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17 January 2011

House artifacts While 'breaking up Christmas' and doing all the sweeping and cleaning that comes with taking down the tree, I came across a little old round cardboard disc with "BUD" written on it. It reminded me of the many little discoveries that have popped up in houses past. What have you found in your abodes?[More:]In a house we had when I was a kid, my parents found pocket doors (surprise!) and they were packed with 1890s newspapers stuffed around the doors and filling up the openings so someone could paint over them. Also, in the attic, some Currier & Ives hatboxes. In one of my old apartments I found a neat little metal enamel carousel horse, which now hangs in my kitchen.
My grandparents, when they restored the home she was born in found a newspaper from 1837. She also found a quilt that was little octagons sewn together and on the back (maybe to keep it stiff or something while it was sewn -any quilters can explain?) were little octagonal pieces from old letters.
posted by pointystick 17 January | 16:18
my aunt showed us the 1907 newspapers she recently pulled out of the walls (insulation) of her little Wash Park (Denver) historic home when she replaced the windows. Among other gems (?) was an advertisement for a "pickaninny show" at a local theatre.

Topical (maybe) with the current kerfuffle over the editing / censorship of Huck Finn.

Not sure why a parent wouldn't just teach their kids "hey this was how attitudes were back then; prejudice tends to be pretty common when people are allowed to openly dislike / fear / opress others who are different from them. This tends to lead to stuff like bullying, bigotry and racism. This is why that's not really okay, here's how we think about it these days, and let's have a conversation about it..."

but then I'm not a parent so, whatever.
posted by lonefrontranger 17 January | 16:33
I found a beer can in the utility room wall of my condo while having my pipes replaced. I remember a bottle of Concerta being found in the ceiling of this shady townhouse a bunch of friends of mine used to live in.
posted by sperose 17 January | 16:35
In our last house we cut through to the underside of the stairs from the laundry room to create a storage space. Well, guess where the construction crew had been stashing their beer cans? (And probably peeing, gah...)
posted by JoanArkham 17 January | 17:01
Mostly just lots of black coal dust inside the walls and ceilings. Nasty stuff, gets everywhere and you need a grease cutter to clean it. We're having electrical work done this week and the guys are doing their best to contain the soot but it still gets out.
posted by octothorpe 17 January | 17:26
My best friend from high school bought a house built around 1930 in our hometown. She's handy, and tinkers, and knows what she's doing. There was a knock on her door about two years after she moved in and her husband called her down saying "There is a Hazel here to see you?" She came down and it was an elderly woman who had grown up in the house. My friend cried out "I'm so glad you're here! Come in, I have so many questions!" About how things were constructed and what is this that or the other thing. They hung for a few hours, my friend learned lots about her house, and she sent Hazel away with something found during a project - a vase I believe, and applesauce she had canned from the same tree they canned applesauce from when she was growing up there. They both had a blast.

I know some pretty cool people and I'm glad they put up with me.

We're doing an addition currently, and I think I might still have a chance to wall something up in there, in a built in bookcase. Some random ceramic something. I fully intend to do this if the contractors will let me.
posted by rainbaby 17 January | 17:28
I fully intend to do this if the contractors will let me.

Ooh, consider putting a coin from this year in with it! Builders used to embed coins in walls or joinery from the current year when the house was built. Archaeologists come across them sometimes and use them to date periods of construction. It would be fun to leave a little clue like that for the future.
posted by Miko 17 January | 17:30
In a former Winnipeg apartment I found a penny in a tiny glass bottle (how did it get in there?!). More recently, my house came with three small, painted ceramic masks left on a windowsill. Looks like children made them. Fortunately they do not fly around when I pick up my keys.
posted by Monster_Zero 17 January | 17:35
When we renovated our bathroom, we had to move the door to the opposite wall. When we opened up the wall, there was already a door in it. It had been sealed in the wall several decades before (probably when it was divided up into separate apartments.) It was beautiful with antique hardware and etched glass.
posted by Obscure Reference 17 January | 17:55
A time capsule left by the previous homeowner's teenaged son. Hidden behind the intercom system in his former bedroom and protected by a plastic bread loaf wrapper, it was the front section of the local newspaper (1979) and a rambling letter proclaiming his belief that the world would soon end in a nuclear war.

Weapons of mass destruction commonly known as silverfish had eaten nearly all the paper away by the time I found it.
posted by jamaro 17 January | 17:58
In the last house we rented, hubby found a little resin gargoyle statuette tucked under the house on one of the brick piers. We brought him inside, cleaned him up and tucked him on the fridge amidst our booze stash. He seemed happy there.

The rental owner turned out to be a horrid bitch who evicted us (after stating we were model tenants) because she "felt like moving" back in. As soon as we received the eviction notice, the house plumbing fell to bits due to roots in drains.

The little guy seemed to bring us good luck, so when we moved, we took him with us and he's still sitting on the fridge looking ugly.
posted by ninazer0 17 January | 17:59
In my second apartment, the kitchen counter had been extended to make an 'L' shape. The extension blocked one of the cabinet drawers - in which I found a metal ashtray from an auto body shop (decorated with a pinup model print), and a mouse. I still have the ashtray and the mouse was released into a field. I also found a strange little gorilla statue in the back yard.

In my father's current house, we found a huge stash of pot and bunches of drugs from some Spanish speaking country. Also, many old business cards for some anti-black organization. I don't remember their name off hand, but it included the n-word.

My current apartment came with a penis shaped cake pan in the kitchen cabinet, and two Christmas statues on the back porch. The statues are ugly and faded, but enjoy the company of the gorilla.

If anyone opens the wall at the bottom of the stairs to the family room in my childhood home, they'll find an assortment of pennies and a couple of matchbox cars. On at least two occasions, my mom kicked a hole in the wall at the top of the stairs while talking on the phone in the kitchen. My sister and I enjoyed hearing the pennies, and eventually cars, clatter down the stairs inside the wall - until my dad patched up the hole.
posted by youngergirl44 17 January | 18:07
She also found a quilt that was little octagons sewn together and on the back (maybe to keep it stiff or something while it was sewn -any quilters can explain?) were little octagonal pieces from old letters.

That's English paper piecing, pointystick. The bits of paper provide a template to keep the patches perfectly straight and able to fit together without gaps. They're always removed before the top is sandwiched with batting and backing; maybe the quilt wasn't finished? It's interesting that the paper is old letters; of course you wouldn't have much heavy paper you'd feel good about disposing in 1837. What a find!
posted by peachfuzz 17 January | 19:42
Back in the early 1970s my family moved to a house in Atascadero, CA. My mum found an old trunk in the attic. She still has it and uses it as a side-table in her living room.

The previous owners of where I live now left quite a few old (usable) tools, an old knife with a horn handle that the mister really loves, a half shell (it's a large shell with mother-of-pearl on the inside, but I don't know what kind it is) nailed to the wall in the backyard along with a set of steer horns on the same wall. They also left a horseshoe above the doorway from the garage into the laundry room.
posted by deborah 17 January | 20:12
When we moved a door during our renovation project here, we found that the wall was stuffed with newspapers from 1918-1920 and in a later wall, better kept newspapers from the early 1930s. We saved all these soon dying bits of newspaper in a box thinking we would do something with them, like scan them for the old ads and headlines and fonts before they disintegrate. I wonder where that box went to.
posted by dabitch 17 January | 21:55
My house dates from 1860 but there's not much from the period hanging around. When we moved in, though, we did find, after some months, 1) a Hello Kitty washcloth 2) a tiny clockwork car and 3) the previous owner's photography portfolio for a continuing education course. Also a really nice breadknife hidden in a ledge in the dishwasher, but the previous owners came and collected that when they realised they'd left it (must have been expensive).

Getting out and putting away Christmas in my parents' house used to be fun, because we'd always wrap the glass decorations in the same newspapers from 1981, which became increasingly historic as the years went by. It was fun revisiting the same stories each year.
posted by altolinguistic 18 January | 03:58
We had the usual old newspapers, from the 1920's I think.
But I always think about what strange things must be hidden in the walls and floorboards, especially since the whole mystery of the renovating contractor, here in Toronto a few years ago, who found the baby from 1925.
posted by chococat 18 January | 12:21
That story is creepy/awesome, chococat. And it's amazing that they found the most likely person. Thanks for the link!
posted by deborah 18 January | 17:47
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