The smalls: Tiny bits of history earn big interest at the historical society

Published 7:01 am Monday, March 13, 2017

They are petite pieces of history, nestled in boxes that look like the ones Christmas ornaments come in.

There is a big difference, though: Both the items and boxes, part of the Mower County Historical Society collection, are worth a lot more than they first appear.

First, the boxes: Curator Jaimie Timm said the items — to date, 16 of them — are specially created in acid-free stock so that these small items do not discolor or get lost.

Jaimie Timm, curator of the Mower County Historical Society, shows off some of the military patches on hand at the historical Society. Eric Johnson/

Jaimie Timm, curator of the Mower County Historical Society, shows off some of the military patches on hand at the historical Society. Eric Johnson/

Email newsletter signup

And, the items: Timm likes to call them her “smalls,” which refers to pieces of jewelry, medals, tie clasps and so on, whose existence is threatened for lack of proper storage.

“Many of these items were just part of larger collections,” Timm said, adding that the arrival and previous ownership of some items is not known. They carry the notation that they were part of a collection, “but that’s it,” said Timm.

The boxes are purchased through a grant from Freeborn-Mower Cooperative Services and its Operation Round Up.

“Before, it might take me all day to sort through collections to find an item; now, I can go right to the right box and the right item with a number,”she said.

The items are as varied as they are vintage.

Consider one half-box-worth of cuff links. Timm suspects the colorful pairs belonged to one owner, since there seemed to be a theme: the bigger the better.

Timm noted that some were oddly colored (such as the pink of rhodonite), had a bit of kitsch (bowling pin links, a fishing rod tie pin) or were just plain big — to the point that you wonder if the links could cause damage if you accidentally hit your arm against something.

“They are certainly not conservative,” said Timm, picking up one set of what looked like inlaid onyx. “Go big are go home,” she said with a chuckle.

She enjoys looking at the links, however, noting that the company called Swank is the maker of some of the cuff links. Those are particularly interesting and Swank was — and continues to be — a noted maker of cuff links.

There is more local historic wealth: admission tickets to the old Lyric Theatre; wooden nickels; and anniversary rings that once belonged to Austin Daily Herald employees. Add to that IOOF (Independent Order of Odd Fellows) ribbons, military medals, patches, hat cords and a key to the old Fox Hotel, just to name a few.

The random collection is a favorite of Timm’s, who says her favorite items are those she cannot immediately recognize.

“I like those things that can teach me something,” she said.

The function of some vintage items is obvious — in others, not so much. Most understand key rings and medals when they see them. But today’s generation might be clueless when they see a small gold medallion and recognize it as an Austin Bus Company token. A small cylinder — it looks like half a pen —was actually the home to toothpicks.

Timm’s wish to continue the move to safeguard the small items will depend on future grant funding so more boxes can be purchased. There some 600 or so items that she wants to organize.

“These were things that needed a home,” she said. “And we have more that need a good home, too.”