Help identify this utensil/implement
September 7, 2006 4:33 PM   Subscribe

What is this implement?

Can anyone identify this implement? It's very well constructed, made of brass and appears to be at least 100 years old (Victorian/Edwardian.) The "claws" have sharpened ends and do not meet when closed, which leads me to think it may be a device for pressing/squeezing things against a flat surface rather than picking stuff up.

Photos: closed, open.
posted by fire&wings to Grab Bag (40 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
It might help if you can provide some rough dimensions.
posted by Galvatron at 4:41 PM on September 7, 2006

Response by poster: Handheld, around 6" long.
posted by fire&wings at 4:43 PM on September 7, 2006

It looks like something that would have to do with lightbulbs, where one end could be attached to the bulb and the other to a lampshade, although it looks like it would be a bit of a fire hazzard to do so.
posted by 4ster at 4:44 PM on September 7, 2006

I wonder if it's intended for pulling corks out of wine bottles?
posted by Steven C. Den Beste at 4:46 PM on September 7, 2006

Could it be some sort of gardening implement for stirring up soil?
Or a head scratcher?
posted by djgh at 4:50 PM on September 7, 2006

HA! I know! It's used for canning to pick jars up out of boiling water! I used to use a thing like that.
posted by snsranch at 4:52 PM on September 7, 2006 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: 4ster - Nothing to do with lightbulbs, this is definitely a handheld device designed for a specific task.

Den Bese - Wouldn't pull a wine cork out, the spiked claws show it's made for gripping something other than glass and the circumference of the closed "claws" is more than double that of a wine cork.
posted by fire&wings at 4:52 PM on September 7, 2006

I like S C. DB's idea, but it looks like the diameter is too big for a wine cork. Perhaps for pulling the... ahem... bungs out of casks?

The other idea that spung to mind is something dressmaker-y. Perhaps for wrapping fabric around button forms to create self-buttons (buttons covered in the same fabric the garment is made of).
posted by Rock Steady at 4:55 PM on September 7, 2006

Hmm. I'm too slow a typer (more Typing of the Dead for me, I guess). I think snsranch has it.
posted by Rock Steady at 4:56 PM on September 7, 2006

Response by poster: snsranch - great suggestion, that fits perfectly. I'll wait for any other suggestions before marking the best.
posted by fire&wings at 4:58 PM on September 7, 2006

Wasn't there some contest, I recall it was affiliated with a college or university, that sought to identify the function of some mystery device? I think I heard about it through MeFi in fact. Anyway, this thing looks like what I recall that thing looking like.
posted by Brian James at 5:00 PM on September 7, 2006

1) Vending machine claw or
2) Dr. Who Victorian-era robot prosthesis
posted by rob511 at 5:03 PM on September 7, 2006

I'm guessing it's a claw. How about for pulling eggs out of boiling water?
posted by Andrew Brinton at 5:05 PM on September 7, 2006

Sorry to pipe up again, but in the closed picture it looks as though it would fit very securely around a Mason jar lid. Also, canning was still very common back then.
posted by snsranch at 5:13 PM on September 7, 2006

Looks like a device to get pickled things out of jars. They sell similar devices today for things like olives and garlic:
posted by nessahead at 5:33 PM on September 7, 2006

is looks to me like a cleaning implement. how wide is it when you have the "fins" extended? Could it be for cleaning flues? (tie on rope, drop down flue, pull back up)
posted by cosmicbandito at 5:36 PM on September 7, 2006

Agree with snsranch. My parents used to have a more rudimentary version (not as many claws, plastic "base") of that, which they used to remove hot bowls (full of whatever food was being cooked) from a steamer.
posted by roomwithaview at 5:40 PM on September 7, 2006

Rather than jars which are handled easily with a large plier like device it might be for extracting rubber rings from boiling water. Before self sealing lids were developed glass gars were sealed with glass lids and a rubber ring.
posted by Mitheral at 5:45 PM on September 7, 2006

This seems completely overengineered for a jar lifter; the standard tool is just a specialized set of tongs, and it's hard to imagine why anyone would want to use anything more complicated and seemingly less effective.

Mitheral might be on to something.
posted by Galvatron at 5:53 PM on September 7, 2006

I hate to say it but I agree with Mitheral and Galvatron. This must have a much more specialized use. Working on it.
posted by snsranch at 6:23 PM on September 7, 2006

You sure could beat some eggs with it. Then close it up would squeeze off all the gooey...egg.
posted by conch soup at 6:38 PM on September 7, 2006

A family member of mine says: brass is poisonous and not generally used with food.

I don't think that would preclude using it in canning, but other kitchen uses are probably out.
posted by needs more cowbell at 6:40 PM on September 7, 2006

How about a device for grabbing a plate from a hot steamer? I googled "plate grabber" and (eventually) got this picture from this page.
posted by hangashore at 6:51 PM on September 7, 2006

Perhaps it is for moving hot coals.
posted by Uncle Jimmy at 6:52 PM on September 7, 2006

You may be able to get a definitive answer from someone on the old tools mailing list
posted by jeremias at 7:20 PM on September 7, 2006

Brian James, maybe you are thinking of this? Which turned out to be a hat-fitter for the making of custom-sized hats.
posted by LobsterMitten at 7:26 PM on September 7, 2006

By looking at the engineering of the piece it appears that step one is when it is closed and step two is when it is open. This leads me to believe that you push the larger circular disk on to something, then the teeth spread apart. It looks unlikely that it would "grab" something.
posted by comatose at 8:40 PM on September 7, 2006

It looks like a torture device. It's creepy.
posted by brina at 8:46 PM on September 7, 2006

It looks the other way 'round to me, comatose. Looks like it would be easier to push the plunger down than to pull it up, so pushing it down is probably the operational motion. Plus, if spreading the claws is step two, it doesn't make sense to me why they would have such shallow hook ends; they should be more acutely hooked if they're going to be pulling strands of thread (or whatever) apart.

I do like the theory that it's for lifting some cylindrical thing out of a bath.

How sharp are the tine ends? Could they punch holes in paper?
posted by LobsterMitten at 9:37 PM on September 7, 2006

Might not be big enough for my guess, but:

It reminds me of an Ice delivery man's tool, like this:

As the tool grips the ice block, the weight of the ice would cause the hooks of the tool to dig in deeper.
I agree with LobsterMitten as far as the plunger action goes.
posted by blackbeardrrr at 9:55 PM on September 7, 2006

Here's a picture of a Hydraulic puller along broadly the same design lines. There's a tiny little pencil-sized version of this sort of thing, for pulling little delicate things (eg chips out of a board?), which I'm having no luck getting a picture of.

So I say: it's for pulling or lifting. But what, I don't know.
Lab glass?

Alternative guess, if expansion is step 2 as comatose suggested, it could be for fitting the tines through a narrow opening and then expanding them (eg to clean the inside of a hard-to-reach space, or to hold something fast to the opening?).
posted by LobsterMitten at 10:09 PM on September 7, 2006

This thread sort of reminds me of Liar's Club.
posted by iconjack at 10:23 PM on September 7, 2006

Maybe try asking the Hadley Farm Museum?
posted by serazin at 12:07 AM on September 8, 2006

Or some medical antique specialists?

Where'd you find it?
posted by serazin at 12:10 AM on September 8, 2006

Response by poster: Thanks for all the input so far. To answer a few points -

The points are sharp, and would pierce paper.

It was found in a box of junk, mainly other kitchen stuff, cutlery, dishes etc.

The diamater of the "claw" when open is around 5"

It's probably not a medical implement.

Ideas still welcome!
posted by fire&wings at 6:36 AM on September 8, 2006

I think the purpose can be narrowed down, at the very least. My conclusions:
  • The points on the hooks indicate that it is indeed intended for grabbing and pulling/lifting. (The other option is that its purpose is to make holes in something... which seems unlikely to me.)
  • It seems to be designed to accommodate items of many different diameters. If this were not the case, the hooks wouldn't need to be so long.
  • It has an awful lot of hooks. This suggests that it is designed to pull/lift something which tends to tear apart or warp easily under pressure. It must also be relatively easy to pierce the item being grabbed, as it's hard to deliver much force to all those hooks at one time.
  • As pointed out earlier, it's probably not for food due to the brass composition.
In other words, I don't know. But I'd be thinking along the lines of a tool for pulling large stoppers made of cork or rubber.
posted by Galvatron at 9:04 AM on September 8, 2006

Ooh, looks kinky. But somehow I doubt it is.
posted by ajp at 10:30 AM on September 8, 2006

The disk that actuates the arms goes right to the tips when it is closed, so it can't pick up anything with substantial thickness. Canning jars have a lip (even a lid), so that sounds good, but there is no way for it to pick up an egg.
posted by Chuckles at 2:29 PM on September 8, 2006

jeremias writes "You may be able to get a definitive answer from someone on the old tools mailing list"

Even if you don't get an answer we love a good mystery.
posted by Mitheral at 5:09 PM on September 8, 2006

Let's settle this already.

fire&wings, take that damnable thing and pick up a decent sized pickle jar and let us know how perfectly it fits the rim.

If it competely fails, I'll allow you to use it upon my nether regions, or something else thats fun.
posted by snsranch at 5:51 PM on September 8, 2006

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