Commonplace items open a window for us into the culture of early America. The coins that were used in trade, household items like quill pens, and even small nods to vanity like the ostrich plumes, all speak volumes about the everyday lives led by early Americans.
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A shortage of cash in the North American colonies forced the colonists to use a wide variety of coins from many countries in addition to paper currency. Each colony would set its own exchange rate for the value of coins and bills compared to the British pound sterling. A coin or bill, for example, might have one value in Virginia but quite another in New York. It was common for merchants to weigh coins and value them by metal content rather than strictly by face value; this practice explains the use of old, thin coins to make toys (see, for example, our Whirligig).
References to the feather quill pen occur as early as the 6th century CE, as the scribes of the medieval European monasteries and the great Islamic libraries safeguarded their collections of illuminated manuscripts against the perils of the Middle Ages. The history of Europe and the Americas continued to be written with the quill pen as patriots, artists, and scholars created their lasting contributions to history. Although mass produced steel pen points replaced the quill pen in common use by the late 19th century, the fine sharpness and flexibility of the quill nib still gives enjoyment to the calligrapher and the artist as well as the historian.
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Popularized elaborately at the court of Louis XIV by Marie Antoinette, it was the fashion at various times during the past centuries to trim both men's and ladies' hats, or even ladies' hair arrangements, with feathers. Our plumes are dyed ostrich plumes, and our pheasant tails are left in their natural color. All are ready for millinery use.