This post first appeared over at ClarkHoward.com.
Although the term “life hacks” is a relative newcomer to our daily vernacular, the idea of household tips and tricks is far from new. So when I discovered a series of century old household hints, I had to dig a little deeper. Created by Gallaher Ltd. of Belfast and London, these delightfully illustrated cardboard inserts were included in cigarette packs as “stiffeners.” Described as a “How-To” series, many of these tips are as useful today as they were for our great-great-grandparents.
Tip #1, How to cool wine without ice:
“If no ice is available for cooling wine, a good method is to wrap the bottle in flannel and place it in a crock beneath the cold running water tap. Allow the water to run over it, as shows in the picture, and in about ten minutes the wine will be thoroughly cool and ready for the table.”
Tip#2, How to revive cut flowers:
“To revive choice blooms that have faded during transit, plunge the stems into hot water, and allow them to remain until the water has cooled. By that time the flowers will have revived. The ends of the stems should then be cut off and the blossoms placed in cold water in the usual way.”
Tip#3, How to pull out long nails:
“It is often rather difficult to pull out a long nail from wood into which it has been driven, for when drawn out a shirt distance as in A, there is no purchase from which to pull it further. If, however, a small block of wood be placed under the pincers, as in B, the nail can be pulled right out without difficulty.”
Tip #4, How to prevent eye-glasses “steaming:”
“The moisture which collects on eye-glasses cause a great deal of trouble, but if the glasses are daily rubbed with soap and well polished afterwards, a very thin invisible film of soap remains, which has the effect of preventing the condensation of moisture on the glasses.”
Tip#5, To separate glass tumblers:
“When two glass tumblers stick together there is a danger of breakage in trying to separate them. The simplest and most effective method of releasing the glasses is to put cold water into the upper one and place the lower one in warm water. They will be found to separate at once.”
Of course, not all of the century-old how-to tricks can be classified as entirely useful. For example, “How to draw a duck without pencil leaving the paper.”
Other tips are clearly dated, such as this “How to use up coal dust” card. Although I do appreciate the unique insight into how difficult daily life was for people at the beginning of the twentieth century.
“An economic way to treat coal dust, and to make same into bricks of fuel is to mix the dust with salt (about a handful of salt to each shovelful of coal dust), add water and stir to a paste, and mould the brick in an old tin box, afterwards placing on a board pr a shelf to dry.”
There are multiple tips that involve potatoes, which were certainly in great supply.
For example, this “How to clean oil painting” card:
“The picture shows a very effective method. Painting should first be well dusted and then rubbed gently with last surface of a cut raw potato., the lather being rubbed away with a soft rag. Dirty part of potato must constantly be pared off in order to keep clean the surface applied the picture. Finish off with a rub of pine linseed oil.”
I’m pretty sure that this method would not win any art historian’s seal of approval!
The last how-to card I’ll share is a cringe-worthy tip, that should in no way be practiced in today’s modern times. Do NOT try this at home!
How to treat bite of animal:
“A tight ligature should be placed round the limb between the wound and the body. Thoroughly cleanse the wound, and if there is any suspicion of madness in the attacking animal the place should be well sucked and cauterised with luns caustle, or a white hot iron, after cutting away the surrounding flesh with a sharp clean knife. Stimulant should be given to the patient. Send for doctor.”
It’s a good thing to live in the time of modern medicine, because although I don’t know what “luns caustle” is, I am familiar with the term “white hot iron!” So I think I’ll pass on this particular olde timey household hint.
The New York Public Library has a extensive digital collection of these how-to cards, as well as many others. They’re a fascinating look into daily household life for those who lived a hundred years ago. People who found many uses for potatoes, and hopefully stayed far, far away from any rabid animals.
“Use it up, wear it out, make it do or do without.”
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