A dozen cool things in our online collection for 12-12-12

By Erin Blasco


In honor of today's date of December 12, 2012, we searched our collection database for artifacts that relate to the number 12. We were a bit surprised with what came up.

Whether you're doing research or are just curious about historical artifacts, our online collections database is a great resource. Susan Tolbert is the project manager for the effort to make our collection accessible online as well as the deputy chair of the Division of Work and Industry. Tolbert said the goal of "making the collections accessible to the public" is an important part of the Smithsonian's strategic plan. Selecting objects to put online and writing descriptions can be a lot of work for museum curators but, Tolbert says, "Curators have said to me that it feels like they're re-discovering their collection. Some of us have been working on back-to-back exhibits, programs, or research, so being given the time to dig into our collections is a lot of fun." 

We encourage you to visit our collections page and browse by subjects, object groups, or do a search. Here are 12 things we found for 12-12-12.

Dance card from Staunton Military Acadamy's Final Ball of the year on June 4, 1929. It's four paper pages have celluloid covers front and back and an attached cord and tassel. All twelve lines for dances have been filled with names.
1. Dance card: The lucky owner of this dance card had a partner's name on all 12 lines for dances on this card from 1929. We hope she enjoyed the Staunton Military Academy's Final Ball in Staunton, Virginia!

2 cher ami

2. Cher Ami: Cher Ami was one of the 600 birds flown by the U.S. Army Signal Corps in France during World War I. He delivered 12 important messages within the American sector at Verdun. On his last mission, he performed a valiant feat, despite being gravely wounded. He carried a message capsule from a battalion that has been isolated from other American forces. The message helped save 194 people.

These twelve interlocking three-dimensional wooden puzzles were made in Japan, likely by the Yamanaka Kumiki Works. Each is individually wrapped in plastic and includes a sheet showing how to assemble it. A trademark on the bottom of the box includes an image of a globe surrounded by the letters T T N Y. According a 1978 application to the US Patent and Trademark Office by the Traveler Trading Company, Inc., the mark was first used in commerce in 1950.
3. Wooden Puzzle Assortment: These twelve interlocking "kumiki" puzzles from Japan were imported sometime after 1952. They belonged to Olive Hazlett, one of America's leading mathematicians during the 1920s.

This 1974 poster distributed by Environmental Action depicts 12 members of Congress, Republicans and Democrats alike, who were accused of voting on the side of commercial interests over environmental concerns. Their faces are superimposed on a picture of an early 20th-century “sports team” wearing the letter “D” (Dirty Dozen) on their sweaters.
4. The Dirty Dozen poster: An environmental advocacy group distributed this poster in 1974, which depicts 12 members of Congress, including both Democrats and Republicans, accused of voting on the side of commercial interests over environmental concerns.

The Weeden Manufacturing Company of New Bedford, Massachusetts manufactured the Weeden model number 12 toy steam engine from 1890 until 1906. This toy steam engine features dual horizontal boilers and dual horizontal slide valve engines connected to a single flywheel. The dual engines are offset so one engine is pushing the flywheel at each time. A simulated brickwork metal firebox surrounds the two boilers, and the metal housing around the flywheel is made to look like brickwork as well. The entire engine is mounted on a metal plate.

5. Weeden No. 12 Toy Steam Engine: This toy steam engine was manufactured from 1890 until 1906 by the Weeden Manufacturing Company, but we think this German one looks like more fun.

This button is a souvenir of the 1998 AIDS Walk in Washington, D.C.
6. Button, AIDS 12th Annual Walk, Washington: With less text than a tweet, buttons can send a powerful message.

Miguel Gomez is the director ofAIDS.gov, a program of the Office of HIV/AIDS Policy, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. He shared the power of buttons related to the HIV and AIDS epidemic in this blog post: "I have over 500 buttons, and all of them are meaningful in some way or another," Gomez wrote. "But the one that memorializes an early AIDS vigil is my favorite. The button is black with white lettering. It says 'National AIDS Vigil, October 8, 1983' and shows a hand holding a candle, which makes up the 'I' in 'AIDS.' At that time, we still didn't know what caused AIDS.”

Portion of the staff of the Anglo American Telegraph Company, Limited, and View of Hearts Content, Nfld., Station about 1872 [typed caption under photorpint].

7. Portion of the staff of the Anglo American Telegraph Company, Limited: This image from the Archives Center is from 1872. Twelve men and one spotted dog seem to be posing outside a telegraph station in Hearts Content, Newfoundland.

Three other telegraph companies failed in a British-American venture to lay an Atlantic telegraph cable before the Anglo American Telegraph Company succeeded. We're not sure what role the dog played in that effort.

Howard University men's chorus [cellulose acetate photonegative].

8. Howard University men's chorusTwelve men of the Howard University chorus gather around a piano in this photograph by the Scurlock Studio. The Scurlock Studio was one of the premiere African American studios in the country and one of the longest-running black businesses in Washington, D.C.

Nordic Ware used this mold to manufacture the irons for Swedish rosettes. The mold is made of heavy metal and has a flower, circle and star design repeated four times to make twelve irons at a time.

9. Rosette Iron Mold: Swedish rossettes are sugar cookies that come in charming shapes formed by a mold like this one, which could make 12 cookies. Nordic Ware, a family-owned manufacturing firm in Minneapolis, Minnesota, produced many specialty baking and cooking items, including the "Bundt" pan.

Block upper-case alphabet of 26 letters, plus additional letters "NSABCDMHW." Three block lower-case alphabets of 26 letters. Script alphabet to "W" ("XYZ" in lower part of sampler, with inscription). Numbers 1 to 0 and vowels follow inscription. All these rows separated by simple crossbands.

10. Nancy Batchelder's Sampler: From the inscription of this sampler, we know that Nancy Batchelder was "aged twelve years" when she made it sometime between 1800-1825. Unfortunately, we don't know much else about the young seamstress.

Come into a beauty conference with 10,000,000 babies. [Print advertising.] General circulation publications 1930

11. Come into a beauty conference with 10,000,000 babiesTwelve adorable infants play, lay around naked, or flop on the floor crying in this Ivory Soap advertisement from 1930. The advertisement explains that babies are "among the most eminent living authorities" on selecting soap for sensitive skin and recommends Ivory because "it is pure."

The Krispy Automatic Ring-King Junior was introduced by the Krispy Kreme Doughnut Corporation of Winston-Salem, N.C., in the 1950s. It was designed for making the company's signature product—hot glazed doughnuts—in small retail operations around the United States and abroad. The Ring-King Junior could produce about 60 dozen doughnuts an hour, and was used until the late 1960s.

12. Krispy Automatic Ring-King Junior Doughnut Machine: This is the Krispy Automatic Ring-King Junior, which made hot glazed doughnuts, producing 60 dozen doughnuts an hour for small retail operations beginning in the 1950s. You can see it in Food: Transforming the American Table, 1950-2000.

Give our collection search a try—you might find a couple dozen oddly interesting things!

A few hints for successful searching:

  • Can't decide what to search for? We recommend these search terms: orange, Lincoln, and Sputnik.
  • While searching, you'll probably come across records that don't have images. "We know that the visuals are important and we try to put up images of everything," Tolbert says. "Sometimes we can't—the objects might be stored off site or they may be crated up and we can't get into the crates easily to take pictures. Other objects are so big that we can't easily put them together to take a picture." If you want weed out records without images, you can click the "Search only items with images" button.
  • Object Groups can be a fun way to browse. The Abacus and Number Frame collection group was just added recently. 

Erin Blasco is an education specialist in the New Media Department. Her favorite 12-themed artifacts not included in this post are a 12 pence coin from 1652, a fancy paperweight with a 12 rays in its base, and these candy-like pills for severe diarrhea, cramps, cholera morbus, colic, and more.