One of our recent accessions into the WLBC Biocultural Collection was a bit of a mystery to us at first. It came to us with very little information, and while in good structural condition, the paint was quite worn off and difficult to read. Do you recognize this item? How do you think it was used?
The chimney-like item is about 3 feet tall, with a lid on top, and five drawers down the front. Looking inside there is a grate or vent like feature that can be utilized from a front lever, moving across the front of the item. Below the lever is a removable door that reveals a pan or tray that slides out.
We started to look closely at the painted front. We were first able to see that one of the drawers read "cinnamon". Another clearly reads "spice". And another says "nutmeg". Can you see those words?
We were able to decipher that the faded paint read "COMPLETE FLOUR CHEST". With a little research we were able to find an archived and digitized newspaper from July 21, 1898 from Kansas with advertisements for the Complete Flour Chest.
The newspaper advertisements read Starve the mice and buy a 'Complete Flour Chest' and You don't have to dip and sift with a 'Complete Flour Chest'. The flour chest was used to store a large amount of flour and keep it safe from rodents and bugs. The vent feature at the bottom of the chest is actually a built-in flour sifter! The front drawers are an added bonus: an area for your most commonly used spices!
The Complete Flour Chest is a valuable piece of our Biocultural Collection because it illustrates how important a plant based product, in this case flour, was to families a century ago. Also, it shows how technology developed a system to prolong the use of a plant based product for daily use.