What is this object from the early 20th century?
April 29, 2016 11:35 AM   Subscribe

This object has been in my repository for a very long time, and no one knows what it is. It supposedly came in with the papers of an interesting politician/lawyer who served as governor of Tennessee in the early 20th century.

My thought is that the object may be court related, but I also suspect that it could have something to do with rail travel.

But so far the best guess we have is that the object was some sort of Victorian hand-held mirror: As you can see from the pictures, it's a wooden frame attached to a handle, but also has a wire so you can hang it up somewhere. There is a pane of plain glass in it now.

The argument against it being a mirror is that it's unnecessarily heavy and bulky for the domestic job of mirror-ing, but too elegant looking to be made for industrial use. My guess, as I said, is that it was something to do with state court or legislature procedures and ceremony, or some other way of communicating something to many people, but I don't know what. Any ideas?
posted by theefixedstars to Society & Culture (10 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
I think it is quite likely that this is a mirror in which the mirrored glass has been replaced with clear. I don't think it looks to large to be a handheld mirror. The wire for hanging was likely added later (or was added for someone who did think it too bulky and preferred to hang it on the wall).
posted by ssg at 11:46 AM on April 29, 2016 [5 favorites]

I thought hand held mirror, but not necessarily one for every day use. My
Mum is a hairdresser and has one about the sameish size and rectangular shape (in plastic, mind), and it's to let customers see their hair from behind reflected in the larger mirror facing them. So if not for use by his personal barber, perhaps something more like ceremoniously checking his official wig?
posted by billiebee at 11:46 AM on April 29, 2016 [2 favorites]

Maybe for land surveys.
posted by effluvia at 12:25 PM on April 29, 2016

Magnifying glass for documents was the first thing I thought of, but that's a total guess.
posted by chocotaco at 12:33 PM on April 29, 2016 [4 favorites]

My first thought was that it's a mirror that someone else would have held up for you. You get your hair or face or w/e done and the stylist or assistant holds the thing up so you can see. More flexible than a mirror you hold yourself; it can be larger bc the holder can use two hands; no mirror-on-wall needed.
posted by wemayfreeze at 2:21 PM on April 29, 2016

I can't find anything supporting this, but it makes me wonder if it was a reading assistance device of some sort. My ex read a lot and had atrocious eyesight. He had all kinds of odd tools to help him hold the book opoen, magnify the words, keep his place, etc.
posted by Michele in California at 3:48 PM on April 29, 2016

The first thing it reminded me of was a bidding paddle for an auction.
posted by tacodave at 4:13 PM on April 29, 2016 [1 favorite]

It looks like a slate frame for holding a square of slate -- slate+chalk was used in many situations where we would now use whiteboards or paper. Small slates were also used by schoolchildren to practice writing & 'rithmatic.
posted by jlkr at 4:44 PM on April 29, 2016 [1 favorite]

I don't think the back would be exposed if it was a mirror.

My wild guess is that it's the frame of a somewhat fancy open/closed or "in session" sign you'd hang outside an office or courtroom.
posted by nom de poop at 5:42 PM on April 29, 2016 [1 favorite]

We used to go to a fancier restaurant, when I was a kid in the 60s, back before pagers. If some one got a call from, say from a boss or a babysitter, or maybe a hospital, messenger "girls" would write the diners name on a chalkboard paddle and circulate past all the tables until she found the right person for the phone call. I was always disappointed that no one called for my dad.

So, maybe for a chalkboard sign?
posted by SLC Mom at 1:50 PM on April 30, 2016 [2 favorites]

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