Going Postal

By Rachel Hudson

This week’s object is a unique little tin wind-up toy of an ostrich pulling a mail cart. We found this object while going through storage in Deyo House. According to the Lehmann toy collecting website, this piece is literally titled “Africa” as written on the side of the cart, but has also been called “Going to the Fair,” “Kamerun,” and “Zulu” in later versions. During my research, I soon found that some toys were not just meant to amuse, but were also meant to teach kids about currents events.

In the early 1800s, wood was one of the main materials used to make toys. However, as industrialization began to take hold in Europe, a new method of mass production was called for. Tin filled this need because it was cheap, easy to bend and fold, and was lighter than the cast iron toys that were previously being made at this time. Lithograph techniques that developed in 1875 made it practical to paint objects like these with bright colors and detailed decorations. These toys were called ‘penny’ toys because they were so affordable to the general public. (Source: Powerhouse Museum Collection)

This piece was made by the Lehmann Toy Company in Brandenburg, Germany between 1889 and 1918. The company originally sold tins for aniline dyes, but soon began selling flywheel toys and eventually became one of the main exporters of cheap tin toys at this time. Many of Lehmann’s toys were designed to appeal to both girls and boys and often depicted humorous subjects, like dancing animals, topics of gossip and current events of the time.

Parents often favored toys that would serve as an educational tool for their children, and current political events would have been popular subjects. During the late 1800s, the major European countries were dividing control of Africa under the policy of Colonization. Africa would have been a common subject in the news, both in Europe and in America. A toy like this would have put a romanticized spin on the subject, making it both appropriate and appealing to children. It brings up ideas of exotic, faraway places where huge birds pull mail carts down busy market streets.

Here is the teaser picture for next week. Can you guess what it is?





By Katie Graham


This biscuit, more formally known as a hardtack, dates back over 150 years to the Civil War. This was the preferred food for soldiers both in the Confederacy and Union because of its longevity and convenience in times of extensive travel with little time or means to prepare proper meals. For any Civil War buffs looking to host a reenactment, here is a link for a standard recipe for hardtack biscuits: http://www.arhistoryhub.com/civil-war-make-your-own-hardtack-and-johnny-cake/#


Hardtack was often prepared six months ahead of time and would usually become infested with maggots. Soldiers would often scrape any inedible elements like mold or larvae off the hardtack and use the remaining pieces to crumble into their coffee. If they were fortunate enough to have procured animal fat, they would make their meal less bland and fry their hardtack. Unless a soldier was able to hunt or befriend a sympathetic local willing to provide food, this travelers’ bread was all on which they had to rely for nutrition.

Our once bitten biscuit belonged to William Henry Dill Blake, who enlisted in Company C of the 56th New York Veteran Volunteer Infantry on December 31, 1863. Blake survived the war and was honorably discharged at the rank of Second Lieutenant on November 10th of 1865.

In 1867 Blake accepted a position with the Newburgh & Albany Steamboat Line under Homer Ramsdell & Co. and remained employed there for seven years before he purchased 250 acres of farmland and settled into his new home in New Paltz in 1881. Prior to his move, he married Miss Matilda R. Booth, daughter of Alfred Booth, owner of a prominent English merchant company founded in 1866 and dissolved in 1986. William Blake was grandson of Congressman John Blake Jr. of the Orange County District who served between 1805 and 1809. Prior to this position, our subject’s grandfather was Sheriff of Ulster County during the absence of incumbent Benjamin Sears.

“The History of Ulster County, New York, VOLUME 2 ONLY.”
       Google Books. Ed. Alphonso T. Clearwater. Heritage Books, Web. 22 July 2014.

Try to guess Rachel’s object of choice for next week from the photo below:


On Point

By Rachel Hudson

Keeping with the Civil War theme, the object of this week is a Tiffany & Co. non-regulation model 1850 infantry officer sword. This object was found in our collections a few weeks ago and I have been responsible for researching it and the story behind it. The name Tiffany & Co. doesn’t typically evoke images of swords and weaponry, but in a time of war in the United States, many custom jewelers became military outfitters. For the Tiffany Company to survive the war, it became necessary to produce weaponry in lieu of luxury goods and jewelry, but in the same high quality fashion for which they were known.




The handle of the sword, which you saw in last week’s teaser photo, is cast with elaborate oak leaf and floral patterns, alluding to the interest in nature that characterized not only Tiffany & Co. but the Victorian aesthetic of the time. The fine leather and twisted wire used for the grip demonstrates the attention to detail which proves that even in a time of war, this was an item of luxury. The blade, perhaps the most elegant and beautifully designed part of the sword, displays the regional motifs which differentiate this as a Union weapon. The large “U.S.,” the cannons and victory wreath, and the two roman helmets etched onto the blade exhibit not only the owner’s taste, but a bold statement to the Union cause.


The etching on the sheath gives the biggest clues to the owner and occasion for the presentation of this piece. It states, “Presented to Capt. John T. Alexander by his company Sept. 10 1862.” Although detailed information on Capt. Alexander was scarce, I discovered that he belonged to the 27th Regiment of the New Jersey Infantry, Company B. The date on the sword was seven days after that regiment was mustered into federal service. The group included volunteers from towns within Morris County and Sussex County, New Jersey. Documents from the New Jersey State Library revealed that despite making it through the Battle of Fredericksburg, Alexander died several months later, on May 6, 1963, while crossing the Cumberland River near Somerset, Kentucky. He was survived by his wife.

With the fine details on the blade and the owner’s name engraved on the sheath, this sword tells a story of a nation at war and of the people who played a role in the history of our country.

We seem to be on a roll with the Civil War items, because next week’s item is also from this time period:


On Display: Nipping the Buds of Prejudice

Nipping the Buds of Prejudice
Molding the Young Men and Women of 18th and 19th Century New Paltz
Exhibition by Daniel Berger

SUNY New Paltz student and former Historic Huguenot Street intern Daniel Berger has curated an exhibit now on display in the DuBois Fort Visitors Center until July 25th. As Daniel explains, “the exhibit follows the shift of New Paltz education from Calvinist pedagogy to gender stratified moral conditioning. I hope to tell that story with hard evidence that you can see for yourself in the exhibit.”

Featuring a number of archival photos and documents, this is a great exhibit for anyone interested in local history, education, and the origins of SUNY New Paltz.


Suit Up

By Katie Graham

Earlier this year, our Director of Strategy, Development, and Historic Interpretation Dr. Taylor Stoermer came across an intriguing frock coat in our collections. The coat is an item I am very excited to work with for my final research project as part of my internship because it is a Civil War frock coat made by Brooks Brothers for a Union Army First Lieutenant.

Brooks Brothers agreed to a concordance with the U.S. government to mass-produce over 12,000 uniforms for the Union Army just two weeks after the first cannons were fired from Fort Sumter in Charleston. This was Brooks Brothers’ first major step – after 43 years of business – from small-scale line to American icon. By 1861, the company created 36,000 uniforms for the Union. The level of tailoring in our frock coat provides evidence that it was not part of a line of mass-produced uniforms, but was bespoke. This hypothesis is currently in the process of being confirmed by a team of archivists at Brooks Brothers corporate office in New York City.

The frock coat’s original owner was First Lieutenant George W. Halstead. I was excited to come across a portrait of the Lieutenant as well as a brief military biography in the Smithsonian’s digital archives during the initial phase of my research. I further learned that his portrait was once part of a collection on display at the National Museum of American History. My research so far has indicated that Halstead survived the war and lived in Manhattan with his wife Eliza and two children. I am currently in the process of cross-referencing an extensive Halstead genealogy in the HHS archives with a Halstead genealogy forwarded to me by an archivist with the Smithsonian to find what relationship he had with the Hudson Valley and HHS. Below is a portrait Halstead sat for at the Battle of Antietam in 1862, when he was an officer with Company G of the 10th New York Volunteers.

Here is a teaser for next week’s Object: