Oskaloosa.com

January 1, 2014

Do you know what this is?

By DUANE NOLLEN
The Oskaloosa Herald

OSKALOOSA —

This past week's artifact from the Nelson Pioneer Farm is a halltree.

Several people sent in their guesses as to the artifact's identity.

Dorothy Vos wrote via email: “The artifact in this week’s shopper is a piece of furniture that sat just inside the front door of a home.  There are hooks to hang your Hat & wraps on, a mirror to see if you were presentable before you left the house. (often time the only mirror in the home) Most of these had a box with a lid on @ the bottom of the piece to store mittens, scarves, boots etc.  If this is the piece I think it is, it used to sit just inside the front door @ the Daniel Nelson House.  I’m not sure where it is displayed currently.”

Several people wrote their guesses via Facebook. Karen Reeves wrote: “Hall tree for an entryway … Usually had a seat with storage.” Anne Hayes wrote: “Hitching post?” David Lloyd Corbett wrote: “"Hall tree that it is I just could not think of the word. Know everything you do with it and where to place it." Kayla Scholtus wrote: “"A hall tree!"

Nelson Pioneer Farm Curator Kelly Halbert has done some research on the artifact. She wrote: “This object is obviously a Hallstand or Tree from the days of Victorian opulence and excesses. To us it is merely a functional object, designed to hold the hat or jacket of visitors or family coming in from the outdoors. Useful in wintertime, covered with mitts, muffs, scarfs and miscellaneous items of warmth and helpful in summer too, with bonnets, bags and various totes. But to the social conscious Victorians of late 19th Century America – the Hallstand not only was a functional rack, but a useful prop in the drama of 19th century life according to historian Kenneth L. Ames of the Winterthur Museum.

During the 1970s and 80s Ames wrote about the objects in the homes of Victorian America and the significance they played in the underlying subtleties of everyday life. This hall stand, from the front hall at the Nelson House, depicts all of the points Ames makes. It was placed in the front hall, crowding the narrow space, but confirming its dominance in the overall view of the entry.

Hall stands came into existence about 1850 and went out of fashion in the 1920s. An author in the 1870s, Clarence Cook, commented that hallstands were “ugly things made of tiresome walnut.” Yet, every middle class home displayed one in the entry. Seldom deeper than 15 inches, the bench-like seat was minimally functional and distinctly uncomfortable. Guests of importance were taken into the parlor while waiting for a family member, welcomed visitors and family members received the same warm welcome, but a person considered social inferior, perhaps a salesman or the undesirable boyfriend, could be left to perch uncomfortably in the non-space of the hallway. The hallstand effortlessly sent the message that this visitor was not wanted.

The visitor however appreciated the hall stand for information they could gain from a casual study. How big was it? How wide? Was the mirror good quality, small or large? Answers to these questions declared the financial standing of the family. An inventory of what hats and wraps were hanging on the stand provided information about who might or might not be at home. These messages were not something intended nor consciously perceived, just subtle statements about society in Victorian times.

— Kenneth L. Ames, Meaning in Artifacts: Hall Furnishings in Victorian America, Journal of Interdisciplinary History 9, no 1 Summer 1978, pp. 19-46.”

The Oskaloosa Herald and the Nelson Pioneer Farm are teaming up to test your knowledge of historical artifacts.

The Nelson Pioneer Farm has about 15,000 artifacts in its collection spanning in age from the 1840s to the present.

The Herald will take a picture of an artifact and publish it in the Herald section of the Oskaloosa Shopper, The Oskaloosa Herald an the Herald's Web site, www.oskaloosa.com. People can make a guess on what they think the object could be.

People can either email their guess to oskynews@oskyherald.com or mail their guess to The Oskaloosa Herald, P.O. Box 530, Oskaloosa, IA 52577. You can vote from Wednesday through Saturday.

The identity of the artifact and the vote breakdown will be announced in each Wednesday's Herald Shopper along with the week's new artifact.

Herald Editor Duane Nollen can be reached by email at oskynews@oskyherald.com