wedding dress, jewellery, shoes, hats and many personal items including a few novelty items that were practical jokes.  At first I thought the one was a tin that resembled others that were already in the collection held at the OCM so I inspected the items further and realized they were novelty items.  This is something that I do not come across often in a donation to a local museum.   I wanted to find out a bit more about the two novelty items that were donated and discover more about the history of practical jokes in general.

The first novelty item is called Adams Salted Mixed Nuts also known as the “snake nut can”.

013.3.12 - an 'innocent' can of Adam's Salted Mixed Nuts
013.3.12 – an ‘innocent’ can of Adam’s Salted Mixed Nuts

The “snake nut can” is a practical joke device that closely resembles a can of nuts but contains a wire spring covered in cloth or vinyl, some are even printed like snake skin but not this particular one, which  leaps out of the can and startles the unsuspecting victim.  This could have been me….. I was very thankful to the donor who actually informed me of what the tin contained before I proceeded to open the tin of “Salted Mixed Nuts”.  The reason I always open the tins when a donation comes in is because quite often they are filled with little treasures that even the donor may not be aware of.

013.3.12 - not so innocent!
013.3.12 – not so innocent!

The “snake nut can” was invented by Soren Sorenson Adams, was known as Sam Adams, the king of Professional Pranksters,  of the S.S. Adams Co. circa 1915.  Adams’ wife Emily had been complaining about the jam jar, saying that it wasn’t properly closed or that it was sticky.  Adams was inspired by her nagging, then invented a spring snake – coil of wire wrapped in a cloth skin and compressed the two-foot snake into a little jam jar so that it would jump out when the lid was removed.  The snake jam jar then evolved into the snake nut can.  In 1928, S.S. Adams created the Joy Buzzer, and in later years also sold the squirting nickel and fake plastic ice cubes with bugs in them.  He was considered the industry leader in the field of practical jokes after creating over 650 novelty joke items.    He actively managed his company until the time he passed away in the 1963 at the age of 84.

The second item was a New Shaving Kit – with the headline WHAT EVERY MAN WANTS – NO BRUSH NO LATHER NO ELECTRICTY.

013.3.11 - The New Shaving Kit
013.3.11 – The New Shaving Kit

Around the edge of the lid are line drawings of assorted razors but inside the box is a fake pocket knife, a few sticks of wood and wood shavings.   It has a 1939 copyright date by H. Fish love & Co. of Chicago. Stamped lightly on the front is; Souvenir of Wichita, Kansas. The back of the box is a mailer label with a place for To and From and it could be mailed anywhere in the U.S.A. for only 3c.  The Howard Fishlove company was known for their fake vomit called “Whoops” the company manufactured 60, 000 units per year.

Practical jokes and novelty items have been making people laugh since the 19th century I am sure these two novelty items highlighted here have brought back memories for many.   

References:

Demaris, Kirk (2006). Life of The Party: A Visual History of the S.S. Adams Company. Neptune, NJ: S.S. Adams Co.

Newgarden, Mark (2004). Cheap Laffs: The Art of the Novelty Item. New York: Abrams.

Rauscher, William (2002). S.S. Adams: High Priest of Pranks and Merchant of Magic. Oxford, CT: David E. Haversat.

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