Tuesday, August 4, 2015

Stuff Like Toilet Tissue by Katherine Pym


As a writer of historical fiction, I come across moments of, ‘When was this invented?’ And ‘Can I use this?’ There are certain things we take for granted, and while writing, it’s hard not to incorporate a few things we use every day.

Safety Pin

How hard would it be for an enterprising individual to come up with a safety pin? After all, since the days of early mankind, people secured their fabric or skin clothing with a tool of some sort.  In Egypt, pins were made of bronze with decorative heads, but they could still prick you. Fibulas and brooches date back to the Mycenaean era, which were closer to the safety pin, but close doesn’t mean you win the Kewpie Doll. Needles were also used from the dawn of time, and in London the Worshipful Company of Needlemakers had the power to seize your needles if they did not have their stamp of approval.

Apparently, the safety pin was a brain twister, for the first one came late in man’s existence, in the year 1825. The inventor was Walter Hunt (USA).
Toilet Tissue
The 19th century seemed to have been an awakening of sorts, for along with the safety pin, several items were invented during that time frame we take for granted. In 1857 toilet tissue was invented by Joseph Gayetty. He used hemp paper as a prevention of the ‘piles’, and charged 50¢ for a packet of 500 sheets.

But when reading a novel, one doesn’t often come across the hero or heroine going to the bathroom and using, what? on the backside. I have read of a protagonist in a time slip novel, though, going into the past where there isn’t much to keep the teeth clean. Authors of these tomes don’t often mention a gentleman and his lady kissing / clanking their fuzzy teeth. 

The toothbrush was invented a bit earlier than the 19th century by a fellow in Newgate prison with not much to do during the day. He must have been fairly cash fluid though when he asked a prison guard to procure some items for him. This was in 1770. William Addis (UK) found cleaning his teeth with an old rag unpleasant and not very thorough. He bored little holes in a discarded meat bone, “tied them [hard bristles] into tufts, put glue on the ends, and wedged them into the holes...” Upon his release from prison, Mr Addis manufactured his invention and became an overnight success.

If I wrote in this era, I’d have to find out when Mr Addis started his venture, and when did the toothbrushes go on sale. One simply mustn’t write of something like this prior to the time it actually happened. Tsk tsk.

Back to the 19th century of ingenious people.

On the near subject of toothbrushes, in 1892 another person from the USA invented the toothpaste tube, thinking to stick your toothbrush into a jar of tooth cream that everyone under your roof used was unhygienic. Dr Sheffield was a dentist. My source does not say if the collapsible tube was made of lead or not.

Whitcomb Judson
One item I’ve always wanted to know about was the zipper. Now, the trouser fly (buttons) was incorporated quite a bit earlier by someone in Asia Minor so that he could gain entry quicker. To replace buttons with the zipper would make the entry gain quite speedy. Another intrepid American, Mr Whitcomb Judson, invented this in 1893 when shoes and boots were fastened with buttons.

Here you are in a hurry and you can’t find the button hooker-fastener thing. Then, when you do find it, minutes tick by as you fasten one tiny button after the other all the way up to the top of your shoe or boot.

Mr Judson invented “2 thin metal chains that could be fastened together by pulling a slider up between them. He patented this clasp locker or unlocker for shoes”. Judson was also the founder of the “Automatic Hook and Eye Company”. Along with his partner, they wanted to do away with all things fastened by buttons. Of course, these new zippers were primitive. It took a few more years to make them what we see today in men’s trousers and women’s skirts, along with shoes and purses, you name it, if it can be fastened by a zipper it is.

Quill & Inkpot
Other items an author of historical novels must be careful about are the writing implements your hero or heroine use. Prior to 1662 Pencils comprised of a graphite stick, wrapped with string to keep your fingers clean. After this date, pencils were mass produced in Nuremberg Germany. Quills were used almost exclusively for quite literally years and years.

The 19th century had a lot of ups and downs with writing utensils. After several failed attempts by other gentlemen, the metal nib did not grasp the populace until somewhere in the first half of the 19th century (John Mitchell in the UK). The fountain pen was invented about the same time as the metal nib, but this didn’t take hold until 1884 by an American named Lewis Waterman.  By 1885, Waterman had produced 200 man-made pens. 
Fountain Pen

Then, and finally, the pencil with an eraser. In 1858 this was invented by Hyman Lipman (USA). Until Mr Lipman’s invention, you had to carry an eraser along with your pencil (cumbersome!). He merely glued a bit of eraser to the top of the pencil, and voila, a new invention was born.

Many thanks to:
The People’s Almanac by David Wallechinsky & Irving Wallace, Doubleday & Co., Inc., New York 1975
All pictures come from Wikicommons, Public Domain

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