A Mystery Artifact to Chew On

Forget Trident, Dentyne, Wrigley, and Orbit. If you want an authentic, historical gum-chewing experience, follow the lead of Native Americans. Collect and chew spruce gum. And to make your collecting experience easier, handcraft a tool to chip the dried and hardened sap–that’s what the “gum” is, after all–from the spruce tree.

Not unlike, say, today’s mystery artifact. Since that’s almost assuredly what it was used for, about a hundred years ago.

This spruce gum collector from Presque Isle–where MHS has a booth this week at the Northern Maine Fair!–dates to 1910. It provides a good example of a locally invented and manufactured device.

As best as folks at the Presque Isle Historical Society can figure out, it was used by inserting a handle into the socket on the left. A cup sits in the ring and catches the gum that the sharp rasp on the right end chips from the tree.

For more information on the spruce tree and how to harvest the resin and turn into gum, consult this USDA Forest Service guide. (Which features another image of a collecting tool.) If you want to read about the history of gum in general, chew on this fun look back from the Smithsonian Magazine blog, “Food and Think.”

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