Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Indie Travel - Love Learning (and the Mercer Museum!)

Inside the Mercer Museum
In India, my hosts knew of a man who was into collecting tools. Old tools. Tools that nobody could even remember what they'd been used for. Tools that would have no other use outside of India, like a tool to clean your elephant's toenails.

It was in his home in Delhi. He was a fairly wealthy man, his house was large and the extended family lived there. It even had a basement, a very unusual thing.  Down there, he kept his collection. It was cool and dry. The grandmother gave us a guided tour. He had painstakingly typed every single notation on cards in front of each object. It's been 25 years since I've seen it but I can still remember some of the unusual objects. One tool pried open a coconut and was then used to scoop out the meat, safely without cutting one's hand. The tools for cleaning up elephants were many and varied. Made me wonder how elephants survive on their own out in the jungles.

Mercer Museum
So it was amazing to come across a museum in Doylestown, PA where that idea of collecting obsolete tools has been taken to extremes. Henry Chapman Mercer was a wealthy man interested in archeology. He realized how fast his world of the late 19th century was changing and set about to save interesting objects of daily life from going back into the dirt, to be dug up in future centuries by archeologists who wouldn't have a clue what they'd been used for, and to prevent the more organic tools made of wood, leather and cloth from disappearing altogether.

Cigar Store Indian
He personally built the concrete castle that houses his collection. And what a collection it is. Everything from the 19th and early 20th century is in there in some form or another: Toys, quilts, machines, buggies, sawmills (yes entire sawmills run by water power), flour mills, tobacco tools for rolling tobacoo and for making cigars, guns - blackpowder and many other more recent models, medical equipment and remedies, books, farming tools and machines, bread and pastry making molds, candy and candle making instruments, musical instruments, glassware and glass making, ceramics of all sorts, basketry, leather working tools and stamps,  and even old signage like the Cigar Store Indian in many guises including one in the form of Buffalo Bill Cody. Whew! It was amazing and overwhelming. The building is a strange medieval looking place, dim and cold on the inside and unheated on purpose to preserve the items.

What an education! I thought I knew a lot of history but there were many items I'd never heard of and many that impressed me with their sophistication and ingeniousness.

Mercer Museum



Medical equipment.....Yikes!!

Apple grinder and cider press


Sculpture across the street at the Michener Art Museum