I’m Erin Cashion, one of OHC’s two Natural History Curators. I am also a member of the team who came up with the theme for Gallery 2 and selected the 1000+ objects on display. Our team was additionally responsible for packing the objects, moving them to the museum from our off-site storage warehouses, unpacking and installing them and arranging the objects into their final dispositions.
I first encountered my favorite object, H 35826, while I was helping pack the glass objects in early October, or “making foam burritos” as we say in the biz.
I had removed other items from its storage box on at least 3 separate occasions, and I squeaked with glee every single time I saw it. To my untrained eyes, it appeared to be the tiniest pitcher ever made. It is 7cm tall, including the stopper, and its volume is an ounce or less.
What in the world was it for? It seemed too tiny to be used for any refreshment intended for human consumption. In fact, we have hundreds of ridiculously tiny glass plates and pitchers, many of which ended up on display in Gallery 2. Early American decorative arts lie outside my realm of expertise, so these tiny glass objects appeared to have no discernable purpose. I concluded that they must be intended for use by hamsters, or perhaps tiny people. Maybe they are religious artifacts belonging to a very small sect of early American settlers who prepared and presented dinner service for fairies on tiny stone tables set with tiny moss napkins as part of a worship ritual.
Alas, there is no evidence to support this theory; however, there is a religious connection!
More intensive research reveals that this tiny pitcher is actually called a cruet. Cruets are small stoppered containers with a spout, sometimes having a handle, intended for dispensing small volumes of liquid for dinner service, such as oil, vinegar and lemon juice, or spices such as salt and pepper. In some Christian religious ceremonies, a pair of cruets is used to contain holy water and wine for the Eucharist (the symbolic consumption of the blood and body of Christ).
In case you are wondering, when deciding whether it is appropriate to wear gloves, our curators’ recommendation is to mitigate the greatest threat to the object during handling.
We wear cotton or nitrile gloves while handling any museum object, except glass and glazed ceramics. Gloves can compromise our grip on slippery glass and ceramics, thus increasing our chances of dropping it. However, wood, metal, textile and unglazed pottery objects can be damaged or oxidized by the oils in our hands. (In Natural History, we wear gloves not only to protect the specimens from the oils in our hands, but also to protect ourselves from the chemical preservatives in our older specimens, such as formaldehyde and arsenic.)
Although H 35826 was not on our original list of selected objects, we quickly confirmed that it did fit within Gallery 2’s theme and could be easily accommodated given its diminutive size. The barcode tag helps us track its location. Every object and shelf in Gallery 1 and 2 has one. The tiny cruet dates from 1885-1895 and features a repeating diamond design on its round body. It can be viewed in our online catalog here, or you can see it for yourself in situ in Gallery 2 alongside much larger pitchers, cruets and decanters of varying forms and colors!
What did you find in Gallery 2 that piqued your curiosity? Peruse our online catalog to learn more about or collections, or attend our Curator-on-Call in Gallery 2, Saturdays from 11-1, and ask us anything!