Local News

July 31, 2013

Do you know what this is?


This past week's artifact from the Nelson Pioneer Farm was a shell drill for cutting pearl buttons from river clam shells.

We had a couple readers make a guess about the artifact.

Dorothy Vos of Oskaloosa wrote in an email: “The picture isn’t real clear that is in the Wed. paper, but could it be part of a hub of a wheel?

Duff wrote in an email: “I Recently visited the Nelson Pioneer Farm over the 4th of July week and saw this in the display. I know it is a hole saw and I think they used it to make buttons out of Abalone  shells, or some kind of Mollusk shell.”

Nelson Pioneer Farm Curator Kelly Halbert did some research on the artifact: “Shell Drill – for cutting pearl buttons from river clam shells.

One of the biggest additions to the industrial interests of Oskaloosa during 1910 was the erection of a large factory by the Hawkeye Pearl Button Company with main offices in Muscatine. The factory was equipped with sufficient machinery to employ 100 men. It was low-paying unskilled but consistent employment.

The factory had an immense pile of shells on hand with a number of carloads on route from Muscatine. There were many species of clam shells – some large, some small, some pink, others white or purple. Nothing but the blank buttons were made at the Oskaloosa factory. These were shipped to Muscatine for finishing, putting on cards and making ready for the market.

The Muscatine factory cut the last pearl button in 1967 but the business had begun to dwindle with the introduction of plastic buttons in the 1930s. Today, pearl buttons are still manufactured in Asia.

The Hawkeye Pearl Button factory was located on South Seventh, just north of the railroad.”

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

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