From the Oct. 8, 1937 edition of the Vineyard Gazette:

In the vernacular of the old Vineyard, the word gimcrack covered even more than a multitude of sins, and some of them were sins indeed though committed, no doubt, with the most lofty of intentions. A gimcrack was an ornament, a piece of bric-a-brac, or more especially a home-made or hand-made gadget which might have been put to some use but which usually was preserved to gather dust and age in idleness. Today those articles do not occupy the places of prominence in homes as of yore, but from time to time they are uncovered in some old attic or in a collection of household effects purchased by antique collectors.

There is a certain beauty and artistic air about some of these; others are just ugly objects. But the amount of labor consumed in creating them would, if properly applied, have dug another Panama Canal or bridged the Atlantic Ocean.

Reference is thus made to shell-encrusted boxes, plaques and picture frames, large and small, the rope-and-twine woven baskets, rugs and wall hangings; wooden objects, let anyone name them who will, fashioned with jigsaw and chisel or carving tools, and the thousand and one other objects of similar doubtful identity.

A box, recently brought to light, proved to have been fashioned in the beginning to hold goods packed at the factory and shipped to the retailer. Some patient soul had obtained and covered this box with sea shells until it no longer bore any resemblance to the original container. No fewer than 3,000 shells had been attached to that box with glue, plaster of paris and in some cases, with thread sewed through holes that had been drilled in the shells.

These shells were not by any means all native to the Vineyard. Some varieties were obviously tropical, but all were worked into a pattern which was probably the envy or delight of all who beheld it in the flush of its newness. The inside was elaborately lined with satin, glued and sewed into place. “What is it?” was the query, and “work basket” was the answer, work basket being the older name for a sewing basket.

There was the “crazy jug” so-called, and let it be mentioned that nothing was ever more appropriately named. Only now and then does one come to light in these days. Modern people are too fearful of frightening their children into fits to keep one of these horrible objects anywhere on the family estate.

The crazy jug was sometimes actually made from a real jug. Sometimes it was a pitcher, and on other occasions merely a section of soil pipe of the sort used to convey waste water from the kitchen sink — in either case a useful and valuable article of hardware, filling a common need of mankind. But once converted into a crazy jug these humble objects assumed an aspect both stupefying and fearsome.

Plaster of paris was smeared on the outer surface and to this were stuck objects of every form and design. When the entire surface had been covered, it was gilded in its entirety, and the fearful looking thing was placed in some dusky corner where unsuspecting people, coming upon it suddenly, were frequently smitten with strokes. A recently uncovered crazy jug was found to have the following list of hardware stuck to its surface: seven tiny plates, perhaps belonging to a child’s play set; four old, broken pipes; two pairs of scissors; a watch chain (brass); three charms, ditto; two combs, with teeth missing; the handle of a broken teacup; six walnut shells; oak spray bearing acorns; one thermometer, broken; one large glass paperweight, with a view of Niagara Falls inside; twelve discs of metal, evidently intended to resemble coins; a broken jackknife; three knobs, form sugar bowls or other pieces of china, and an even dozen pine cones. No one can fail to realize how frightful this collection of objects could be when smeared with gilt paint and placed where the unwary might stumble upon it suddenly.

There was the sleek looking, black enameled fire shovel, designed to clean out the ash pit of the kitchen range, a simple, useful article of kitchen furnishings. But, dragged from under the eaves where perhaps its conscience stricken desecrator had concealed it long ago, it was found to be painted horribly with greens and reds, to have a view of a fireplace painted inside, and a red ribbon, faded, but still convincing evidence, tied around the handle!

Rope is one of the necessary things on the farm, aboard the ship and often in the household, but it was never intended that mankind should weave it into designs that resemble a spider’s web and then leave it carelessly around where the innocent might find it. Yet they did these things; the proof is in the objects still found in Vineyard homes of respectability. They are there, and no one knows what danger is lurking in his attic unless he has searched through its most concealed recesses and dragged to light and destruction all these relics.

Compiled by Hilary Wallcox