Local News

January 1, 2014

Do you know what this is?



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.

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