Why do you have that?
People often ask why museums in general, and the Kentucky Historical Society (KHS) in particular, keep artifacts, documents, and images even though they are not on exhibit.
My standard answer is that we keep them because they are loaned to other institutions and are used by researchers, genealogists, “etcetera, etcetera, etcetera.” (as Yul Brynner would say).
A recent episode provides a perfect example of how our collections are used. A colleague, Katherine Keil Owens, who is a curator of collections at the Missouri State Museum (MSM), contacted me with a mystery. In the MSM collections they have these items:
According to Katherine, the collection file states that they were used for winemaking, but the actual function is unknown. On the front of one object is “Budde & Westermann, NY.” Katherine wrote to me stating, “While using the Google machine to try to figure out its function I see that KHS has an 1891 catalog from this company.”
A clue for our mystery! Is this object in the catalog? A quick look revealed these pages:
Mystery solved! These objects are parts of a monitor still that was used to measure the amount of alcohol in wine. Katherine can now check other pieces in the MSM collection to see if any other objects are part of this still.
What is really cool are the ongoing connections we find between Missouri and Kentucky as the MSM and KHS comb our collections. It was not unusual for European settlers of Kentucky to stay for a few years or even generations before some members of the family moved further west to Missouri (for example, Missouri Governor Thomas T. Crittenden was the nephew of Kentucky politician John J. Crittenden). Our two states are forever linked, and hopefully, we will continue to solve mysteries together using those collections that live in our storage facilities and prove why we care for our collections.
Notes on winemaking in Kentucky and Missouri:
The Budde and Westerman catalog in the KHS collection was used in Green County, located in the center of the state. It relates to Kentucky’s long history of commercial wine production, starting with French immigrant Jean-Jacques Dufour in 1793. Although bourbon is our commonwealth’s most well-known liquor, winemaking was developed in Kentucky by French and German settlers. Today, there are wineries scattered across the state with many clustered in central Kentucky.
The “monitor still” in the MSM collection is from Carroll County, Missouri. In the Show-Me-State, the wine industry is tied to pre-statehood when France governed the region. German immigrants who arrived in the 1840s brought a strong wine tradition with them, particularly sweeter wines. If you head to Missouri there are hundreds of wineries clustered along the Mississippi and Missouri rivers, many of which are part of wine trails.