Antique Eggs in the Old Barn

The old barn at Mule Springs.

Antique Eggs in the Old Barn

At the beginning of the barn restoration the work crew found a hand blown glass egg buried in the ground beneath a beam.  The discovery occurred during the first few “dangerous” days. The barn was leaning heavily to one side, and one of the vertical support beams inside the barn was broken, and no one knew if the barn would collapse when the work began.  One of the rotted sill beams, which should have been resting on the foundation, was lying in the dirt.  While he was digging, a workman disturbed a round white object, and when he picked it up, he discovered it was a perfectly preserved glass egg.  He realized if his shovel had dug just a little to the right, he would have smashed the egg.  The following day another glass egg was found.

Hand-blown glass eggs found buried beneath the old barn.

The builder was so excited to share the find.  When I arrived to see if the barn was still standing after another day of tugging and bracing Laurie, co-owner of Southslope WoodWorks, trotted up to me as soon as I got out of my car.  “Look what we found,” she exclaimed, and she held out a small box.  Inside, two eggs were lying on a bed of brown tissue paper.

Laurie said, “It looks like they’re chicken eggs.  We can’t believe they’re not broken.  The guys were pretty excited when they found these.  I wonder what they were used for?”

I bet they were employed to fool a farmer’s chickens, but I wasn’t sure if they fooled the chickens into laying more eggs or if they encouraged the hen to lay less eggs.  I’ve raised pigeons and placed plastic eggs under hens to slow down breeding in my lofts, but usually people want chickens to lay more eggs, because they eat the eggs.  But I’ve never kept chickens, so I wasn’t sure how the fake eggs worked.

I took the question to several online pigeon fancy groups I belong to, because many of these folks also raise chickens.  I discovered that glass eggs were very common in the mid-nineteenth century.  On the farm the plain white eggs had several uses: they were placed in an outside nest (usually on the ground) to encourage the hen to lay in the same place (so the farmer could easily find the eggs), and inside the coop they were placed in the nesting box to help induce a hen to begin laying eggs.

Glass eggs as they might have appeared in a farmyard mid-nineteenth century.

In the late 1800s glass eggs were decorated with colorful painted designs and given as gifts on Easter.  Since the eggs were made of glass, they lasted much longer than a real egg (as long as they remained unbroken) and became treasured heirlooms.

Glass Easter eggs Victorian Era -- photo courtesy Richard Cottrell.

Terry B from PigeonsNW explained how glass eggs helped with darning socks.  She wrote: “The egg was placed inside the toe or heel of the sock and the darning needle would slip across the egg surface during a stitch rather than snag other parts of the sock.”  Clever!

Roy Cooke a longtime pigeon fancier who lives in Georgia told me some people used “an instrument called a darning egg.”  A darning egg was made out of wood and sometimes it was painted. A long handle was attached to the wide bottom of the egg.

  Antique Darning Egg

The glass eggs tricked not only chickens and Easter celebrators, into thinking they could be real eggs, but they also mislead snakes.  Snakes eat eggs. Cooke explained how eggs were sometimes used to lessen the snake population around the chicken coop.  When a farmer was having frequent problems with snakes eating his family’s chicken eggs, he would place glass eggs in the nest.  The snake would slither into the coop, find the nest box, and eat the glass egg.  As the snake tried to leave the coop by sliding through the same slim hole in the wire, the bulge caused by the egg would snag the snake, and the egg would break.  And as Roy said, “No more snake.”  Roy reminded me these practices occurred in parts of the rural South where a family’s food came from what they could grow a raise, and the people’s resources for predator control was often ingenuity.

I’ve thought about what I might do with the glass eggs found in our barn.  I’ll be raising chicks in the spring, but I’m afraid I won’t risk breaking these eggs by actually “using” them around the farm.  I will display them somehow in our new house –along with a pile of square nails–as a reminder of a period in American history when everyday objects were both useful and beautiful.

Author’s Note:  Thanks to Roy Cooke, Samir Dzafic, Terry B, and Richard Cotrrell who provided family stories and historic information for this essay.

To see Richard Cottrell’s extensive Victorian Era Easter egg collection please visit My Old Historic House

Question for Readers:

Do you have any stories to share about glass eggs from your family history?

30 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by Mary Moyer on November 10, 2011 at 6:35 pm

    Thank you Sher for that very informative bit of history!!! How lucky you guys are to have 1. found this farm 2. To restore and rebuild 3. to discover all the wonders that it has brought to you!!
    Mary

    Reply

  2. Posted by gigi on November 10, 2011 at 7:28 pm

    fascinating! i would think this’d be as exciting as finding a pearl in a shell! delightful! thanks for all the research. great story yet again.

    Reply

  3. Posted by Cherry Rice on November 10, 2011 at 10:45 pm

    Thanks Sher!
    I remember fake eggs being used for mean chickens that did not want you to take their eggs. Helped stop fights among the hens too! I think my favorite story is the snake eating the egg then slithering away. Crunch!
    Cherry

    Reply

    • Posted by Mule Springs on November 11, 2011 at 3:49 am

      Cherry: How did that work exactly? Do you mean there were so many eggs that the chicken relaxed and let you take a few? Were your eggs made of glass? Sher

      Reply

  4. Posted by raincityk9 on November 11, 2011 at 4:45 am

    That’s really interesting! I used moonsnail shells to encourage young hens to use their proper boxes. Glass eggs – I wonder where they got them?

    Reply

    • Posted by Mule Springs on November 11, 2011 at 6:00 am

      What are moon snail shells? Did you find those on the beach? Much I don’t know about the eggs, such as where they came from, who created them. And Bruce wondered if they were heavy and made of thick glass. I didn’t say how light and relatively delicate they are. It is truly remarkable they survived all those years under the barn without breaking. :)

      Reply

  5. What an interesting story. I recall darning ankle socks when I was a schoolgirl, and in those years in Southern Africa, people used a wooden mushroom shaped object sometimes; or, for that matter, any suitable shaped rigid object.

    Reply

  6. Posted by Michelle Ginsburg on April 22, 2012 at 6:08 pm

    FzI have a glass egg that is ostrich size that was given to my paternal Granmother (1900-1964) when she was nine years old by her favorite Uncle. It’s beautifully decorated–even with 24kt gold! Often wondered its value?

    Reply

    • FzI have a glass egg that is ostrich size that was given to my paternal Granmother (1900-1964) when she was nine years old by her favorite Uncle. It’s beautifully decorated–even with 24kt gold! Often wondered its value? Hello — what a treasure you have regardless of the monetary worth. I have never seen such a large egg made into a decorative item like you describe — how special and wonderful, and I am so glad you have it. I have the paring knife my great-grandmother used and the lifter she used to open the lid on her wood cook stove.
      Thanks for reading and commenting. Sher

      Reply

  7. I have 9 glass eggs such as you had found, I found them with a bunch og old things that were being given away. I knew what they were and snatched them up. Do you have any idea of what they are worth?? I think they were just going to throw them away, how terrible that would’ve been!!!

    Reply

    • I have 9 glass eggs such as you had found, I found them with a bunch og old things that were being given away. I knew what they were and snatched them up. Do you have any idea of what they are worth?? I think they were just going to throw them away, how terrible that would’ve been!!!
      Hello- what a find for you too. I don’t have any idea what they are worth. For me their worth is sentimental value, but you might try taking them to an area antique store and they may be able to price them for you. Good luck. Sher

      Reply

  8. Posted by Kay Miggenburg on October 19, 2012 at 9:07 pm

    I have a basket of these glass eggs, all of them painted with flowers, that my aunt painted when I was a child. She painted them and gave them to us for Easter and she even dated them. Some are as far back as 1949. I remember she bought these eggs at the hardware store for just a little bit of nothing. The hardware stores are forever gone just as the glass eggs they sold are gone. If anyone knows where I can get any of these glass eggs please let me know. I would love to paint my own to add to my collections. Kay

    Reply

    • I have a basket of these glass eggs, all of them painted with flowers, that my aunt painted when I was a child. She painted them and gave them to us for Easter and she even dated them. Some are as far back as 1949. I remember she bought these eggs at the hardware store for just a little bit of nothing. The hardware stores are forever gone just as the glass eggs they sold are gone. If anyone knows where I can get any of these glass eggs please let me know. I would love to paint my own to add to my collections. Kay

      Hello Kay — thank you for your interesting comments. I imagine you can find some plain glass eggs through E-Bay. I love the idea of having hand-painted designs on the eggs. You have a real treasure. Best of luck in your search– Sher

      Reply

  9. Posted by shane on November 5, 2012 at 6:19 pm

    Today I was walking in the woods next to an old stone wall when I saw one of these glass eggs sitting between two stones on top of the wall. don’t know much about it but it’s a neat find

    Reply

    • Today I was walking in the woods next to an old stone wall when I saw one of these glass eggs sitting between two stones on top of the wall. don’t know much about it but it’s a neat find Hi Shane: That is neat. I wonder how the egg remained there without falling from the wind and rain? Was it protected? Because you say it was on top of an old wall. I am curious what part of the country you live in? Was this a farm-rural area where such eggs might be expected to be still around from the days of early farming? Sher

      Reply

      • Posted by marcia grossell on November 6, 2012 at 12:36 am

        I found about 8-10 of these in some old boxes at a rummage sale…They r soooo coool!!
        I live in Northern Minnesota…

      • I found about 8-10 of these in some old boxes at a rummage sale…They r soooo coool!!
        I live in Northern Minnesota…

        Hi Marcia:
        That’s a great find. It would be so interesting to know the history of those eggs. Who had them and how they were used. Sigh, but probably we will never know. Thanks for commenting, Sher

  10. […] the coop they were placed in the nesting box to help induce a hen to begin laying eggs." Antique Eggs in the Old Barn | Mule Springs Reply With […]

    Reply

  11. Amazing. We are in the process of having our c.1784 barn restored, and when I came home today our timber framers had found a glass egg identical to yours buried in the dirt underneath a concrete pad that was poured in 1917. One of the workers identified it as being used to encourage laying. How weird that we found ours intact buried in a barn, too.

    Reply

    • Amazing. We are in the process of having our c.1784 barn restored, and when I came home today our timber framers had found a glass egg identical to yours buried in the dirt underneath a concrete pad that was poured in 1917. One of the workers identified it as being used to encourage laying. How weird that we found ours intact buried in a barn, too.

      What a wonderful coincidence. Thanks for sharing this. It is amazing that our eggs were intact. They must be quite tough. I now have mine inside a songbird’s nest sitting on the granite counter top in our new bathroom. A fond reminder of the restoration of the barn and the history here at Mule Springs.

      Thanks for your comments and best of success with your project. Sher

      Reply

      • Posted by marcia grossell on August 12, 2013 at 11:57 pm

        Thanks everybody!! Not sure how old mine are but i have them in a bowl with a beautiful yellow water picture!! I love them old or not!! :)

  12. I have my Gramdmothers, it was given to her when she was a baby. She was born 1897

    Reply

    • I have my Gramdmothers, it was given to her when she was a baby. She was born 1897

      Wow — that is remarkable. I have a strong feeling these eggs are pretty tough. My cat just knocked one off of the nest that was sitting on a granite counter top, and the egg hit the tile floor and did not break. Still, I had to move the eggs for how many times can I get that lucky, and it would be a real shame if they did break. Thanks for your comment. Sher

      Reply

  13. I have a glass egg my grandmother gave me. She said they used to put them in a next to encourage a hen to sit on the nest to lay her eggs.

    Reply

  14. Posted by Tala on June 12, 2014 at 1:59 am

    The glass eggs are actually quite durable, my mother has a few that had been given to her when her grandmother passed, and they had been used on the farm they had. She also have a few that are carved eggs, made of stone used for the same purpose, and also handy snake bait. Snake would eat the warm stone egg, and get stuck in the hole it slithered in through and would become dinner the next time my great-grandparents came out. Also good deterrent for weasels/ferrets, they would find the stone eggs and after a fews tries they would move on to toher feeding opportunities

    Reply

    • The glass eggs are actually quite durable, my mother has a few that had been given to her when her grandmother passed, and they had been used on the farm they had. She also have a few that are carved eggs, made of stone used for the same purpose, and also handy snake bait. Snake would eat the warm stone egg, and get stuck in the hole it slithered in through and would become dinner the next time my great-grandparents came out. Also good deterrent for weasels/ferrets, they would find the stone eggs and after a fews tries they would move on to toher feeding opportunities

      Very interesting details. Thank you. I have a friend in Georgia who told me about they were used for snakes, but I did not know about their use for weasels and martins. That makes excellent sense. Thanks so much for the comments. Still remarkable – they are glass and yet are found fifty plus years later lying on the barn floor! Sher

      Reply

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