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Flour Power: The Richard Ferrell Collection

Friday, June 26th, 2009

Avid collector and donor Richard Ferrell describes how he got into collecting and the lessons he learned on the way to amassing the Richard Ferrell Flour Milling Industry History Collection, now a part of the Historical Society’s collections.

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The “Re” Count Bobblehead Doll

Tuesday, June 23rd, 2009

Doll and Box

The 2008 election cycle was remarkable, distinguished by the historic victory of Barack Obama and significant gains for the Democratic Party in general. As Minnesotans know, one bit of election business remains undecided six months later. Republican Norm Coleman and Democrat Al Franken continue their contest for Minnesota’s vacant U.S. Senate seat.

As usual, the St. Paul Saints baseball team turned a big news story into a winning promotion. At its May 23 game against the Sioux Falls, South Dakota, Canaries, the team gave away “Re” Count bobbleheads to the first 2,500 fans. The dolls, dressed like the number-loving Count von Count character of Sesame Street fame, feature a rotating head with two faces. Depending on your political proclivities, you can set the “Re” Count to display either Norm Coleman’s or Al Franken’s mug.

While the Society collected Franken and Coleman materials during last year’s campaign, the “Re” Count is something special. It speaks to the unusually prolonged nature of the Senate race, and to the good humor with which Minnesotans have taken it. And it’s one… one clever idea, too, ha ha ha!

Matt Anderson, Objects Curator


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Tuesday, June 23rd, 2009

Munsingwear undershirt

Munsingwear, Minnesota’s giant in underwear production, created knit underwear suitable for the entire family.  Marketing this underwear engaged even the family’s youngest.  Parents were encouraged to dress their children in “perfect fitting, long wearing, non-irritating” union suits.  Children were encouraged to bring their doll to be included in the Munsingwear family; or, in the 1930s, 10 cents would get you two doll undershirts by mail.

Incorporated in 1887 as Northwestern Knitting Company, with a later change in name to Munsingwear, the company produced knit goods in Minneapolis for over 100 years.   This undershirt from the Munsingwear archives looks like an advertising sample but is more likely an example of proper knitwear for dressing a favorite doll and encouraging repeat customers.

Linda McShannock, Objects Curator

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…Zen Again

Thursday, June 4th, 2009


We joked awhile ago that any Minnesota author or book to make the cover of Time Magazine is automatically on our list. Let’s say the same thing for any Minnesota author or book the makes it into the Guinness Book of World Records.

Robert Pirsig’s Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance: An Inquiry into Values. New York: Morrow, 1974.

Pirsig’s philosophical/autobiographical novel is listed in Guinness as the bestseller most rejected by publishers; 121 to be exact. When Morrow accepted the manuscript they were either very lucky or smart enough to know what Pirsig knew, that after the decade of the Sixties society and our culture was aching for just this philosophical discussion. It was time for what Pirsig called his “culture-bearing book.” For Morrow’s $3,000 they got a book that sold over 4 million copies and the sales of rights to translate ZMM into 27 languages. If you were around in 1974 you know what a publishing phenomena the book became. It went into the back pocket of almost every pair of torn jeans on campus.

The book is still a valuable and worthwhile read as its many anniversary editions attest and it is only slightly dated. I did cringe every time the word “groovy” was used.

The meat of the book is an attempt to unify the seeming rift – exacerbated by the political and cultural conflict of the 1960s – between the classic and romantic [or square and hip; technological and humanistic; Lori and Pat] ways of looking at the world. Quality, he concludes, is what those word views have in common.

Noting that it is difficult to jump into the middle of this book without the author’s careful set up, here is a sample of his prose:

…care and Quality are internal and external aspects of the same thing. A person who sees Quality and feels it as he works is a person who cares. A person who cares about what he sees and does is a person who’s bound to have some characteristics of Quality.

Thus, if the problem of technological hopelessness is caused by absence of care, both by technologists and anti-technologists; and if care and Quality are external and internal aspects of the same thing, then it follows logically that what really causes technological hopeless is absence of the perception of Quality in technology by both technologists and anti- technologists.

Mercifully the philosophy is broken up by the bones of the story, a 1968 motorcycle road trip Pirsig took with his son Chris, two friends and a ghost named Phaedrus, who is Pirsig’s pre electro-shock therapy self.

One note: ZMM contains two sentences that could or should be the motto of our book blog:

“What’s new?” is an interesting and broadening eternal question, but one which, if pursued exclusively, results only in an endless parade of trivia and fashion, the silt of tomorrow. I would like instead, to be concerned with the question “What is best?,” a question which cuts deeply rather than broadly, a question whose answers tend to move the silt downstream.

One complaint: I read ZMM in the 1984 “A Bantam New Age Book” edition (note the silly logo from the back cover), painfully slogging through terrible quality printing ironically reading hundreds of pages of discourse on the theme of “Quality.” At times the book is almost illegible. The letters in this edition bleed together and the ink is not even uniformly distributed on the same page. It drove me crazy! I hope these New Age publishers come back in their next life as Harp seals in Newfoundland.

The only thing good about this particular edition is the “Afterword” by the author with his heartbreaking account of Chris’s death outside the Zen Center in San Francisco in 1979.

Zen paperZen paper back

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World War II Sweetheart Jewelry

Thursday, June 4th, 2009


The Minnesota’s Greatest Generation exhibit prompted a number of new acquisitions to the collection. Among the most recent is a pair of bracelets made by Duluth native Ralph “Lefty” Brodin in 1943, while he was stationed in North Africa.

Manufactured and handmade jewelry pieces were popular mementos during both World Wars. For girlfriends, fiancées, wives, and mothers back home, these items provided tangible reminders of loved ones overseas. For soldiers, making the jewelry offered a way to pass the time and keep their minds occupied. Brodin crafted his two bracelets from aluminum, and carefully inscribed decorative borders and designs on them. He sent one to his wife, Ethel, and the other to his mother, Lena.

Sometime after making the bracelets, Ralph Brodin was transferred to Europe and fought in the Battle of the Bulge. He survived the war and returned home to Duluth to raise three sons with Ethel. Though he never spoke much about his time overseas, Brodin’s family preserved the bracelets and, in doing so, saved a small piece of his wartime experience.

Matt Anderson, Objects Curator

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An Ounce of Preservation: A Guide to the Care of Papers and Photographs