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Help us solve some mysteries! Do you have any more information about these Misfits from the Mineral Collection?! A number of these objects have historical or cultural value and significance, but our records are incomplete. Help us, Brain Scoopers!

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Executive Producer, Creator, Host:
Emily Graslie

Producer, Director, Editor:
Sheheryar Ahsan

Production Assistant, Content Developer, Writer:
Raven Forrest

Interview With:
Jim Holstein
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This episode is filmed on location at the Field Museum in Chicago, Illinois.
http://www.fieldmuseum.org
Jim: Hi Emily!

Emily: Hi Jim!

Jim: We have some mysteries to solve at the Museum today. Are you ready to investigate?

Emily: I am ready!

Jim: Let's do it!

Jim: As you know we've been around for over 125 years, (

Emily: Yeah) and this is a big building.

Jim: There are hidden rooms in here. There are cabinets that we have to go through and it's part of a bigger question I want to talk about, like what makes a museum collection a museum collection? Because, you know, we have artifacts, we have dinosaurs, we have mammals and plant specimens, we have all sorts of things that people are actively researching. But, we also have collections in this building that people aren't actually researching.

They don't really fit into what our museum does. (

Emily: yeah)

Jim: So what do we do with those specimens?

Emily: We make YouTube videos about them!

Jim: Yay!

Jim: What we're gonna look at today are objects objects that I found in a collection that I had to sort of identify and figure out what its value was. Not necessarily it's monetary value, but scientific value, and if it's something that we want to keep at the Museum. I'll tell you, or I'll show you how I went today. I'm going to put my ignorance on full display to the world, because I know nothing about this stuff.  This isn't my area of specialty.

So when I went down to the mineral collection one day, I looked in one of the cabinets that had no specimens in it. And, I looked into the upper shelf and I saw two clawed feet sticking out of the drawer. So, I climbed up on the ladder, pulled it out and it ended up being this large frame.

Obviously something went in the middle of this frame. So I flipped it over to see if I can find any maker's marks or jeweler stamps on it and I did find a Tiffany stamp on it. So, this was actually made by Tiffany and Company.

We got this in 1894 after the World's Columbian Exposition. But, we all saw this collection called the "H collection".

Emily: The H collection!

Jim: And that refers to H. Higinbotham, Harlow Higinbotham to be exact.

Emily: Ok.

Jim: And he was one of our early benefactors of the Museum. He actually purchased a collection from Tiffany and donated it to the museum when we first opened our doors in 1894. During the course of investigating this, I found this one specimen, this carved quartz disk.

Emily: Wow!

Jim: And you can see a crack running through it. It was like this when I found it.

Emily: It looks like a baby scene.

Jim: Apparently it's Moses being put into the river. And the frame that I found was actually built for it by Tiffany and Company in New York. But at some point the two pieces got separated from one another. And I wanted to investigate what Tiffany and Company knew so I contact their archivist.

So, the frame itself was built around 1880.

Emily: Wow!

Emily: So how old is this disk then?

Jim: So, I don't know.

Jim: And the object next to me over here this carved jeweled casket, as its described, is kind of a similar quartz carving. So this material... (

Emily: Do you want me to move this?

Jim: Yes)

Jim: So the the carvings in the clear material itself that's actually quartz.

Emily: Wow!

Jim: And the rest of it's in brass and it has jeweled inlays. (

Emily: Wow) And, inside the casket I found these little stamps that were stamped into the brass, maybe about less than a centimeter in diameter.

Emily: Okay!

Jim: So this piece, I was able to trace back to an artist named Hermann Ratzersdorfer from Austria. He was a prolific lapidary artist in the mid-1800s. At some point, this was purchased by Tiffany, put on display in the World's Columbian Exposition of 1893, purchased by Harlow Higinbotham, and donated to Museum. The design of this quartz disc is very similar. (

Emily: Yeah)

Jim: So this is part of this tradition of lapidary art in the mid-1800s.

Emily: And what is lapidary art?

Jim: It's basically creating objects out of natural minerals.

Emily: So these are two items that you've, more or less, figured out where they came from.

Jim: Less than more, (haha) I feel like sometimes.

Emily: You're starting to answer some questions about these mysterious objects but there is a lot more material in this collection we're going to look at.

Jim: Yes, a lot more material in this collection.

Emily: Well, let's look at some of it!

Jim: Reach into the bag of mystery!

Emily: the bag of mystery? Oh goodness! This is a blade with an ammonite in it

Jim: It's very "Games of Thrones-y"

Emily: Yeah a little bit, but it also this feels like plastic.

Jim: It does, doesn't it?

Emily: Yeah!  

Jim: that's a mineral called jet. What do you think that was used for?

Emily: Avenging my family members against my enemies. I don't know. I mean it's just looks ornamental.

Jim: apparently it was a letter opener.

Emily: Oh a letter opener!

Jim: Yeah, for those really angry mean letters that you need opening right away!  All right! Ooh! It's a...thing! They look like fancy doorknobs!

Jim: They're weighted. They're made of minerals.

Emily: Yeah so it's this is quartz?

Jim: Yeah, quartz.

Emily: Okay, that is smoky quartz. Hmm, that is a yellow mineral?

Jim: It's rutilated quartz.

Emily: I wouldn't have pictured that! Okay, this is... Is this cat's eye?

Jim: Tiger's eye.

Emily: Tiger's eye! Well, a tiger is a cat. Close enough!

Jim: And, obviously another quartz.

Emily: Quartz, and then this is a...pink one!

Jim: It's a pink one.

Jim: This is a piece of rhodonite, which is a very popular lapidary mineral. And, again, these were in the Columbian Exposition of 1893. So these are basically samples of seals that you can order and get your actual name, initials, whatever, engraved in them. (

Emily: Cool!) So, these are basically pieces from a trade show.

Emily: I love seeing how status symbols change over time. (

Jim: Absolutely!) Today you, would, I don't know, what you would use. Maybe like "look at my fancy car" where as back then it was like "look at my horse and carriage and my custom quartz letter seal"!

Jim: Well, we don't send letters anymore, right, we send emails. So what's the today's equivalent of a wax seal?

Emily: It's almost your AOL signature (

Jim: AOL signature?)

Emily: Stamped, sealed, and approved!

Jim: And delivered!

Emily: Okay!

Jim: Let's see what's in this bag!

Emily: That was a face that you made!

Jim: No, that's not a face, This is a face!

Emily: Oh what! What is this? Wow! Is this monkey wearing glasses?

Jim: Or is it a lion wearing glasses? We'll leave it up to the viewers to decide.

Emily: Monkey or lion?

Jim: the matching set that every household needs is a monkey-lion and a moon.

Emily: Are theses ash trays?

Jim: I don't know what they are.

Jim: They are obviously decorative. (

Emily: Yeah) Maybe soap dish? I can't imagine using this as a soap dish. So, this is made out of a mineral called gypsum.

Emily: it smells a little like perfume (

Jim: Does it?) or maybe like a scented soap. Who knows! Or maybe it wasn't used for anything maybe they just hung it on a wall.

Jim: My moon doesn't smell.

Emily: This stuff is weird!

Jim: some of it is really weird! (

Emily: Yeah) and we hadn't even gotten to the weird stuff yet!

Emily: What?!

Jim: Evidence bag!

Emily: I'm going to reach in...oh they're little shoes! What?! These are beautiful!

Jim: Okay, these are both made in China, actually. This was actually purchased from Ward's Natural Science Establishment.

Emily: Really? Why is Ward's selling objects of this nature?

Jim: So, that's what they used to do. They used to collect objects from around the world.

Emily: And what are they carved out of?

Jim: That's gypsum (

Emily: Okay) and this is pyrophyllite and some talc. So basically talc is a really soft mineral. That means the carbons are very easy to to break and stuff like that, so it's a combination of the two.

Jim: Okay!

Emily: Yeah?

Jim: What's 2+2?

Emily: 4!

Jim: what's 4 + 4?

Emily: 8!

Jim: What's 8 - 3?

Emily: 5!

Jim: What's the square root of 9?

Emily: Why are you quizzing me?!

Jim: Because, we're going to figure it out together...(

Emily: Okay)

Jim: ...using the 18th century version of?

Emily: Oh, I know what this is! This is an abacus! Wow! I've never known how these things work.

Jim: Well, join the club!

Emily: Okay, I think it's supposed to go like this because the number on the back says...

Jim: I wouldn't trust the number because that's the number that we put on there.

Emily: Okay

Jim: No, yeah, you're right! It goes like that, instead of like that.

Emily: Gotcha!

Jim: So this is a rhodonite, that's the name of this material here, (

Emily: Yeah) abacus. Again, this this is one we got in 1894. (

Emily: Okay) And, how does an abacus work?

Emily: I have no idea!

Emily: But other than knowing that this is an abacus, we don't know much about where it's from?

Jim: Well, I know where the materials came from actually. The rhodonite is actually mined in the Ural Mountains of Russia.

Jim: All right, here you go!

Emily: Ooh! Wait a second! But this kind of looks like a letter opener!

Jim: Or a seal again, right?

Emily: Oh yeah, that's what I meant! It looks like a seal, but it has a hole in it. It has a holder...thingy. I don't know what is this?

Jim: This is an end of a walking stick.

Emily: Oh really!

Jim: Yes!

Emily: Oh, that's a really thin walking stick!

Jim: Elementary, my dear Graslie!

Emily: So you would hold on to this top?

Jim: That's right!

Emily: [Hold on to] your fancy walking stick top...

Jim: With your pipe (

Emily: Yeah) and you're walking to the Opera!

Emily: Oh yes, yes.

Emily: Yes, it's very good.

Jim: Here, walk.

Emily:  Here we go!

Jim: You ready for this?

Emily: Yeah, this is exciting! What is this? Oh, aww! My goodness!

It's a little pupper!

Jim: A little pupper!

Emily: It's a little Scottish pupper!

Jim: It's made out of rose quartz.

Emily: Yeah he's so cute!

Jim: In late 1800s, this was purchased in a gift shop in Mexico.

Emily: I feel like you can still buy these sort of things today. (

Jim: Yeah, honestly)

Emily: Do you have a name for him?

Jim: Yeah!

Emily: What is it?

Jim: Chuck!

Emily: This is Chuck? It's Chuck the little Scottie dog! He's so cute I love him! I would buy this today because it's adorable.

Jim: Would you put it in the museum though?

Emily: Yes, because I love dogs.

Jim: The Emily Graslie Museum of Pink Scottie Dogs!

Emily: Yeah, I don't know. I mean I get where you're coming from. Without knowing that this quartz is of scientific importance, it sort of becomes like this curious like, tchotchke. But I like the idea that scientists and scholars today will continue to determine where these objects fit within a museum collection and assign them their own particular value. (

Jim: Right!) Yeah!

Jim: Moving on, (

Emily: What?!) what do you think that is?

Emily: What? I have no idea!

Jim: Let's look at the one in your left hand first.

Emily: This one, okay.

Jim: Apparently everyone smoked back then (

Emily: Yeah) because that's a cigarette holder.

Emily: This is a cigarette holder? How do you smoke out of it?

Jim: It might have been decorative.

Emily: So, it's for the person who like wants to look fancy while smoking, but they actually don't want to smoke?

Jim: Yes

Emily: Oh, okay.

Jim: Again, we go to the internet hordes for an answer for that one.

Emily: Yeah, if you have any ideas let us know in the comments below!

Emily: It's very pretty!

Jim: And, please don't smoke!

Emily: Don't smoke.

Emily: And this one? This is for picking your tiny boogers?

Jim: Haha! Well, we found out what it was from a tour I gave. That is a buttonhook.

Emily: A buttonhook?

Jim: Yeah! And then our talented research staff here at the Museum looked up what a buttonhook is. So, "old-timey" lady boots (

Emily: Yeah) had these buttons along the side and a leather flap to hold it together. (

Emily: Right!) And you couldn't push these buttons through easily. You need the help of a tool like this to actually go through the hole, grab the button, hook it, and pull it through.

Emily: I like how my mind goes to the grossest thing imaginable.

Jim: Yeah, and thanks for that!

Emily: You're welcome!

Jim: [We are] down to the objects that we don't know, (

Emily: Okay!) well not necessarily what they are, but how they were used.

Emily: Gotcha.

Jim: We're going to rely on your audience to fill it in.

Emily: Viewers at home!

Jim: Alright, so get your magnifying glass!

Emily: Mehh!

Jim: What was that "mehh"? Are you The Penguin?

Emily: I don't know!

Jim: [in The Penguin voice] "Batman, I'm gonna get you Batman!"

Emily: Let's start with these guys!

Jim: So this is listed in our catalog as "beads". What kind of bead is that? So imagine like a string going through it and wearing that. (

Emily: Yeah) How does that work? I think of two things, I think like maybe our catalog got it wrong from the get-go, (

Emily: Sure) that the description of it being beads [is wrong], and so that's a possibility.

Emily: Are they beads or are they not beads? Or are they early...

Jim: Oh my god, no!

JIm: Yeah!

Emily:...like jewel knuckles? I'm not advocating for violence. So, if you know what these are at home, let us know.

Jim: And this is listed in our catalog as a jade fob. So what's interesting about it is that it has a little ring (

Emily: Yeah) at the bottom, and the ring, and the whole fob in general, were carved together.

Emily: And this is jade?

Jim: Yes, it's made out of jade. And jade is really easy to carve, relative to other minerals.

Emily: But, it's a pretty hard mineral. It has a little flower on this end. See? The flower looks like one of the flowers from "Breath of the Wild" from the Zelda game.

Jim: And this last piece...

Emily: Okay, well, that looks like a necklace!

Jim: But, in our catalog it's listed as a "watch fob".

Emily: A watch fob! Oh, you know what? Yeah, my dad has one of these!

Jim: Okay, good! How does it work?

Emily: I don't exactly know, but the idea is that you can somehow attach your watch, and then string it through your jacket.

Jim: That's what I want to know!

Emily: Well, because this part would go to the watch, and then... It's been linked together somehow. This is weird!

Jim: Isn't that weird?

Emily: Yeah! Oh this comes, no, this opens.

Jim: Wait, you got that?

Emily: Yeah, this goes right here, and you can get that out like that. So, that solves one thing.

Jim: Yes!  

Emily: And so then you would put this through the watch.

Jim: So, that goes on the watch?

Emily: I think so...

Jim: Because the watch...

Emily: ...has like a little ring on top.

Jim: So you put it through the ring, (

Emily: Yeah) all the way, then you kind of hook it on.

Emily: And this is weighted on this side. So, your watch hangs... (whoops) your watch hangs in your coat, and then you can attach this to your other pocket thing-y.

Emily: There's a lot going on here!

Jim: A lot going on! That's a lot of bling for a watch!

Emily: Yeah, I'd wear it! Cool!

Jim: Well, mystery semi-solved.

Emily: Yeah so Jim, this was an interesting exploration today!

Jim: It's a lot of random stuff we looked at today. Thank you for sharing this with your public, and I hope we get some good comments, (

Emily: Yeah) and I want everyone to say goodbye to...

Both: Chuck!

Jim: ... the Scotty!

Emily: Goodbye Chuck!

Jim: Bye, Chuck!

Emily: I hope it's not the last time we meet!

Jim: "arf!"

Emily: It still has brains on it.