Have You Been Blackballed?

This entertaining book entered my life in a unique way. When I get bored, which isn’t often now thanks to school, I peruse auction sites for odd or interesting antique/vintage items that are also a deal.* It’s also a bonus if an item has an odd story AKA sends me down a fun rabbit hole.

So a few weeks ago, I came across this gem.

Old Ball Ballot Box

It was listed as a “ticket-taker” on the auction yet I couldn’t figure out how that would have worked. Would you have to fold the ticket into something tiny enough to fit in that little metal beak you can see in the middle? Luckily, they also included a picture of the underside which had a brand label.

Which led me down a rabbit hole and to this book which is mostly a copy of a catalog from a De Moulin Brothers catalog with a lot of added hilarious commentary. The company’s whole raison d’etre for much of its life has been items for fraternal lodges, think the Odd Fellows or the Masons, before it rebranded to become “the oldest and largest manufacturer of music performance group apparel”. It’s now called DeMoulin, but there is also a factory history museum that even has a Goat Riders Club. No, not that kind of goat.

To try and shorten an already long story, it wasn’t a “ticket-taker” at all but a ballot box and is a great example of where we get the term, “blackballed” from. The front section would be filled with a bunch of white balls and a handful of black ones. When it came time to vote in a new member of a fraternal organization, the members would vote by either placing a white or black ball in the wee metal beak. The box allowed members to vote in relative anonymity. (there were also much more elaborate boxes that did a much better job at keeping your vote secret at higher price points, of course)

While the number can vary, in some organizations, just one black ball meant that the new guy wasn’t going to be invited to join. The person would be considered blackballed. By doing it like this, it allowed them to vote their conscious and it wouldn’t harm the future unity of the group. I couldn’t be pissed at you for not voting my cousin Bubba in, for example.

Old Voting Box that uses balls
Some of the balls that came with mine have aged to a pretty blue

Rather than having obscure web pages to tell the story of my ballot box, I got a hold of The Extraordinary Catalog of Peculiar Inventions by Julia Suits because odd books with funny pictures are sort of my jam and reproductions of catalogs like this aren’t usually easily available in print.

Now, is this sort of item or even the book for everyone? Of course not. However is it a fun conversation piece and the perfect addition to the library of a person like me that loves oddities? YES.

*meaning not just finding higher-priced past sales but also a fairly consistent history of actually selling. Sometimes an item’s “value” will take too much work or time to actually realize that value. Large items, like furniture, often fall into this category, too much work!

Here’s to hoping that you never get a black ball.

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