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By Stewart Emmens on

Transforming The Everyday

I recently wrote about how even the most mundane of objects can be transformed by the associations they have with people or events. 

But I’m also intrigued by how the unremarkable can be transformed in other ways. For example, through the powers they are said to possess or by physical transformation into something new. 

Flint nodules
Flint nodules from North-East England, c.1908-1916 (Science Museum)

These are nodules of flint, a common mineral found across Britain. They look a bit like feet or legs and it’s this resemblance that makes them special. All three are charms. Carried in the hope that a health problem would be transferred from the owner’s limb to the limb-like stone.

Toothache charms
English toothache charms, c.1871-1916 (Science Museum)

Such ideas about disease transference are common to folk medicine and some other mundane objects supposedly imbued with such powers are shown above. Stones, animal teeth and a ‘tooth-like’ cluster of hazelnuts all employed by those suffering toothache.

Other objects in the collections have been transformed through physical, rather than spiritual, means. Here are a couple of my favourites.

Key and spoon
Key and spoon (Science Museum)

The makeshift key on the left was secretly cut by a inmate at the Brighton County Borough Asylum after they had pilfered a standard canteen spoon like the one on the right. It’s not known how successful this escape attempt proved to be.

Artificial leg
Artificial leg made in Blyth, Northumberland in 1903 (Science Museum)

Unlike the ‘spoon-key’ some transformed objects do retain an echo of their former use. This tiny artificial limb was repurposed from a chair leg in 1903 by the father of a three-year-old boy who’d lost his right leg. 

We don’t know the name of the wearer, but the dents and scratches on this object poignantly suggest that the mere loss of a leg didn’t slow this particular toddler down.