This year saw most of the Little House homesites become the beneficiary of a wonderful donation of Little House artifacts from Richard Fisher of Cleves, Ohio.
Richard has been collecting artifacts related to the Little House books since the 1970’s, accumulating multiple copies of the books like the Fifth Independent Reader and The Polar and Tropical Worlds (aka Pa’s “big green book”). Also in his collection were several pieces of the Rogers and Brothers Crown silverware pattern owned by Laura and Almanzo (called their “wedding silverware”), as well as enough late-1800’s Indian-head pennies to create a display replicating the Christmas pennies Laura wrote of receiving in Little House on the Prairie.
Barb and George Hawkins of Little House Site Tours had the privilege of delivering Richard’s donations during their tours in May (the Midwest) and August (Malone).
The homesite museums in Pepin, Burr Oak, Independence, and Spring Valley all received a copy of the big green book, the Fifth Independent Reader, silverware samples, and the pennies.
Mansfield, where the Wilders’ original silverware lives, received a copy of the green book, the Fifth Independent Reader, and the pennies.
The Laura Ingalls Wilder Memorial Society in De Smet houses the real Polar and Tropical Worlds owned by Charles Ingalls, so they received the Fifth Independent Reader, a silverware sample, and the pennies.
The museum at Walnut Grove received silverware samples and pennies, since they already have examples of the other items.
Richard began collecting his artifacts, pre-eBay, by prowling antique stores with the intent of finding a bread plate like the Wilders’ with the inscription “Give us this Day our Daily Bread.” He was successful, and has since been able to find duplicates of the entire “City Set” of glassware that Laura and Almanzo ordered from the 1885 Montgomery Ward Catalog for their first Christmas together.
Another gem in Richard’s collection is a replica of the Wilders’ mantel clock. The original rests in Rocky Ridge Farm. The “Pansy” model, by E.N. Welch, was listed for sale in the Montgomery Ward Catalog. In The First Four Years Laura tells of this gift the couple gave to each other one Christmas, indicating that Almanzo traded a load of hay for the clock. (It is not mentioned as surviving the fire, so it is unknown whether it is the original clock the Wilders owned or one they bought later.
In 1998, Richard participated in the Laura Ingalls Wilder Study Tour sponsored by Vitterbo University of Wisconsin, which I attended as well. While visiting the replica log cabin on the Little House on the Prairie site in Kansas, Richard delighted all the participants by handing each of us an Indian head penny–an appropriate souvenir of our visit.
In DeSmet in 2001, Richard gave an outstanding presentation featuring his hobby and collection to a group of Laura enthusiasts and educators present for “New Perspectives on Laura Ingalls Wilder.” He presented a slide show of his artifacts and brought some along for viewing. All were were astonished to see a perfect replica of the jewel box Laura writes of receiving as a Christmas gift in On the Banks of Plum Creek. It is called a Fairing Trinket Box, and Laura must have cherished it, because hers rests in the museum in Mansfield. Hers, however, has a large chip in the porcelain.
Richard’s knowledge of the artifacts used in the Little House books is remarkable, and his generous spirit will leave our beloved Little House sites richer for generations to come, as children and adults alike continue to appreciate their charm, and continue to wonder about the story behind the stories.
I think I can speak for all lovers of the Little House world with a resounding, “Thank you Richard!”