Have you heard the term spinner’s weasel? I hadn’t until a few days ago, when I started researching the photo above. The photo is slightly smaller than a cabinet card and more square. I would tentatively date it to around 1905 (+/- 10 years). On the back, a previous owner wrote the word Shaker, referring to the United Society of Believers, commonly known as the Shakers. I don’t know if the reference is accurate. The photo came to me from Texas, but could have originated elsewhere.
Rather than try to explain the function of a spinner’s weasel, I’ll quote Wikipedia:
A spinner’s weasel consists of a wheel which is revolved by the spinner in order to measure off thread or yarn after it has been produced on the spinning wheel. The weasel is usually built so that the circumference is six feet, so that 40 revolutions produces 80 yards of yarn, which is a skein. It has wooden gears inside and a cam, designed to cause a popping sound after the 40th revolution, telling the spinner that she has completed the skein.
So, the gear directly in front of the woman below had a cam (peg) attached to it which would make a snapping or popping sound after the 40th revolution of the “wheel” holding the yarn:
The popping of a spinner’s weasel may have been the inspiration for the English nursery rhyme Pop! Goes the Weasel. The tune came to the Americas in the 1850s as a dance song, with new words added by various publishers. For example, the song’s Wikipedia page has the following:
In her autobiographical novel Little House in the Big Woods, published in 1932, American author Laura Ingalls Wilder recalls her father in 1873 singing the lyrics:
All around the cobbler’s bench,
The monkey chased the weasel.
The preacher kissed the cobbler’s wife –
Pop! goes the weasel!
A penny for a spool of thread,
Another for a needle,
That’s the way the money goes –
Pop! goes the weasel!
Another name for a spinner’s weasel is clock reel. With the new year less than a week old, I can’t help but think about the cyclical nature of the calendar, with the days of the year winding up gradually like a skein of yarn…. On that note, one more verse:
I’ve no time to wait and sigh,
No patience to wait ’til by and by.
Kiss me quick, I’m off, goodbye!
Pop! goes the weasel.