By Eleanor Breen / Project Manager, Archaeological Collections Online
After some additional research, we believe the case of the mystery artifact is solved! In an earlier blog edition, we introduced you to the case. Was a small copper alloy artifact a pin sheath or a parasol tip? We enlisted a team of experts – archaeologists and museum curators – and uncovered new evidence that proves our suspicion, that the South Grove Midden has evidence of a parasol or umbrella and not a pin holder.
Archaeologists often consult “Diderot” when trying to identify parts of a whole object. Denis Diderot was one of the editors of an illustrated Encyclopedia published in France between 1751 and 1772. The illustration entered under boursier or bag maker (who also made umbrellas) depicts the parts of an umbrella including the metal tip.
First, the museum evidence. The Colonial Williamsburg Foundation has in their collections an umbrella frame from the late eighteenth-early nineteenth century. Though this umbrella is missing its cover, the tips that would have attached the cover to the frame look similar to the midden example and match in terms of length.
Now, the archaeological evidence. It turns out that other sites not too far away from Mount Vernon yielded similar artifacts. A site with a close connection to Mount Vernon is Ferry Farm, the boyhood home of George Washington in Fredericksburg, Virginia. The umbrella tip in their collection comes from a mid-1800s plowzone context and is identical to one pictured in Kathleen Deagan’s book complete with the ball-tipped end.
Just across the Potomac River from Mount Vernon, archaeologists working in the 1980s discovered evidence of a manor house once belonging to the Addison family. Within the artifact assemblage are two parasol tips, which look very similar to ours with the holes on opposing sides.
Another view provides the smoking gun that these could not have functioned as pin holders or sheaths – they are open at the tip!
So, now that we think we can be sure of the identification of this mystery artifact, look forward to an upcoming blog that delves into the cultural history of umbrellas in the eighteenth century.