You are here

Objects of Our Affection:

Skinner Weird II

Associate Curator of Visual and Material Culture Aaron Miller is back with another list of ten delightfully strange objects from the collection of the Joseph Allen Skinner Museum. This time, see if you can match his amusing descriptions with the objects. And don't miss out on a visit to the Skinner Museum before it closes for the season!


September 13, 2017
Aaron Miller


Here we are again commemorating some of the delightfully strange objects from the collection of the Joseph Allen Skinner Museum. In no specific order, here are ten more weird objects you might encounter during a visit to the Museum.

The Skinner Museum is open Wednesday and Sunday from 2-5 p.m. through the month of October. Don’t miss it!

1. Leech jar

This blown glass vessel was initially catalogued as a cookie jar. My heart goes out to that poor 19th-century child that reached in for a treat and grabbed a writhing pile of leeches.  


2. Three Pictures from the Life and Adventures of Mr. Josiah Pumphorn

I wish we knew more on the backstory for this one. There are not too many internet searches these days that come back with nothing, but Josiah Pumphorn is one of them.

The text reads:

Mr Pumphorn (just from New York) as he appeared after having determined to visit Mount Holyoke, near N. Hampton M.S.  - Mr Pumphorn thinks “that it will do for women and children to ride up the Hill, He is going to walk.” - A view of Mr. Pumphorn after having ascended the mountain. He concludes that the next time he will ride up.

Having made the walk up to the Summit House (not in suit clothes mind you), I sympathize with dear Mr Pumphorn. 


3. Book form decanter set 

Where can you hide your liquor in the library? This is where.


4. Sausage gun

What’s the saying about “seeing how the sausage is made?” The old idiom implies that sometimes knowing the truth behind things can be unsettling. In this case, this objects demonstrates the literal history of how sausage was made. The ground meat was put into the receptacle, a casing placed on the end, and then SMOOSH!you have a sausage.


5. Inkwell

Who doesn’t want an inkwell that’s silently screaming at you? The story goes that the man is actually yawning and was based on a 1743 satirical print depicting the UK’s unofficial first Prime Minister, Sir Robert Walpole (1676-1745)



6. Hetchel

Although this looks like the stuff of nightmares, the purpose was not sinister at all. This object was used in the processing of flax, a fibrous plant cultivated in New England and used for making linen. After retting (soaking) and scutching (beating) the flax, the hetchel would be used for combing the fibers or ‘hair.’


7. Polished mammoth tooth section

This is an unusual object that reveals the internal structure of a woolly mammoth’s tooth. We don’t know how it found its way to the collection, perhaps it was a gift to Skinner from MHC’s President, Mary E. Woolley? Woolley’s woolly? Sorry.   


8. Binnacle

Is it a helmet for a deep sea diver or an astronaut?

“...Ahab stood for a while leaning over the bulwarks; and then, as had been usual with him of late, calling a sailor of the watch, he sent him below for his ivory stool, and also his pipe. Lighting the pipe at the binnacle lamp and planting the stool on the weather side of the deck, he sat and smoked.” (Herman Melville, Moby Dick: or, The Whale, 1851, Chapter 30: The Pipe, p. 123)

This ca. 1870 object holds a ship’s compass and would have been illuminated at night by its dual oil lamps.


9. Tooth key

If you had a problematic tooth in the 19th centuryYikes. This tooth key would lead you on the path to relief but you’d suffer a bit before you got there. The two claws on the end of the object would be fastened to the tooth and with a twistvoilà.


10. Aaron Miller

For those of you who know me, this may not come as a real shock, but I just might be one of the weirdest things at the Skinner Museum. Here’s to keepin’ it weird in Western Mass.