Mystery needle case with a family history
I knew what the barrel-shaped box was when I saw it among some items in a box lot I had just brought home. It was smeared with dust, and the particles had settled into what was once light-colored wood.
I brushed away the specks and rubbed away as much of the grime as I could. The palm-sized wooden box was a needle case that a home sewer from long ago had stored her needles for easy retrieval. The top and bottom half were two separate pieces that when turned slid apart and opened up. The top bore a small slit for the hand sewing needles to be shaken through. The case stood no more than 3″ tall.
It appeared to be a figural case in the shape of a barrel, very utilitarian. No shiny exterior, no German pedigree like several I found on the web. It was altogether plain except for one thing:
On the top, on the sides and on the bottom were tiny handwritten names and dates. The writing was so small – and in some cases so marred – that I had to pull out several magnifying glasses to read it. Now, that was puzzling – but intriguing.
Were these people’s names and birth dates or death dates? What connected the dates to the needle case? Was it one woman’s way of remembering important events in her family’s lives? What was she actually recording and why?
The questions filled my head, and they were an embodiment of my thrill at discovering items at auction. You never know what will turn up and what mystery they may hold. I love vintage sewing items, so this one was extra special because it came with its own secrets.
I come across needle packs and cases pretty often at auction. In fact, this box lot also contained another case – a wooden tower with a few notches. It was as dusty as the barrel, and both were wide enough inside to hold a thimble.
Some needle packs have lovely lithographic designs that look like works of art, and the needle cases tend to come in unusual shapes. Needles have been stored in fancy and not-so-fancy cases from silver to bone to pewter back to the Victorian period and beyond. Then, companies began handing out needle packs as advertising at a time when many women were sewing the clothes their families wore.
This case, though, was the first with a personal imprint, making it totally unique for me. Written across the extreme top were numbers: 5/9-1.26. They were not needle sizes because needles come in such sizes as 10, 12, 14 and 16.
Right under it were the date 12/1/45, and the name S. Sutton 25. Beneath the slit were another date 5/20/46, and the number 1.26. Beneath it: 9-8-46=17, Mac Stickney Jr.
Circling the barrel were other names and dates – some marred, some even harder to read – written in pencil and ink:
Jack Hankinson 5-26-46
John W(rest of name was marred) .15 yrs.
Doris Howard 20 cents
G. Harris 1-25-45
R. Preitter 3 yrs. Beneath it: 18 d.
Iline Rosenbaum .25
G. Wadsworth 16
On the bottom: 10-23-46 Barbara Reck; Joon Lampenin 10-27-48
On the web, I could find nothing resembling the needle case from the auction. I found several shiny barrel-shaped cases described as German treenware, and learned that it meant the items (like others I found on the web, some painted) were made of wood. They had rotators on the top for turning to the size needle you wanted from the case.
What’s your answer – or guess – to my mystery needle case? What do you think the names and dates mean?