Can You Guess the Historical Object? - Answer
February 04, 2022
So did you figure out what that mystery item was? Chances are you did since it seemed that most blog readers knew exactly what this item is.
If you recall I gave you the following clues:
- This item is made of a lightweight metal (aluminum or tin)
- This was mostly used by women to complete chores in more than one room of the house.
- You would find this for sale in catalogs in the early 20th
- It could be used in the kitchen but it has nothing to do with food.
- This item saved money
- This one that I bought at an antique store is just one “look.” There are different versions including a version that is square instead of circular.
The item in question is called a soap saver. Its purpose is probably obvious from its name. It held pieces of left-over soap (you know, those small pieces that no one wants to use). You add those pieces to the wire mesh basket and then when doing laundry you could swish the basket in the water and use up that leftover soap. This helped families save money by using all of the soap and would have been used when doing laundry pre-washing machines.
Did you get it right?
How did I figure it out? Well, it took a bit of researching in old retail catalogs. I assumed it dated somewhere around the early 20th century. I first thought it was a kitchen gadget and in a way it could be, but not for cooking. So I looked through catalogs until I found a photo of it.
Once I had the name, I looked in Google Patents for examples of it. Here’s one that I found.
From there I Googled “soap saver” and found other examples. Because there are modern-day “soap savers” I sometimes added a keyword like “metal” to my search. One article I found from the website Love to Know, included a photo of my soap saver.
Readers figured out the mystery item in any number of ways. There were those who knew what it was because they had a family member who owned one themselves. Like this comment by Anthony Grace:
"I believe this is a device to use up small soap remnants. By agitating it (with a piece or pieces of soap) in washing up water, the user could generate soapy water solution for cleaning pots and pans. I occasionally used one of these items as a child (70+ years ago!) so the answer was in my memory!"
But there were others who figured it out using various online tools including online retailers like Etsy, Google, and Google Lens. In one case a reader commented that she learned how to search using an image and that helped her find the answer (Geoff did a TechZone video about searching using a reverse image search.) In some cases readers even found modern-day examples that you could buy. Edwina Shooter found one for sale in Australia at this website.
It was a lot of fun to read everyone's comments. The reason we didn't publish them as you submitted them is we wanted everyone to have a guess without the correct answering showing up in the comments. One of my favorite comments was from Judy Conklin who wrote,
"The object presented is a SOAP SAVER. I just Googled the words "old soap saver" and a picture of the object popped up. We had one at home - many years ago. Now, if only birth, death and marriage records were as easy to find!!"
I agree Judy! But any type of research can help improve your overall research skills.
The most common wrong answer was a tea infuser. While they are similar, the metal mesh on this item is too wide and the whole thing is too big for a tea cup. The photo below shows the difference in size compared to my butter dish. It does occur to me I should have provided something to show the scale and I have found tea infusers online that do look similar so that was a good guess.
Did you figure out what the item was? All those who left a comment with the right answer were put in a random drawing for a free month subscription to Legacy Webinars. The winner of a one-month Legacy Webinar subscription is Ruth Taylor!
Thanks to everyone who participated!
Gena Philibert-Ortega is an author, instructor, and researcher. She blogs at Gena's Genealogy and Food.Family.Ephemera. You can find her presentations on the Legacy Family Tree Webinars website.