Riddle Time: Guess This ‘Mysterious’ Victorian Object That Has the Internet Puzzled

August 23, 2019 Updated: April 22, 2020
From the archives: This story was last updated in August 2019.

Take a look at the oddly shaped object in the picture below. How big do you think it is? Does it have a handle, or are its features merely for decoration? Ultimately, we want to know: what is it?

Epoch Times Photo
(Illustration – OpenClipart-Vectors/Pixabay)

Seattle radio station 95.7 “The Jet” put a shout-out to their listeners on Facebook, daring them to guess the origin of this bizarre-looking object. The guesses flooded in.

“It’s a milking bucket,” wrote one listener, “[for] when you milk and you carry it into the house and you pour it into a big old jar!” But while it was a good guess, sadly it wasn’t correct.

Epoch Times Photo
(Illustration – shurkin_son/Shutterstock)

“I know what that is, I have one,” ventured another. “Except mine is painted all black and I put a plant in it and it looks so cool.” An elegant solution! But not the solution to the question in hand…

“Used one while in third through fifth grade. One-room school houses,” added another, cryptically. “[We] had a hand pump for water as well. Outside toilets, as well.” But the question still remains: what is this bizarre-looking relic?

Epoch Times Photo
(Illustration – Thomas Q/Unsplash)

“My 81-year-old mother still uses hers to empty her stove that she cooks on in the winter time,” somebody else chimed in. Okay, okay, enough clues; we need answers! What about you, Epoch Times reader. Have you guessed yet?

Naturally, it’s a coal scuttle!

Otherwise known as a “coal bucket” or “coal pail,” this device, which saw its heyday in the Victorian era, was used to carry and store coal as fuel for an indoor coal-fired stove or heater. This happened back in the days before central heating was installed in people’s homes.

Epoch Times Photo
(Public Domain)

Social media users slapped their foreheads in unison, unable to believe they hadn’t thought of it first. But many, excited by the trip down memory lane, were quick to share their memories of using coal scuttles at home.

“I watched my mom fill it full of coal and then put it in the coal furnace,” wrote one Facebook user. “I still remember the coal truck come into the drive way, pull out the chute, put it into an opening, and dump the coal down the shire and into the basement cellar.”

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Coal sacks being filled for the long, cold winter, circa 1948 (Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

“Grew up on a farm back in the early days, [the] 1950s,” added another nostalgic social media user. “We used wood and coal stoves for everyday cooking and warming, and I had to empty the ashes and keep the firewood stocked up daily.”

The word scuttle, says Wikipedia, comes from the Latin word “scutula,” meaning “a shallow pan.” Coal scuttles are often made of metal. They are shaped like a vertical cylinder, and the open top is slanted to help the user pour the coal pieces onto an open fire.

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Illustration of a servant filling the coal scuttle after a delivery of coal to the coal cellar, circa 1790 (Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

Coal scuttles have either one or two handles, and they are so handsome that some people use them for decorative purposes. Maybe somebody you know has one in their own home.

So, what’s the verdict; did you know this was a coal scuttle? Have you ever used one?

If you knew what it was, then congratulations, you’re in the minority! As coal fires fade into obscurity, fewer and fewer people will be able to recognize these fascinating relics from times past.

If you knew this was a coal scuttle, then be sure to share the image with friends and family and test their historical knowledge, too!