Can You Name the Vintage Item From a Description?

SHOPPING

William J. Wright

7 Min Quiz

Image: Peter Zelei Images / Moment / Getty Images

About This Quiz

The passage of time brings change to everything. Like it or not, it's inevitable. Technology, fashion, art and culture are all ultimately transitory. For every innovation that brings convenience, every gadget that promises miracles, every garment guaranteed to never go out of style, you can rest assured that the next generation will find it all at best quaint and archaic, and, at worst completely unrecognizable. What's commonplace now will no doubt be as primitive as the spinning wheel to our grandkids. Nevertheless, the past has value, things to teach us and maybe even things to make us scratch our heads or smile. That's what this quiz is all about — the fun of discovering the past.  

Consider this an archeological dig into the not-so-distant past, or perhaps a trip back in your own personal time machine. We've gathered a collection of vintage items as varied as farm implements, housewares, clothing and even musical instruments from the past couple of centuries for you to discover. You'll find things here from the practical to the odd to the downright dangerous. So, get ready to test your knowledge of yesteryear, and maybe learn a thing or two along the way. This is our challenge to all you time travelers young and old. Can you identify these vintage items from a description?

This pedal-powered Victorian vehicle will get you there in style. Can you name it?

Also called a "high wheel," the penny-farthing was the original bicycle. Named for the British coins, "penny" and "farthing," because the difference in the size of the bike's wheels corresponded to the the difference in the size of the coins, they fell out of favor by late 1880s.

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If your great-grandparents wanted some fresh O.J., they would need to use this fancy contraption. What is it?

These utilitarian devices, often made of glass, could be quite beautiful and highly decorative. Resembling a small bowl with a slightly pointed, raised surface in the middle, a sliced piece of fruit would be manually pressed into the juicer to extract the juice.

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No, this item is not a medieval torture device. Can you name this obsolete kitchen tool?

Vintage eggbeaters and hand mixers have a distinctly Rube Goldbergian look about them. Comprised of a handle and crank connected to a series of gears and one or more whisks or beaters, they work on a combination of rotary action and elbow grease.

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Long before in-line skates, what would you need to secure wheels to your shoes?

Immortalized in the the 1971 pop hit "Brand New Key" by Melanie, skate keys were small tools used to fasten skates to shoes in the late 1950s. Skates requiring keys became a thing of the past with the popularity of skates with integrated shoes.

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These replaceable components could be found in most electronic devices like TVs and radios until the 1970s. Can you identify this item?

Vacuum tubes, known as valves in the U.K., are devices that control the flow of electric current. Once used in most electronic devices such as televisions and radios, they mostly fell out of favor with the rise of transistors and solid-state technology.

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This early device for playing back sound used wax cylinders as a recording medium. Can you identify it?

The graphophone was an evolution of Thomas Edison's phonograph developed by the Volta Laboratory. An improvement on Edison's steel cylinder design, the graphophone used grooved, wax-coated cylinders as a playback medium. Wax cylinder records were replaced by the more popular disc phonograph record.

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In the 1960s, you'd need one of these if you wanted to use your Instamatic in the dark. Can you name this popular camera accessory?

Flash cubes were disposable instant flashes for use with many consumer grade cameras used in the 1960s. Containing four tiny flash bulbs detonated by an electrical charge, flash cubes provided amateur photographers with an easy and inexpensive way to take pictures in low light.

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Can you name the inexpensive printing machine that predated the modern copier?

The mimeograph holds a special place in the hearts of people who were in school in the 1960s through the '80s. Frequently used by teachers to create handouts and worksheets, the economical mimeograph worked by forcing ink through a stencil. Mimeographed documents were known for their fragrant purple ink.

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No well-heeled British gentleman of the 1960s would be caught without this garment-smoothing device. Can you name it?

The trouser press is a large electrical appliance used for removing wrinkles from trousers. Common in high-end hotels, they were a favorite device of businessmen on the go. Owning a trouser press was something of a status symbol for young, British gentlemen in the 1960s.

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Can you name this casual hat worn by women in the Colonial era?

Also called a Corday, the mob cap was a popular piece of casual headwear worn by women in the Colonial era. Made to be worn indoors, mob caps were linen bonnets with ruffled brims that covered the hair, often with ribbons or straps which tied under the chin.

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Before electricity, you might use one of these to keep you warm on a frigid night. Can you name this antique household item?

The bed warmer is a prime example of comfort over safety. Comprised of a hinged copper pan with a handle, a bed warmer is filled with hot embers and placed beneath the covers of a cold bed. Fortunately, hot water bottles, electric blankets and modern heating have made them obsolete.

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Don't get your fingers too close to this time-saving laundry device! Can you identify it?

Long before the dryer, you would use one of these devices to extract excess water from your clothes. The aptly named mangle was constructed with two rollers and a crank. Wet clothing would be cranked through the rollers to press out moisture in a manner similar to a hand-cranked pasta maker.

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Can you identify the Victorian tool that made getting dressed less of a chore?

The buttonhook was an indispensable tool for everyday life in the Victorian era. Consisting of a handle with a small metal hook, this tool simplified the process of buttoning garments, shoes and gloves. Often made with decorative flourishes, antique buttonhooks are quite collectible.

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Can you identify this item used for fermenting food?

Pickling crocks are stoneware vessels used for pickling and fermenting foods. Foods are placed in the crock with salt, vinegar and spices and allowed to ferment over a period of days or weeks. They are particularly good for making sauerkraut or its Korean cousin, kimchi,

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This safety-conscious item was once a standard fixture in bathroom medicine cabinets. Can you name it?

Razor slots were small openings on bathroom walls or inside medicine cabinets. They were simply a convenient place for disposing of used safety razor blades. Razor slots were a bit of a short-sighted innovation since walls filled with used razor blades can pose a hazard for home renovators.

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You've probably seen this item of menswear in old movies or cartoons. Can you name this stylish accessory for supporting your socks?

Sock garters, also called suspenders, are small, adjustable straps used to hold calf-length socks in place. Although they are still made, they fell out of favor with the advent of industrial knitting machines capable of sewing elastic.

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This household implement from yesteryear could really raise a dust storm. Can you name it?

Before the vacuum cleaner, one's options for cleaning a dusty rug or carpet were severely limited. The rug beater needs little in the way of explanation: simply hang the rug on the line and beat the dust out of it. Repeat as necessary or for as long as your lungs can take it.

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Can you name the valuable little slips of paper grocery stores gave to customers with each purchase?

S & H Green Stamps were a popular and long-running customer reward program in use by many retailers from the 1930s into the 1980s. Stamps could be exchanged for household items, clothing and toys through a catalog. S&H has converted to computer-based points, but old stamps still have cash value!

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Can you name this hazardous household appliance from 1952?

This 1952 appliance has "bad idea" written all over it! The garbage burner was a trash can-sized incinerator that vented smoke through a pipe in the wall. Although its advertising promised the convenience of "no more trash burning sessions outdoors," it never caught on with the public.

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Thanks to the advent of flat-screen technology, it would be hard to use one of these eye-saving items from the 1950s. Can you name this popular mid-century living room fixture?

Looking at a 1950s TV lamp, one might come to the conclusion that these backlit sculptures were merely decorative — sort of a hood ornament for your television. Nevertheless, they were sold as viewing accessories to reduce eye strain when watching the tube in a darkened room.

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Can you identify this piece of corrective eyewear that was popular among wealthy upper-class men in the early 20th century?

The monocle is a single lens in a frame used to improve the vision of one eye. Monocles were held in place by the orbit of the eye or with a small raised frame called a gallery. In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, monocles were associated in the public mind with wealth and prestige.

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Can you name the novelty device which allowed users to view 3D images?

Popular in the 19th century, the stereoscope allows for the viewing of images in 3D through the use of a pair of stereographic images. Through the stereoscope, the viewer sees separate right and left pictures taken from slightly different angles combined into a single three-dimensional image,

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Early school desks had holes for holding this once-essential accessory. Can you name it?

Inkwells are small jars for holding ink. A writer would dip his quill, brush or steel pen in the inkwell or use it to fill his fountain pen. Inkwells became less prevalent in the early 20th century with the advent of the reservoir fountain pen which needed less frequent refilling.

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Can you identify this slotted utensil for dissolving sugar into a bitter, distilled spirit?

Banned in the U.S. until 2007, absinthe is a distilled spirit made from grand wormwood, anise and several other botanicals. The drink was at its peak of popularity during the Victorian Era. Extremely bitter, it's usually blended with water poured over a cube of sugar in a specially slotted absinthe spoon.

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This tiny purse from the late 18th century was also called an "indispensable." Can you name it?

Reticules were small, drawstring purses carried by women in the 1700s through the early 1800s. A forerunner of the modern handbag, reticules were often homemade and elaborately decorated.

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These felt footwear accessories were once considered a stylish necessity for formal wear. What are they?

Spats, also known as spatterdashes, originally served the practical purpose of protecting shoes from dirt, rain and mud. However, they also became a fashion accessory and a mark of high fashion. The popularity of spats declined with a move to more informal modes of dress and paved streets.

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This vintage farm implement is at home in the hands of the Grim Reaper. Can you identify this item?

Used for harvesting grains like wheat or cutting high grass, the scythe is a large, curved blade attached to a pole. It's largely been made obsolete by tractor-drawn reapers and combine harvesters.

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Can you name this deadly Victorian child care innovation comprised of a glass container, a length of rubber tubing and a nipple?

The Victorian feeding bottle differs greatly from the modern baby bottle. Comprised of a distinctive round (often described as "banjo-shaped") glass container with a length of rubber tubing and an attached nipple, feeding bottles were difficult to clean resulting in the buildup of deadly bacteria.

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This grooming tool was the preferred implement for shaving for nearly two centuries. Can you name it?

Also called a cut-throat razor, the straight razor's simple design made it the only option for shaving until the invention of the safety razor. The electric razor and disposable razors further cut into the straight razor's market share, but in the last decade, the straight razor has made a resurgence.

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This vintage item for keeping a lady's hat in place was both practical and decorative. Can you name it?

Hatpins, usually worn in pairs, were used to secure a hat to the hair. In addition to their practical and aesthetic functions, they could be used for self-defense. Often manufactured with highly decorative heads, antique hatpins have become highly collectible.

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Can you name this mid-century device used for illuminating an aluminum Christmas tree?

Aluminum Christmas trees were a popular mid-century fad. Being made of metal, lighting them with electrical bulbs was hazardous. The solution was the color wheel, a lighted rotating disc with colorful, translucent segments. Placed near the tree, the wheel projected light through the branches.

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These spectacles designed without earpieces grip the bridge of the nose. Can you identify this 19th century eyewear?

Pince-nez, derived from the French words for "pinch" and "nose," are eyeglasses without temple arms. Designed to grip the bridge of the nose, pince-nez were popular in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. President Theodore Roosevelt and author Leo Tolstoy were famous pince-nez wearers.

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These pressurized containers popular in the 1930s used for dispensing carbonated water were also popular props in slapstick comedies. Can you name this fizzy contraption?

The seltzer bottle or soda siphon had its heyday in the '20s and '30s. Used to dispense carbonated water or soda, their popularity declined as bottled carbonated sodas became popular. Seltzer bottles were also used by comic performers like the Three Stooges to dispense comedic mayhem.

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Here's another one from the Victorian era: These decorative clips were used to raise long skirts to avoid dirt or allow easier movement. Can you name them?

The skirt lifter or hem lifter is another example of Victorian practicality fused with aesthetics. These often decorative metal clips were attached to the hem of a dress and connected to the belt by a length of ribbon or a chain.

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Can you name the old-style can opener that made distinctive triangular holes?

Church keys were used to punch holes in beverage cans before the invention of pull tabs. What a can opener that looks nothing like a key has to do with church is a bit of a mystery. The name seems to be a holdover from an earlier style of bottle opener that did somewhat resemble a large key.

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Resembling a simple wooden box with a crank, this vintage piece of kitchenware was once crucial to making a beloved morning beverage. Can you name this item?

Coffee mills are used to grind roasted coffee beans into a granulated form for brewing. Antique coffee mills are hand-cranked utilizing small blades or burrs to tear the coffee beans into a powder. With the rise of coffee culture and gourmet coffees, the coffee mill has made a comeback.

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This vintage keyboard instrument can be heard on the Beatles' "Strawberry Fields Forever." Can you name it?

Developed in England in the early 1960s, the Mellotron was a mechanical, analog forerunner of the modern sampling keyboard. Using pre-recorded tape triggered by a keyboard, the Mellotron was capable of producing a variety of sounds, making it a favorite of '60s psychedelic rockers.

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Can you identify this deceptive piece of menswear?

The dickey is a false shirt front worn under a jacket or other garment. Originally a formal accessory to be worn with a tuxedo, dickeys were made with a variety of materials including rigid celluloid, cardboard and cloth. Recently, cloth dickeys have been reborn as a women's fashion.

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Can you name this small decorative object attached to a watch chain?

A fob is a small ornament attached to a pocket watch chain. Although fobs are often decorative, they served the practical purpose of giving the wearer something to grab when pulling a watch from a vest pocket. Wristwatches made the watch fob and pocket watch little more than nostalgic curiosities.

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Can you name this small, ornamental box used in the 19th century to offset the foul odors of Victorian life?

The Victorians had notoriously low standards of sanitation. With streets filled with animal and human waste, the rich developed this stylish way of protecting their delicate noses. The vinaigrette was a small metal box holding a sponge soaked in aromatic vinegar to block out the stench.

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