What is This Thing?

We solved one mystery this week only to have another present itself nearly immediately. One of my colleagues is working with some new additions to the already extensive Autry Family collection (note that this is another of the families from the Gargoyle map) and he turned up a pair of puzzling objects:


They’re tubes, obviously, silver and quite tiny, no more than a couple of inches long. You can see the slide that runs in a groove along the back. Only one has the chain attached but the other one does have the little eyelet where the chain should go. On the front of both is the “I” that was used to signify the “Institute”:


So they look like very small lipstick tubes, right? But if that’s what they are then what is the chain for? What could you possibly clip them to? Can someone explain this to me? All guesses will be accepted gratefully.

Bonus: The tops are engraved with initials.


This one must have belonged to Allie May Autry ’25 who we talked about in this post about the Scanlan Building.



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22 Responses to What is This Thing?

  1. jkh6 says:

    Could they be containers you’d clip to a chatelaine?

  2. Karen says:

    As far as what it’s for, my first thought was matches. Does it look about that size? I’m not sure when lighters became common.

    • Mark Williamson says:

      Would matches engage with the arm attached to the slide? It looks awfully small for that.

      The lipstick (or maybe lip balm) idea seems more likely. Something that filled most of the tube.

  3. Bob Toone says:

    My thought is match holders as well

  4. Helen Toombs says:

    Monogram of AMA means really initials of AAM. Meanwhile, I’m asking an expert about sterling what they might be.

  5. Brian Cole (Wiess '78) says:

    Could they be snuff boxes?
    My great-grandmother “took snuff” (which, at the time, ladies could apparently do, even though smoking cigarettes and chewing tobacco were considered improper). Ladies would chew on the end of an orange stick (similar to what is used for manicures), dip the end in the snuff, and “paint” it on their gums. No mess, no fuss.

  6. The chain is very odd. The large ring, the two kinds of chain. The long links are clearly decorative and meant to be seen. I presume the case would be tucked away in a pocket.

  7. Check the bottom for hallmarks. These are small stamped patterns that identify the maker. That could help you track it down.

  8. ND says:

    Maybe it is for messenger birds.

  9. Doug Williams says:

    I tried searching for match cases and couldn’t find anything that looked quite like these. I did find these dime and nickel holders: http://www.silverperfect.com/Inventory/novelty%20items/shiebetcoinholdsdetail.html
    Are the cases the right size for either of those coins? Could the slide be for moving the stack of coins to the top of the holder?

  10. Mary says:

    Aren’t the monogram initials in the wrong order for her name?

    • Melissa Kean says:

      Yes, ordinarily that would be the case. But given that this comes from the Autry family I think that it’s just a bit different. The two cases are both monogrammed–one is AMA and the other is AKA–and I don’t see how they could be other than Allie May Autry and Allie Kinsloe Autry, her mother.

    • Melissa Kean says:

      Yes, I think this is right. The little purse what commenter jkh6 above called a chatelaine. and I think it must be a small lipstick container given the slide that pushes up whatever was inside. Thanks, Bob!

      • Melissa Kean says:

        I do wonder about a silver lipstick tube. It’s so permanent. It must be meant to be refilled, but how would that work?

        • Bob Casey says:

          I don’t know, but there are a number of antique silver lipstick cases on eBay, some with a slide and some that twist.

        • Mark Williamson says:

          Google “lipstick refill”; there are a number of sites explaining how to refill vintage lipstick tubes with new “bullets” of lipstick. The biggest tricks seem to be finding a size match and chilling the “bullet” to make it easier to handle.

  11. Charles Maynard says:

    You can go on Youtube and readily find a video demonstrating how to mix lipstick.

  12. marmer01 says:

    I’m also willing to believe that the slide was to help extract pills. But lipstick is probably more likely.

  13. David M. Bynog says:

    I assumed this was a Vinaigrette from the picture but am not sure whether they still would have been in use at such a late date (but given Rice’s rural location, I could imagine a need for them). Here is a tubular shaped one, and you do often see them with chains attached: http://www.onlinegalleries.com/art-and-antiques/detail/antique-victorian-silver-vinaigrette-%26-perfume-scent-bottle-birmingham-1884/205908.

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