Out of the Museum

Notice the drawings on the mystery item

By: Carol Feineman, Editor
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Where: Beermann Plaza at 640 5th St.
When: Open 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Tuesdays through Saturdays 
Free: Donations always accepted

This week, we take a break from kitchen items.

Notice the designs on the glass. If you know what this week’s mystery item is and what it was used for or if you ever used one, please send answers by Tuesday to


Last week’s mystery item

Five residents sent in answers this week.

Pat Togstad: “My guess is the 3-legged item is for holding a ring or jewelry.”

David Conner: “I think the three-legged glass item came with a lid and was a Ladies decorative snuff box.”

Victoria Fritz: “This week's mystery item is a ‘salt.’ Prior to salt and pepper shakers, these salts were placed on the table. If you needed your food seasoned, you got a pinch of salt from the dish and sprinkled it over your meal. It could also be used in the kitchen for food preparation.” 

Jerry Mohlenbrok: “My wife and I are guessing that the three-legged item in the July 5 edition of The Messenger is a receptacle for used tea bags.” 

 Rachel Alameda: “Loving cup, shared cup used at weddings and banquets.”

While last week’s mystery item could be used for the five above answers, museum docents say the three-handle glass tableware from the Victorian era is a toothpick holder. The holder was donated by Lincoln Area Archives Museum docent Andy McMurtrie to the downtown Lincoln museum. 

In 1869, Marc Signorello used the first toothpick-making machine. At least 12 companies mass-produced toothpicks during the latter part of the 1800s.

When the patent of mass-produced tooth picks was secured by marketing genius Charles Forster of Massachusetts, according to museum docents, the need for holders was quickly picked up by insightful opportunists.

By 1870, Forster was mass-producing toothpicks. By 1890, he ran a large toothpick plant in Strong, Maine.

While this glass holder and similar holders were more often advertised as a toothpick holder, they were sometimes advertised as a wooden match holder by merchants. A three-handle holder and its counterpart, the handle-less ones, were the right height for a toothpick holder but a bit short for a match holder, according to docents.  A taller version could be used as a spoon holder.

As with other small pieces found on tables during the late 18th-century, the toothpick holders came in various shapes and shades. They could be glass, milk glass, cut glass, pressed glass, silver and other metals, painted china and porcelain. Sometimes, ornate pieces might be edged with silver plate from the Wilcox Company.

As for the three handles, holders without handles were even more in demand. It would appear that by using the handles, one could easily offer a toothpick to another person.  Do any readers know why the three handles existed? Docents would like to know to add to their display.

Check out the Lincoln Area Archives Museum for more interesting items. The museum is open between 11 a.m. and 3 p.m. Tuesdays through Saturdays at 640 5th St.

- Carol Feineman