Tuesday, November 3, 2015

1800's Trivia ~ The Spill Keeper

I've received quite a few emails inquiring about the mention of a Spill Keeper in my profile article of American Patchwork & Quilting magazine (Dec, 2015).  In the 'What Is Treenware' inset (pg 20), the writer gave a few clues as to its purpose, but because of space, a photo was not included.

My Spill Keeper sits atop one of my favorite antique finds, the horizontal spice box, and is the little blue box at the far right.

In this close-up, you can see it a little better.  It's about the size of a deck of cards.  
This dear piece of carved treenware has three compartments, and a hand carved little spoon.  Pioneers would save little bits of flammable scraps and materials of any kind, such as threads and fabric, lint and leaves that could be used in starting a fire.  The bits would be placed in one of the compartments, and the spoon would crush and compact the bits.  

When holding the Spill Keeper as our pioneering ancestors would, you can see how the blue paint has been worn away from two grasping fingers, giving it a little more character, in my humble opinion.  
Why it's called a Spill Keeper I don't know.  It's likely a term lost to the past, just as the need for a one is.  It remains an artifact of nineteenth century living, and yet another tangible relic of their frugal lifestyle.  

We are so spoiled and blessed in many ways.  I think, though, maybe they would look at us with our many conveniences and think, perhaps, that life is way too fast in the twenty-first century...so, no thanks..... they'll keep their simpler way of life.  Fun to ponder, isn't it?!  
This photo was sent to me by Angie Roberts, shop owner of The Noble Quilter in Elk River, MN.  These lovely ladies are some of the women in the shop's Prairie Women's Sewing Circle club.  As you can see by the wonderful display of quilts before them, they are quite an active group!!  Awesome job, my fellow Prairie Women!!  Your quilts are just lovely!!  Thanks, everyone, for sharing your talents with us.  

Don't forget....Friday, November 6th is the final installment of my 
Tucker Pocket Patchwork Sew-Along!!  
I'm so excited!!  


  1. Thank you for sharing this story. Our ancestors used what they had (because many of them had so little). Bravo for the quilting women/pioneers

  2. Before matches were in common use, a spill, in the sense of what the spill keeper would have been used for, would have been a large wood splinter or a tight twist of paper to transfer fire, such as for lighting candles or kindling for a wood fire or even lighting a pipe or cigar. Perhaps the box has 3 compartments: one for tinder (the broken-up bits of fibrous matter), one for a flint and/or firesteel, and another for spills. What a great find! : )

    1. Awesome history lesson, Jeanne!! Thank you so much for filling in the gaps. I only knew what the antique dealer told me about a Spill Keeper. Fascinating stuff. Thanks for taking the time to write your comment. Much appreciated!!

  3. I loved your history behind the Spill Keeper! I enjoy hearing about the old days and the 'things' they used in everyday life! Thanks for sharing!

  4. Fascinating peek into times past. Your home is so beautiful, inviting and cozy!

  5. Great share of info. And I am anxiously awaiting the next part of Tucker.

  6. How interesting...never would have guessed its use.

  7. Interesting post Pam - how lovely you have that bit of history in your possession - love the worn finger marks too!

  8. Very interesting. I always thought a ''spill'' was a twist of paper or a splinter of wood, collected for starting fires. I had / sold a keeper handcarved by a German or Swiss ancestor.

    Here s the dictionary version:

    noun: spill; plural noun: spills
    1. a thin strip of wood or paper used for lighting a fire, candle, pipe, etc.

    Middle English (in the sense ‘sharp fragment of wood’): obscurely related to spile. The current sense dates from the early 19th century.''

    1. Hi Liz ~ Thank you so much for your comment!! Another reader posted nearly the same comment and I love the additional information. All I knew was what the antique dealer told me, so I am grateful for the additional info. Cook stuff, for sure!

    2. Oh, Liz, how I'd have liked to see what your ancestor's spill keeper looked like! Was it similar to the one Pam has?

  9. Love this additional glimpse into your wonderful home!