Barbara Natanson, Head of the Prints & Photographs Reading Room, recently searched the Prints & Photographs Online Catalog for “gadgets” and shared one of the images that appeared in the results – this photograph by Russell Lee likely taken at the Gonzales County Fair in Texas in 1939.
Lee did not, or perhaps could not, identify the tool being demonstrated and used “gadget” as a generic term to describe it. While some colleagues immediately recognized the tool in use as a pie crimper or pastry wheel, not all of us could immediately identify the object. This provided a reminder of how valuable specialized knowledge can be in identifying the items visible in photographs in our collections.
Some photographs really test the limits of our knowledge, and we consistently benefit from the insights of researchers who provide information we can sometimes add to our catalog records. Several years ago viewers shared their observations about photos in a Flickr album we created entitled “Mystery Photos — What’s the Story?” I don’t know about you, but I would have had no idea what the following object is had a Flickr commenter not identified the object depicted as a “patent model for the Gorrie Ice Machine.”
The long caption for the following image provided by the Harris & Ewing photographic studio makes clear that these “women drivers of the District of Columbia” aim to learn more about the mechanics of the automobile, but one wonders which specific gadgets the caption refers to. No doubt many readers, could identify every part if that engine, including the one the woman second from left is gripping (is that a spark plug?), but in this case I’ll have to rely on the expertise of others!
- View additional photos taken by Russell Lee at the Gonzalez County Fair in 1939.
- Explore the “Mystery Photos — What’s the Story?” Flickr album, and read the comments to see how viewers like you helped to demystify the contents of many of the images. You’ll see that some with titles “What’s this Gadget?” remain to be identified, so put on your thinking caps, get out your divining rod, or whatever tools, gadget or otherwise, you use to get to the bottom of mystery photos. You’re welcome to enlighten with a comment on this post!
- See additional Picture This blog posts on mysterious gadgets: “What’s this Gadget?”: Solving Mystery Photos and “What’s this Gadget?”: More Mystery Photos.
- Read about and view more images from the Harris & Ewing collection.