But What Is It?

The cottage that my parents are renting is sixty or more years old (or at least the original section is), and has been both a family cottage and a year-round home in that time. Even though nobody lives there any more, the remnants of occupation remain — meaning that there are all kinds of interesting things tucked away in the back of cupboards, drawers, and shelves. In the kitchen/dining area alone we spotted a full set of vintage silverware (silver plate) and crystal glassware, alongside classic Pyrex mixing bowls, a potato ricer, and ornamental tea tins from the 1970’s. We’ve also found less likely things, like an old Mechano set, a wooden chess set, a bound book a couple of hundred pages long about one family’s genealogy, and what we think are authentic woven Navajo bowls. And then there’s this:

I haven’t the slightest clue what to make of it. The board under this device is about a foot long, to give an idea of scale, and the handle fits comfortably in my hand. But is it even something that’s supposed to go in the kitchen? Or does it really belong in the workshop in the basement, but was never put away? Or is it some kind of small farm implement (a not unreasonable supposition as there are bits of vintage/antique farming equipment decorating some of the exterior walls)?

As you can see, the tool is hinged, and still opens and closes smoothly. Based on the beveled edges of the triangular part, I would deduce it’s for cutting things — but what? Cigars? Cigarettes? Vegetables? Cheese? I haven’t the foggiest. Or is it a weird door knocker? Or perhaps just a novelty doodad made out of salvaged parts, used as a conversation piece to elicit confusion from guests?

My searches of the Internet have yielded nothing similar, and I know so little on this subject that I have an enormously broad range of search terms with which to start. Does anyone out there have a clue as to what this is supposed to be?

(Honestly, this is worse than the time I was trying to find a Kartoffelfeuer like my in-laws have. That was the only name they’d every used to refer to a very specialized cooking pot. Literally translated from German, the name means “potato fire”, but it’s actually a kind of terracotta potato baking pot. It’s also known as a “diable à patates” (Devil with potatoes? Potato devil?) in French or a “patatiera” in Italian — or so I discovered in my research. At any rate, I didn’t know that the style I was looking for is specifically a “Thomas Kartoffelfeuer“. I spent a really long time looking through information about potato fires, cooking your potato in a fire, etc. If you don’t know the right terminology, especially in a language that is not your first, it can be really difficult to find the right information.)

4 thoughts on “But What Is It?

  1. It’s a homemade chopper of some sort. the cutting blade is a sickle tooth, and I doubt the upper cutting edge was used much. It could have been used to chop/trim all sorts of things. I’m wondering if it was bodged together with that long handle to assist someone without a lot of arm strength to be able to easily chop up stuff. You can see from the wear marks that it swiveled as well, so you could move the blade through a carrot or potatoe pretty easily to get small slices or chunks.
    We had something similar to this to trim stems on bunches of flowers at the florist I worked at.


    1. I see, from the mounting bolt, a piece from a hand pump, a sickle tooth, and a long handle that could have come from something like a hand hoe for gardening. The more I think about it I’m wondering if is was made for someone with a hand/arm weakness, like after a stroke, or amputation, where one arm can make gross up and down movements but not fine work. The ‘good’ hand would be able to feed vegetables into the chopper while the other arm moved the blade up and down.
      I would love to see the back. You could unbolt the S arm from the upright, and remove that assembly for cleaning and sharpening. I’m also looking at the ‘hanging’ hole, and wondering if there might have been a dowel in a counter somewhere to help keep the board in place.


      1. Sadly, I’m not at the cottage at the moment, or I’d take more pictures. I will see if I can get my parents to do so before they return. But I think that you may be correct in that it’s a homemade chopper, possibly for someone with weakness in the hand/arm. I know that the lady who lived in the house prior to it being rented out as a cottage was quite elderly; she had to move to an assisted living facility, so it’s not unreasonable to assume that she had some physical issues. However, the device looks like it hasn’t been used for a good many years, so it may have been made for someone else.


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