Help us identify this mystery object.
January 20, 2018 4:51 PM   Subscribe

Today on the beach near our house (Chicago, Lake Michigan), my husband found something that resembles a ceramic bottle stopper. What is it and what is it for? And can you estimate its age?

About the object: picture here, about 3cm long and 1/2 cm wide. Has a lip near one end. Seems like it has a seam down the middle lengthwise. Seems to made of white ceramic material but I'm not sure. Shaped like it could be a bottle stopper or a peg of some kind.

About the beach: when they constructed a solid shoreline from the beach/swamp, they filled in a lot of land. This was between 1890 and 1920. The fill is made of a variety of rocks and materials. This beach is rocky. Also there is was a shipwreck offshore in 1914. This area of the lake has lots of passing freighters. Important: in the past we have found hexagonal tiles made of seemingly the same ceramic material on the same beach. We also find chunks of metal, slag, and bits of rare-colored sea glass like pink glass.

Any thoughts or hints much appreciated.
posted by mai to Grab Bag (11 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Some kind of random architectural pin or flourish that ended up further out than most infill and eventually got washed in?
posted by tivalasvegas at 5:13 PM on January 20, 2018

Response by poster: Could be. I'm having a hard time envisioning its purpose in any sort of decorative sense, since it looks so plain. If it's a pin that held something together, it would be interesting to know what, since I've never seen something like this before.
posted by mai at 5:23 PM on January 20, 2018

Best answer: It looks like a ceramic electrical insulator to me. They are often made of white ceramic, although sometimes brown, and they often have a groove around them for wrapping a wire. This might be a knob part of the knob and tube wiring.
posted by Jane the Brown at 5:25 PM on January 20, 2018 [4 favorites]

Best answer: I think it was designed to be inserted through a metal sheet knob first -- metal because a wooden or plastic sheet wouldn't be very strong at the requisite thickness, and knob first because the knob is smaller in diameter than the shoulder after the groove, so that a hole just big enough to allow the knob would stop the shoulder -- and held in place by wires or a clip sitting in the groove.

It could be one of the insulating and heat resistant feet of a metal kitchen appliance or a scientific instrument of some kind, for example.

I happen to have a bunch of old ceramic knob and tube wire guides, and the knobs surmount tubes on mine and the others I've seen, and the insulators which screw down onto the joists are two annular ceramic pieces with a hole through them, and mating grooves on facing surfaces which carry the two wires and stand them off the wall as well keeping them away from each other and the central wood screw that attaches them to the joist or wall.
posted by jamjam at 6:03 PM on January 20, 2018

Old ceramic plumb bob.
posted by JimN2TAW at 4:09 AM on January 21, 2018

Jane the Brown: " This might be a knob part of the knob and tube wiring."

It's not. Knobs (whether one piece or two) have a hole in the centre for the nail.
posted by Mitheral at 5:21 AM on January 21, 2018

Sure seems like a stopper of some sort. It's tiny, so not like any knob and tube I've seen. As jamjam says, a knob consists of two mating cylinders that the wire fits between to run along joists, and tubes are straws with one more substantial end (for tapping into a hole drilled through the joist) that run through the joist or other framing. Tubes are 3" long or so, not 3 cm, since they have to go in one side and come out the other of a true 2" framing member.

The groove running from waist down seems like a path for a length of wire or cord to run, to allow the peg to be pulled tight without access to the other side of the material it's piercing. Or maybe a tuner of a stringed instrument?
posted by bullatony at 5:22 AM on January 21, 2018

This does not look like the knob and tube components I've seen.
posted by cooker girl at 6:57 AM on January 21, 2018

I was an archaeologist in my past life and the first thing that sprung to my mind was a broken, ceramic doll leg where the foot had been broken off/worn down due to erosion, like here.
posted by MundaneNoodle at 9:54 AM on January 21, 2018

I thought at first that the suggestion that it's a plumb bob might be good, but examining the linked page of photos and thinking about it changed my mind. All of the bobs on that page (except for a few that I don't think are plumb bobs) have two features: a sharp point, and a way to fasten a cord to the center of the other end. The object in question has neither.

I don't know what it is, but a seam along its length would make it not work as a stopper.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 9:59 AM on January 21, 2018

almost kind of looks like a pendant to tie to a necklace carved from ivory or tooth of some sort.
posted by some loser at 10:04 AM on January 21, 2018

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