Pass the History, Please

23, June 2010

Handed down from grandmother to daughter to granddaughter, our china cabinet at home contains odds and ends from different generations of Rebacheks and Kochs. Among these oddities is a set of salt and pepper shakers, small black china kittens with bows and sparkles, probably made in the 1950s. Now, I have no memory of the kittens before mom gave them to me as a young adult, but upon seeing them on one of her visits, my older sister squealed with recognition.

“You used to play with these!” she said. “I did what, now?” I answered. “When you were fussy at the table, sitting in your highchair, Mom would put these in front of you and they would keep you occupied so the rest of us could finish dinner in peace.”

I gave her one of those deer-in-headlights stares, and processed this new bit of historical information. Me, fussy? In the span of 15 seconds, I now had new information on the saltshakers as well as on my own childhood and personality. Since that short interaction with my sister, I’ve thought often about the fact that I work every day amidst marvelous objects, each with its own history—and yet most of it we will never know. We can research the marks, the maker, the owner, and the author, and we can even record the stories attached to them, but many, many bits and pieces of information connected to their histories will never be shared. I guess that’s why for many of us who perform historical research, the investigation is part of the fun.

—Margaret Koch, Director of Exhibitions and Research