Throwback: How did people entertain themselves back in the day?

Sarah Robinson, Social History Curatorial Intern

Have you been struggling to find things to do over the past couple of months? It’s had us thinking about what people would’ve done in the past to keep themselves occupied, if they were unable to leave their homes for weeks on end. Our collection has tossed up some interesting examples of pastimes…

Sewing and embroidery

Frister Rossman Sewing Machine, circa 1985, made in Germany. Collection of Petone Settlers Museum – Te Whare Whakaaro o Pito-one, gifted 1978.

Sewing and embroidery would’ve been a favourite among mothers and their young daughters. A process requiring skill and dexterity, sewing with a sewing machine was both educational and useful. Spinning wheels, used for spinning thread or yarn from fibres, were in use around the turn of the 20th century and again would’ve been useful in everyday life.

Many people nowadays make their own clothes and do their own alterations or repairs. Sewing machines today have many more functions than those of the 1900s, so there’s a lot to learn and practice. Could be an idea during lockdown to get your socks darned or your jeans taken up…

Collecting stamps

1940 NZ Post Centennial Commemorative Stamp, 1940. Collection of Petone Settlers Museum – Te Whare Whakaaro o Pito-one, gifted 2003.
Reproduction of a hand-coloured photographic postcard “Jackson Street Showing Post Office, Petone,” circa 1908, made in Petone. Collection of Petone Settlers Museum – Te Whare Whakaaro o Pito-one, gifted 1994.
Letter card – 1983.53.1 Letter to G. London Esq. Mayor of Petone regarding the Municipal Buildings, 1905. Collection of Petone Settlers Museum – Te Whare Whakaaro o Pito-one, gifted 1983.

Stamp collecting was also popular in the past; receiving letters in the post meant envelopes with stamps, stamps that could be cut out and kept in an album. Philately, the study of stamps and postal history, is still popular today. Of course, letter-writing is rare these days, and stamps are few and far between, but occasionally an interesting or particularly pretty stamp turns up.

Postcards are still used frequently today and have some amazing images of scenery and attractions from their respective destinations. Letter cards, definitely not that common now, were also used in written communications. I often find myself fighting the urge to collect things like this, stamps, coins, postcards, etc.!

Collecting postcards and cigarette cards

“Three Castles” Cigarettes Picture Album, circa 1928. Collection of Petone Settlers Museum – Te Whare Whakaaro o Pito-one, gifted 1977.

Our collection has some amazing examples of postcard collecting; can you believe that there were albums made for collecting postcards? Albums were actually available for all sorts of things, stamps, cigarette cards, coins, autographs, postcards, you name it. Above are images of one of our albums, containing cigarette cards from around the 1920s.

It’s fascinating to think about what people kept and collected over 100 years ago, and what we collect now. Do you have a stash of objects hidden away at your place? Or do you want to start collecting something that’s special to you? We say, give it a go!

Joining a club

Black and white photograph of the ‘Coxed Four, Petone Rowing Club’, circa 1925, Emmett Photographer. Collection of Petone Settlers Museum – Te Whare Whakaaro o Pito-one, gifted 2003.

Or, now that we’re allowed out and about again, you might think about joining a club. Our collection has an array of cups, trophies, medals and other sporting ephemera from groups that used to operate in Petone and the wider Hutt Valley; it’s difficult to choose which club I would go for. Rowing was, and continues to be, very popular. We also have the classic tennis, rugby and swimming clubs, as well as intriguing ones like roller skating and playing the Irish Hornpipe.

Humans are naturally social creatures; being in lockdown has been hard for a lot of people, and many are making the most of seeing friends and family again. Why not add a club to that list and join a local organisation! Or start your own collection of things if you’d rather remain somewhat unhindered by your fellow humans…

We hope everyone is staying safe and well now we’re out of our bubbles. We’re looking forward to seeing you all again when we reopen next Wednesday 27 May!

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