A picture is worth a thousand words, so the old saying goes. While today’s mystery item didn’t generate quite that many guesses, it certainly exemplified the idea that one image can be interpreted in many different ways.

In the case of today’s item, all those interpretations seemed entirely logical: mortar of one kind of another (for corn/grain, spices, coffee, apothecary’s concoctions), early lobster buoy, dreidel. They also were entirely wrong, bringing to mind another adage (sort of): You can’t judge a book by its cover.

This one required some decidedly out-of-the-box — or should we say basket? — thinking: It’s a Penobscot Indian tatting basket block, circa 1900.

Middle-class ladies from Biddeford painting, reading, knitting, and tatting in 1887.

In case you’re one of those people whose immediate reaction amounts to “Come again?” and a scratch of the head, tatting is an old technique for handcrafting decorative lace with a series of knots and loops.

Today’s mystery item, made of wood, was used as a form around which to construct baskets that held tatting thread. The basket’s cover had a small hole in the center through which the thread would be fed as needed.

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