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Two teapots by Richard Bresnahan

Posted byLori Williamson on 29 Jul 2011 | Tagged as: Our Favorite Things

The Minnesota Historical Society houses a small but important collection of Richard Bresnahan pottery including these two early teapots. Bresnahan has been artist-in-residence at St. John’s University outside St. Cloud and now operates the largest wood-fired kiln in North America. After apprenticing to Nakazato Takishi Pottery in Japan, Bresnahan returned to Minnesota in 1979 to run the St. Johns pottery program. He is well known for combining sensitivity to nature and a commitment to using local, renewable resources. This is reflected in all his pottery; the clay is gathered from an old abandoned road-bed, the fuel for the wood-fired kilns is collected in a sustainable fashion from the St. John’s grounds or obtained from the waste of local manufactures, and even the glazes are made from local straw, sunflower hulls and quartzite dust.

Bresnahan’s teapots are his signature work. Derived from traditional Japanese shapes and techniques they often have rattan handles made by Minnesota artist Paul Krueger.


A classic shape for both traditional Japanese pottery and Richard Bresnahan, this Double-Gourd teapot features a spiral decoration made of blue slip. The serendipitous nature of a wood fired kiln is seen in the differing coloration on the left side view.


This flat teapot was fired in a kiln configuration called Tagnegashima which reaches 2500° F and gives the pot a soft brown/black color. It also features unusual Silicon Dioxide stone feet and lid handle.


The Minnesota Historical Society also has cups, platters, bowls and jars by Richard Bresnahan in the collection. They will be available for viewing using Search Our Collections soon.

Jason Onerheim, Collections Assistant, Minnesota Historical Society

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1964 Hollywood Vassarette Munsingwear Sales Promotion Kit

Posted byAdam Harris on 24 Jun 2011 | Tagged as: Our Favorite Things

Today, the “Penguin” golf shirt may be Munsingwear’s most recognized creation, but underwear was the company’s foundation. From 1890-1980, Munsingwear produced innovative undergarments, including the union suit and silk plated wool, for men, women, and children.

The Hollywood Vassarette division, established in 1958, specialized in women’s fashionable coordinated undergarments. This colorful sales promotion kit represents Munsingwear’s commitment to producing undergarments to complement a season’s trends and to create a desired silhouette. The 1964 sales promotion kit folder contains four full-color advertisements, a full-color foldout with merchandise display suggestions, and an illustrated booklet,  “A Re-cap of Our Fashion Notebook for Spring-Summer, 1964”, describing the current trends.

Sales Promotion Kit: Hollywood Vassarette, 1963. Munsingwear, Inc. Records. Minnesota Historical Society.

An online inventory for the Munsingwear collection is available at http://www.mnhs.org/library/findaids/00206.xml

Sehri Strom, Collections Assistant

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Bob Dylan’s lyrics for Temporary Like Achilles

Posted byLori Williamson on 24 May 2011 | Tagged as: Our Favorite Things

Temporary Like Achilles FrontTemporary Like Achilles Back

One of the first times in my career that I asked myself A) do I really get to do this for a living? and B) will I get my butt fired for buying this? was when I purchased a Bob Dylan manuscript. The item in question was Dylan’s lyrics to “Temporary Like Achilles.” Dylan recorded perhaps his best work ever on the double album Blonde on Blonde and when he was finished he handed his manuscripts, including this one, to the Nashville studio engineer Charley Bragg. Bragg later auctioned off the work through a London house and the Historical Society picked up “TLA” from a rare book dealer in Hollywood, CA in 1988. A thing of beauty, isn’t it? (Click to enlarge.)

Patrick Coleman, Acquisitions Librarian

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Manual Traffic Signal

Posted byAdam Harris on 12 Apr 2011 | Tagged as: Our Favorite Things

Manual traffic signal, early 20th centuryThis 8 ½ foot tall traffic signal was used in downtown Minneapolis, Minnesota and is manually operated. The signal was made circa 1900 and used until approximately 1930. A movable rod handle on the side of the pole operates the rotation of the signal. The signal has two arms painted green and marked “GO” and two arms painted red and marked “STOP”. A black cloth collapsible umbrella is mounted beneath the sign for use by the traffic controller in inclement weather. The metal pole is bolted to a slatted base platform where the controller would stand. The platform has two iron wheels at one end to facilitate moving the signal from one location to the next.

Traffic signals like this one were used across the United States beginning around 1909, when the first United States Patent was issued for a traffic control device. Police officers were in charge of traffic control until signals became fully automated in the late 1920s-1930s. A variety of illuminated traffic signals were first implemented in the late 1910s, but were not commonly used until the 1920s and the signals were not standardized until the 1940s.

On this day (April 12th) in 1923, St. Paul’s first automatic traffic signal, on a pedestal about ten feet high, began operating at Fifth and St. Peter Streets.

Sondra Reierson, Collections Assistant

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Knitting machine from the Munsingwear factory

Posted byLori Williamson on 29 Mar 2011 | Tagged as: Our Favorite Things

Wildman kniiting machine, frontWildman kniiting machine, side

This Wildman brand rotary knitting machine was used for knitting tubular knits at the Munsingwear Corporation, which was a Minnesota knitwear manufacturer for nearly 100 years, circa 1890-1980. It was on exhibit at International Market Square, which is the former Munsingwear headquarters. Originally belt-driven, at some point perhaps in the 1950’s it was apparently converted to run on a 220 volt General Electric brand motor.

The MHS Conservation Department, in particular Objects Conservator Tom Braun, put a great deal of work into this piece to bring it back to its current state. It needed to be cleaned overall but more importantly a broken leg needed to be repaired. Now it is whole, clean, and ready to be exhibited. Even the needles on top perform their intended action now! A quote from Tom: “I am very excited that when the hand wheel on this unit is turned (clockwise only please!) the whole machine moves as it was designed to.  Most exciting is that the needles can be seen to move in and out in a knitting motion.”

Wildman kniiting machineWhile we initially assumed we’d find synthetic fibers, analysis of lint found in the gears showed that this machine worked with 100% cotton fibers. To learn more about its operation, Dick Kaminski and Ted Mommsen, former Munsingwear employees responsible for customizing and operating this machinery, visited the Conservation lab and spoke with Tom and Linda McShannock, curator, about their experience with the machine.

This is one of our favorite things for what it tells us about the company, the direct link it establishes to the products it made, and the beauty of the object. Wildman machines were in use as early as the 1920s and continue to find use in the knitwear industry.  It created the raw material from which the majority of Munsingwear products were made. This knitting machine will be a key piece in the upcoming exhibit “Underwear – A Brief History” at the Minnesota Historical Society.

Munsingwear Knitting Mills

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Mississippi River Log

Posted byLori Williamson on 18 Mar 2011 | Tagged as: Our Favorite Things

Mississippi River Log

This chart tracks when the ice went out on the Mississippi River between the years 1844 – 1887. It shows the date the ice broke; the name of the first boat arrived; its Captain; date; the name of the last boat to depart; number of days the river was open; date the river closed; and the number of winter days.

Surprisingly this was found in the Episcopal Church, Diocese of Minnesota, Correspondence and miscellaneous papers, 1870 – 1891, P1035. This goes to show how all Minnesotans throughout time have been obsessed with the weather!

Lori Williamson, Acquisitions & Outreach Coordinator, with special thanks to Marcia Anderson and Matt Goff

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An Arsenal of Armaments

Posted byAdam Harris on 11 Mar 2011 | Tagged as: Our Favorite Things

Connecticut Arms Hammond Bulldog Derringer

Of over 300 firearms in the Minnesota Historical Society’s holdings, these highlights selected by collections assistant Sondra Reierson exemplify the breadth of the collection.  They span 250 years of gun making from flintlock to automatic and include long arms such as muskets, rifles and shotguns as well as handguns such as pistols, revolvers, pepperboxes and derringers.

Click on a picture for more information.

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Minnesota State Training School for Boys Inmate Case Files and Commitment Papers

Posted byLori Williamson on 18 Feb 2011 | Tagged as: Our Favorite Things

St. Paul was once well known as safe haven for thugs, hooligans, and ne’er-do-wells like the Barker Gang and John Dillinger.  But it also held to its bosom one of Chicago’s gangland luminaries—and Al Capone’s chief rival—George “Bugs” Moran.  Moran was born as Adelard Cunin on August 21, 1891, in St. Paul.

Investigation report documenting Cunin’s initial attempt to escape from the schoolIn her 2005 biography, The Man Who Got Away: The Bugs Moran Story, Rose Keefe notes that “Records pertaining to [Moran’s initial lawlessness] are meager, so the details are incomplete” but that he was pinched for a robbery in downtown St. Paul in 1909.  Many of these missing details can be found in Cunin’s inmate case file 3067 from the Minnesota State Training School for Girls and Boys.

On July 11, 1907, fifteen-year-old Cunin was called into court to address the matter of his own delinquency.  Already on probation, he explained that he got into a couple scrapes one night when “a lot of fellows” were chasing down horses below State Street, down by the boats.  Having spoken of one scrape already, Cunin continued: “Then I walked a little ways and I met another boy, and I stood there and watched him, and then he made a rush at me and I started to run and he tripped me and throwed [sic] me down.”  “And you cut him pretty bad, didn’t you, you stuck the knife right into him?” asked the judge, to which Cunin’s probation officer answered for him: “He had eight stitches taken in it.”

Because Cunin was a minor, he was sent to the State Training School on September 3, 1907, for “incorrigibility.”  The bulk of his case file consists of correspondence and so-called investigation reports.  The former includes letters from friends and family to him, pleas from his mother and clergy to the school superintendent for Cunin’s reinstated parole, and responses to same.

Postcard from friend of Cunin's

The investigation reports chronicle Cunin’s ongoing misconduct that delayed any parole reinstatement.  For example, Cunin was written up on November 9, 1907, for “talking and planning escape” and had acquired a chisel and auger from the school’s carpenter shop to execute the plan.  Yet six months later, when a reverend from St. Paul Cathedral inquired on Cunin’s status, Superintendent F. A. Whittier responded, “He is by no means the best boy we have nor is he the worst.”  His conduct may have improved (albeit temporarily): He was released to his mother on parole on February 27, 1909, but returned on July 22 after being arrested for “petit larceny.”

Letter discussing Cunin’s escape on September 1, 1909Cunin settled the matter himself by escaping on September 1, 1909.  Though the school offered a $10 reward (approximately $236 in 2009 dollars), Cunin soon made his way to Chicago.  Keefe notes in her biography, “Adelard Cunin disappeared from the public record for good.  The name and persona that replaced him became bigger than he had ever been.”

There are thousands of other Minnesota State Training School for Boys inmate case files.  Although Superintendent Whittier didn’t consider Adelard Cunin the worst boy, one wonders whether Carl Panzram was.

Carl Panzram was twelve years old when he was admitted to the School in 1903, and unfortunately, it was only the first of many institutions in which he was incarcerated.  In later years, Panzram was a confessed serial killer and was executed at the Leavenworth Federal Prison in 1930.  There are twenty-seven punishment slips in Panzram’s case file, along with letters from his mother, Lizzie.  She inquired when Carl would be released from the School, since she needed his help on the family farm in Polk County, Minnesota.  Filmmaker John Borowski is making a documentary about Panzram; more information about the Panzram story can be found on the website for the film.

Christopher Welter, Collections Assistant

Charles Rodgers, Government Records Specialist

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Minnesota Breweriana

Posted byAdam Harris on 04 Feb 2011 | Tagged as: Our Favorite Things

Minnesota has a long and proud history in the brewing industry. From the first breweries opened by early German immigrants to Surly Brewing’s latest concoction, the history of brewing in Minnesota is well represented by objects in the Minnesota Historical Society’s collections.  Brewing memorabilia, or “breweriana” as it is called by collectors, takes the form of many types of objects including advertising signs, beer bottles and can openers. Beginning in the 1950s, Minnesota brewers such a Hamm’s pioneered the use of breweriana to widely advertise their products.

The Theodore Hamm Brewing Company was founded in 1865 and emerged from prohibition as one of the top ten brewers in the U.S.  Hamm’s Beer items are among the most numerous in the Society’s collection, but this electric advertising sign is a real highlight.

Hamm's promo

The sign, from the early 1960s, makes the most of Hamm’s famous tag line, “From the Land of Sky Blue Waters,” by depicting a “North-Woods” style cabin with a night scene of a tree-lined lake that lights up from behind and shows twinkling stars, the Hamm’s logo and as seen above, four beer glasses flowing across the sky. (See video of the sign in action.)

Yoerg's BeerThe first commercial brewery in Minnesota was the Yoerg Brewing Company of St. Paul.  Anthony Yoerg moved to Minnesota from Germany in 1848 and quickly started a brewery.  The company survived prohibition by producing soft drinks, but it could not survive a devastating fire in 1958.

This early Yoerg Brewing Company can from the collection is called a “cone top.”  This style of can was invented, in three variations, by several companies to compete with the traditional flat top can and to allow brewers to use their normal bottle caps.Fleck's promos

Before reliable refrigeration, beer was made and consumed locally.  This was true in Minnesota where at one time there were over 200 breweries spread throughout nearly every county in the state.  These salt and pepper shakers were marketing items from the Fleckenstein (Fleck’s) Brewery of Faribault.

A recent casualty in the Minnesota brewing scene is the Gluek’s beer brand.  This recipe card box and set of recipe cards are promotional objects from Minneapolis based Gluek’s.  Made in the early 1960s, the cards feature many different ideas and recipes for cooking with beer, including desserts!  The Gluek Brewing Company and Brand, founded in 1857, was sold to Heileman Brewing of Wisconsin in 1964.  In 1997, Cold Spring Brewing, near St. Cloud, bought the brand, but in late 2010, they decided to retire the name, ending the nearly 150 year history of this Minnesota beer brand.

Gluek's promo

Summit EPASummit Brewing Company is one of Minnesota’s most successful breweries and now sells its beer all over the Upper Midwest.  Started in 1986 by Mark Stutrud, Summit is represented by a wide variety of objects in the collection including this early Extra Pale Ale tap handle given to the Society in 1988.

There are so many items in the collection that it was hard to choose only five, but these are representative examples of large/small, outstate/Twin Cities, and old/new Minnesota breweries.

Jason Onerheim, Collections Assistant

Learn More:

For more information on brewing in Minnesota, see Doug Hoverson’s fantastic book Land of Amber Waters: The History of Brewing in Minnesota available in the Minnesota History Center Museum Store.

A collection of historic photographs of Minnesota breweries can be found online on the Visual Resources Database.

Minnesota brewed

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Smith & Wesson revolver in a Vulcan display case

Posted byAdam Harris on 27 Jan 2011 | Tagged as: Our Favorite Things

Smith & Wesson revolver in a Vulcan display case

This Smith & Wesson .38 caliber revolver has a six-shot fluted cylinder, blued frame and checkered walnut grips with S&W medallions. It was manufactured by Smith and Wesson in Springfield, Massachusetts and is mounted in a wood and glass hinged case. An interior plaque reads “Fire & Brimstone 1970-1986″ and a Pioneer Press letter to the editor entitled “Put away parade ‘fun’ guns” is affixed to one corner.

Vulcans riding in fire engine, St. Paul Winter CarnivalBeginning in 1970 this Smith & Wesson revolver was fired by members of the Vulcan Krewe as they rode their Royal Chariot (a 1932 Luverne fire engine) during Saint Paul Winter Carnival parades. In the letter to the editor published in the St. Paul Pioneer Press and affixed to the revolver’s frame, a parade attendee complains that she is “at a loss to explain what is so darn much fun about loud, scary noises and guns.”  The revolver was “retired” in 1986 due to complaints like this claiming that gunfire during the parades was scaring children.

The Saint Paul Winter Carnival is a celebration of winter and its end. The Carnival has been held since 1886 in Saint Paul, Minnesota and a legend has evolved to support the Carnival’s theme. The story reaches its climax during the annual Torchlight Parade. During the parade Vulcanus Rex, the King of Fire, and his Vulcan Krewe overthrow King Boreas, the King of the Winds. The Vulcans are known for their rowdy revelry and the group emphasizes the community involvement of its members.Vulcans, St. Paul Winter Carnival

Krewe members are selected by the Imperial Order of Fire and Brimstone, the oldest formal organization within the Saint Paul Winter Carnival. When appearing at Krewe functions throughout the year, Vulcans wear a red and black costume consisting of a hat, running suit, cape, boots, gloves, and goggles. In 1994 the Order donated a collection of Vulcan-related memorabilia dated back to the original Saint Paul Winter Carnival in 1886 to the Minnesota Historical Society.

Sondra Reierson, Collections Assistant

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