Tag Archives: Campbell Collection

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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More Campbell pieces come home

Coverage of the Selkirk auction in the St. Louis Star Times, February 25, 1941. (Incidentally, that was Robert and Virginia’s 100th wedding anniversary.)

Before the Campbells’ house was turned into the Campbell House Museum, all the objects in the house (except for the estate jewelry) were sold at an Ivey-Selkirk (then called “Ben J. Selkirk & Sons”) auction. The museum foundation was able to purchase most of the Campbell pieces, but many objects were sold to private individuals. To the right is one of the many pages of the auction’s newspaper coverage in 1941.

Fortunately, when people learn they have a piece that came from the Campbell auction, they very often give it back to us, and this seems to happen at least once a year. In January 2012, these sterling goblets were returned by a local family.  Yesterday, we received two beautiful pieces of china.

Executive Director Andy and Jay going through the Selkirk’s auction catalog to find the description of the plate and cup.

Jay Smith’s aunt gave him a cup and plate as a gift, and she told him it was from the Campbell auction. Jay came through the house a few weeks ago on a tour, all the while looking for a piece that matched his cup or plate. He arrived shortly after a tour started, so he didn’t get to see the Parlor until the very end. As he walked through the house, he was beginning to doubt his aunt’s story. Finally in the Parlor, he saw a matching plate. His aunt was right!

We were delighted he offered to donate them to us. He stopped by yesterday, and he brought the plate and cup. Though not a matching set, each one is marked with a blue crown sitting on top of a capital “N.” The Selkirk auction catalog call the pieces “Capo di Monte Cups and Plates.” Over the years, Capo di Monte porcelain has been manufactured in Italy and Spain, and it is notable because of its intricate figurines. The style of the mark on these pieces indicates it was produced in Naples, Italy between 1771 and 1834. Capo di Monte (now often spelled “Capodimonte”) is still produced by Majello.

Here are more images:

The plate, and it measures about 7-1/4″ across.

The plate’s mark: a faint blue crown on an “N.”

The cup. Note the intricate detail and textured “wood” handle.

The gold decoration on the inside of the cup.

Intern Amy and Andy discussing the the cup while they researched the “Capo di Monte” stamp.

Next, we’ll accession the pieces and you can read about that process here. After that’s done, we’ll put them on display somewhere in the Museum, probably in the parlor near the other matching pieces. Be sure to come by to see them in their new (sort of) home!

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