For 60 years, mysterious pieces of furniture have sat in Ball State's circulation collection, checked out occasionally and used in classrooms and lectures. While Educational Resources knew the collection's manufacturer, its geographical origin remained a mystery until only recently.
From 1938 to 1943, Ball State purchased 42 pieces of miniature furniture, built at a scale of two inches to the foot, in exact detail and construction to the originals. All drawers were removable, cabinet doors had latches and beds often had mattresses with linen.
"If the original had a cane bottom chair then the miniature had a cane bottom chair," said Shawn D. Abbott, educational resource evening supervisor.
"The W.P.A. Collection: Artisan Products of the Depression Era" may be viewed through Jan. 6 on the second floor of the Bracken Library outside of Archives and Special Collections.
The pieces came from the Works Progress Administration, a federal program started by then-President Franklin D. Roosevelt, to provide jobs for the unemployed during the Great Depression.
Hill said the collection was educational in nature, and librarians did not expect the furniture to become collectible or historical items.
"We weren't interested in maintaining extensive records," Hill said.
The library began rotating displays of its collection this year, and media librarian Diane Hill wanted the furniture to be a part of it. She asked Abbott to begin research on the collection, and in mid-October, Abbot found a thesis from Butler University, tracing the collection to a factory in Evansville.
The thesis, written in 1963, states that seven men worked in the second floor of an Evansville community center, manufacturing the furniture for use in schools, museums and libraries throughout the state.
According to Abbott, Bracken library has around 150,000 items in the circulating collection, including games, maps, models and American Indian artifacts.
"There were so few pieces made and the collection is a rare thing overall," Abbot said of the furniture pieces. "But no one thought about it."