The beauty of an object can’t guarantee its usefulness. Some of these beauties were left behind by improved technology or changing fashions. Some were odd novelties that were hardly even used in their own day. But all are exquisite samples of the culture they existed in.
1. Strawberry Grabbers
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A fancy little silver pincher made by Tiffany around 1900. They fit like little gloves on your fingers, to protect your fingertips from the dangers of picking strawberries out of a bowl. Can’t imagine why they didn’t become a kitchen staple.
2. Sterling Silver Salt Set
Salt wasn’t always shake-able. In the early part of the 20th century, the Morton Salt Company of Chicago added magnesium carbonate to their salt to make it flow. Before that, salt was clumpy and rough, served in little containers (salt cellars) that you’d pinch your serving out of. Of course, if you were fancy, you’d have something like these silver seashells, with accompanying tiny spoons.
3. Sholes & Glidden Typewriter
Inventors dabbled in trying to create a manageable personal type-set machine for most of the 19th century. It wasn’t until around 1870 that Christopher Latham Sholes invented the little beauty above. The carriage (the part that moves) was operated by a foot pedal, and the paper was placed too high to actually see while typing. Still, a skilled user (with fingers of steel) could type far faster than a person could legibly write, starting the slow decline of handwritten correspondence that continues to this day.
4. Lace Bandeau Brassiere
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Just as fashion has forced women to bind and constrict themselves, in the 1920s, it was demanding they let it all hang out. This beautiful bra (30B) offered no support to its wearer. It would, however, allow a woman to achieve the popular narrow rectangle figure of the day by allowing the breasts to sag (as opposed to popping forth as was popular before and after this era) without appearing indecent.
5. 19th Century Vinaigrette
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These beauties, carried by delicate people of both sexes, held vinegar-soaked sponges inside. This was because urban living in the 18th and 19th centuries required being able to live amongst unspeakable filth and stench. If you ever felt faint you could hold the vinaigrette up to your nose to block out the offending odors.
6. Pattern Molded Inkwell
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You probably know what this was used for. And if you’re a calligrapher or a hipster you might still use one. But it’s rare to encounter one as beautiful as this 1825 example.
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Chatelaines were worn around the waist of well-to-do housewives in the middle class, and head housekeepers of the upper classes, in the 19th and early 20th centuries. From the belt chain would hang everything a woman might need in her day, from sewing kits to keys to coin purses. The quality of your or your servant’s chatelaine was an excellent indication of status.
8. Asparagus Tongs
The strawberry grabber might have seemed a little much, but this 19th century French sterling silver asparagus server actually makes some sense. Stabbing each stalk with a fork is so brutish.
9. Denture Minder
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We might be stretching the definition of “beautiful” with this circa 1795 French denture holder. But we don’t dare call it anything else. It looks bitey.
Invented in 1877 by Emile Reynaud, the Praxinoscope-Theatre gave the impression you were watching a teeny vaudeville show. It was a predecessor to cartoons, where images moved (juggled, danced) against a static background. Read more here.
11. Bell & Howell Filmo
The Filmo 75 dates from 1928, and was designed by the (still existing) film mechanical supply company Bell & Howell to be a portable movie camera suitable for amateur use. It weighed 3 pounds and could “fit in a coat pocket.” To use it you’d wind it like a watch with a permanently attached key that fit into the side of the camera. It cost as much as a car.
12. Victorian Dress-Lifter
Skirts were huge and streets were disgusting in the Victorian Age. Plus there were all sorts of stairs a lady would have to climb. So she’d have to lift her skirt a bit, and these devices helped make it charmingly complicated to do so. The tongs were connected to the hem, the loop at top connected to a belt (or chatelaine). There was a pulley system involved where the lady would pull one end of the chain to lift the skirt. How this was superior to simply lifting your skirt with your hands, only a Victorian would know.
13. Odhner Pinwheel Calculator
The Odhner Calculator was invented Willgodt T. Odhner in St. Peterburg, Russia, in 1874. It was used in Russia for nearly a century. How it was used is … better explained by someone else.
14. Bathing Houses
Not to be confused with bath-houses, bathing houses (or bathing machines) were simply dressing rooms on wheels. Victorians of a certain class would never stomp around a public beach in their revealing swimwear, so they used these carriages. They changed inside, and then were wheeled directly to water for disembarkation. After swimming they were able to quickly hide back inside and change again.
15. Lancaster Watch Camera
Made in 1886, the watch camera was an excellent way to take covert pictures. It looked like an ordinary pocket watch until the tab was turned. Then the camera shot out, immediately taking a photograph. Though clever, the camera didn’t take great pictures and was only in circulation for four years.