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Posted on Mon, Aug 24, 2009 : 8:03 a.m.

Monday Mystery Artifact

By Laura Bien

Today we use the word "tinderbox" to refer to a literally or metaphorically flammable condition, such as a parched forest vulnerable to fire or a tense political situation.

Early Michigan settlers, however, had a more concrete meaning for the word: a tinderbox was a small, snugly-lidded metal box containing a chunk of flint, a usually U-shaped flat piece of steel, and "punk," or, such light flammable material as charred cloth or birchbark. Holding the steel, the settler would strike the flint against it, creating a small shower of sparks that, often only after several attempts, ignited the punk in the box. Sometimes a pinch of gunpowder helped things along, but it was still a troublesome method of starting a fire.

Last week's Mystery Artifact was a newer analog to the old-time tinderbox. Found next to the stove in the Ypsilanti Historical Museum's "kitchen" room, the green item is a "match safe," or, a handy storage bin for matches.

This week's winner is former winner erksnerks, who guessed that the item is a "matchstick holder." Nailed up right next to the wood-, coal-, or gas-burning stove, the matchstick holder provided a convenient way of quickly starting a fire and the family breakfast.

This week's Mystery Artifact is less utilitarian, and less common, than the match safe in old-time homes. Only a certain kind of person owned this device. It consists of two heavy metal pieces, one with a wooden handle. Each component has a series of deep grooves that fit into each other.

How was this bizarre item used, and by whom in the household? Take your best guess and good luck!


WINNER'S LIST: 8/3/09: erksnerks 8/10/09: Larissa 8/17/09: no winner 8/24/09: erksnerks, second win

Mystery Artifact is published every Monday on


Laura Bien

Mon, Aug 24, 2009 : 3:46 p.m.

Larissa: It is never too late to guess. Thank you for reading.


Mon, Aug 24, 2009 : 3:18 p.m.

I will say fluting iron, late 1800's. A little late to guess but I will still comment!

Laura Bien

Mon, Aug 24, 2009 : 9:09 a.m.

No clutter at all! Thank you for your very nice comment--I am glad you enjoy Mystery Artifact!


Mon, Aug 24, 2009 : 9:05 a.m.

My bad the original post is there. So now you have clutter posts from me. Cheers. erksnerks


Mon, Aug 24, 2009 : 9:04 a.m.

Thanks, This guessing thing starts the week off right! I just posted a note on who would have used the tool to press the flutes into the collars and shirt cuffs of the household but I do not see it. The laundress, be it Ma or outside help or auntie, was deep into hot irons and starch to set those crimps, flutes and ruffles just so.


Mon, Aug 24, 2009 : 9 a.m.

I believe that the person that did the ironing or laundry for the home had the joy of heating up the irons and then "fluting" the ruffles of the household collars and sleeves to an inch of their lives. Makes me shudder to think of it....:)

Laura Bien

Mon, Aug 24, 2009 : 8:58 a.m.

Hi, erksnerks. Congrats on win #2. You have an interesting guess there on this week's M.A.


Mon, Aug 24, 2009 : 8:54 a.m.

Good Morning Laura, At first glance I would guess a crimper. One had to perfectly crimped ruffles back then. Cheers to a good week. erksnerks

Laura Bien

Mon, Aug 24, 2009 : 8:42 a.m.

p.s. Oh, and erksnerks was also correct about the item hanging to the left of the match safe--it is indeed a rug-beater.