Author Archives: campbellhousemuseum

‘U.S.G.’ Silver Cup

“U.S.G.” Cup

Any visitor to Campbell House will hear the story of the friendship between the Campbell family and the Ulysses S. Grant family.

How the families became acquainted is unknown. Robert almost certainly knew Julia Grant’s father from St. Louis business circles and Julia Dent Grant and Virginia Campbell had very similar backgrounds and upbringings.

In 1869 Grant appointed Robert Campbell to the newly-formed Indian Commission. The Grant and Campbell families regularly socialized after this time. The Grants hosted the Campbells at the White House in 1871 and the Campbells hosted dinners and receptions for the Grants at Campbell House in 1871 (article below), 1873, 1874 and 1875.

Included in the Museum’s collection is a small silver-plated cup bearing the initials “U.S.G.”  The cup was donated to the Museum’s collection in 2008 by a family whose ancestors had worked as a housekeeper for the Grant family in the 19th Century.  The cup is on display in the Butler’s Pantry. It was made about 1875 by the Meriden Britannia Co. in Meriden, Connecticut.



From the ‘St. Louis Daily Democrat’, April 25, 1871


Museum 101: “A” is (still) for Accession

Way, way back at the beginning of this blog, we covered the process of accessioning, or bringing objects into the museum’s collection. Recently, while doing some research for ongoing accessioning here at the museum, we came across our humble little blog post on the second page of a Google search for “museum accession.” This shows us two things: 1. That we’re awesome, and 2. That museums do a poor job talking about how museums function. To this end, we’ve decided to revisit the accessioning because the task is never done.

We’re always accessioning things here at the Campbell House, whether they are objects returned to the house (as with these goblets that were the subject of our first post about accessioning) or they are objects related to our mission, such as the items from our recent Lucas Place exhibit. Sometimes, we also find that we have objects in our collection that, for one reason or another, we overlooked. That’s what we did recently with our lamp globes.

Gravity+Globe=Bad News

Gravity+Globe=Bad News. This globe was broken more than 25 years ago. 

Why were the globes never accessioned? Well, it’s probably because the lamps and gasoliers were. We simply assumed that would suffice. However, as we noted with the chimney pots, objects within the museum tend to move around a lot. Glass and gravity do not play well together either, with the result that they sometimes break. Since the globes can move around separately (and have), and since many of them are the Campbell’s originals and quite valuable in their own right, we’ve chosen to start accessioning each and every one (there are more than 100!).

To accession a globe, first we need to assign it an accession number. This number has three elements: first the year (2015), then the month (12), then a sequential number based on how many objects we’ve already accessioned that month (say, 3). That makes this globe 2015.12.3. This number has to be written on the object, or we could lose track of it. However, we can’t just write on the globe with a Sharpie, because they don’t make a museum-quality pen. We also have to protect the globe.

First, we dab on a layer of a durable, non-yellowing and quite smelly resin called B-72. After half an hour of drying, we can use a special acid-free archival pen to write the number down (chicken scratch handwriting is helpful), then we cover it with another layer of B-72.

Now we need to plug the object into our database. We use a program called PastPerfect, which is, well, perfect for small museums. PastPerfect lets us keep track of our objects, and provides an organized (and searchable!) way to write down everything we know about the object. We can describe its physical attributes, it size, its condition, where it came from, its history, who gave it to us, how much it cost, and so on. We also take a photo of the object, mark down its location, and backup all our data, because we really don’t want to have to do all this again. PastPerfect also puts this information online for us, which is what you see when you search the collections.

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Accessioning an object can take anywhere from five minutes to an hour, depending on how important the object is, how much we know about it, and if we need to let two layers of B-72 dry. Once we’ve done this and put the object into the museum, we’re all done! Except for the cleaning, the rearranging, the annual “eyeball” inventory,  the donation forms…

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Just What is This Object?

One of the great advantages of working or volunteering at Campbell House is that the opportunities for learning more never cease. While all our volunteers know a great deal about the Campbells and St. Louis, there are always subjects that someone else is an expert in. So when we encounter a conundrum that we just can’t figure out, we know exactly what to do: go to the experts. In this instance, we’re putting a call out for you, our knowledgeable and erudite visitors, members, and general fans, to help us identify…this:The Object

This object can be found in the basement beneath the parlor, and we aren’t 100% sure what it is. The exterior portion is about 44″ wide and 30″ tall from the floor. Perhaps the most unusual thing about it is that it is cut into the floor. Just how far down it extends is difficult to determine, given the build-up of sediment, dust, dirt, soot, and who knows what else (we pulled out a manual from our 2000s Restoration, and obviously there is that Coke can in there). Given what we can see, the unit is cut at least 20″ below the floor.

The container itself is pretty beat up, with a pretty big dent in the side and the metal on top torn and bent. Oddly, there seem to be two openings, one of top and covered with wood, the other on the front. There is also an uncovered gap on the front. Was it always there? Who knows?

The machinery on the inside is even more interesting. There are two “turbines” connected by a central shaft. The shaft is apparently powered either by the two motor-like objects, or by the belt pulley on the right side. Judging by the remnants of metal, the belt pulley was once cordoned off. If it is a belt pulley, what was the belt connected to? There is no obvious anchor on that side for another motor or wheel for the belt to connect to. Each of those “turbines,” meanwhile, has fins on the inside. When activated, the entire contraption would spin.

That’s what we know for sure. Museum lore (of the “I had someone on a tour once who said it was this” variety) claims the object is an air cooling unit. We know that the house had a Frigidaire of some kind in the mid-1930s, thanks to expense account references to “frigidaire air conditioning equipment”. However, our research efforts to connect this bit of trivia to the object in the basement have come to naught.

We’re willing to bet that someone out there knows what our mystery object is. Even if you don’t know for sure, maybe you have some idea on what function it serves, or how it works. Either way, we’d love to hear from you–and put one Campbell House mystery to rest.

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