Recently, while researching collections for new exhibits, I stumbled across this peculiar gadget. It is described in the catalog record as a "hoot-nanny." My initial reaction was, "Wasn't hootenanny a popular 1960s musical variety show?" My 1969 World Book Dictionary confirms it: a hootenanny is "an informal gathering of folk singers: a hootenanny is to folk singers what a jam session is to jazz." Referring to a more contemporary source, Wikipedia, I learned that a hootenanny is also defined as "an Appalachian colloquialism that was used in early twentieth century America to refer to things whose names were forgotten or unknown." In this usage it was synonymous with "thingamajig" or "whatchamacallit," as in "hand me that hootenanny." Yep, this is definitely a hootenanny!
Digging into the records, I discovered that the thingamajig, along with a whetstone and a pair of blade shears, was donated to the museum in the early 1950s, and has San Luis Valley provenance. The donor described the hootenanny as having been used to hold a set of sheep shears in place while sharpening them with a honer. Now I feel like I am on the right trail, because another definition I've run across describes a hootenanny as "a small device used to hold a crosscut saw while sawing a log from underneath." At least that definition is similar to the donor's description. Nevertheless, when I place the shears, whetstone, and this mystery object in front of me, I am still stumped as to how it might have functioned.
The frame-shaped thingamajig is eighteen inches long and almost six inches wide. A metal needle swivels within the frame and is mounted on top of a metal plate on the thicker of the two wooden crosspieces. It appears as though at one time there might have been something attached to the base of the needle.
I don't want to contradict the donor's claim, but my instinct tells me that this whatchamacallit might not have been a sharpening tool accessory, but rather a handmade scale--a hootenanny scale--possibly used to estimate the weight of sheared wool. Unfortunately, other than the swiveling needle, there is little evidence to support my theory.
What do you think it is? If you have any clues, any theory, or if you are familiar with hootenannies, we would like to hear from you!
James Peterson, Curatorial Assistant
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Stephen H. Hart Library and Research Center
History Colorado Center
Denver, CO 80203