Pop Goes the Weasel! And Clowns.

In my last blog I showed you a spinners or knitters weasel. It is a mechanical yarn-measuring device consisting of a spoked wheel with bobbins at the end of each spoke, around with the yarn winds. The spokes are attached to a something that looks like a clock with an internal mechanism the makes a ‘pop’ sound when the desired length of yarn has been wound – usually a skein. According to Wikipedia, the weasel’s gear ratio is usually 40 to 1, and the circumference of the reel is usually two yards, thus producing an 80-yard skein when the weasel pops (after 40 revolutions).

Some of the early weasels were made without the gear mechanism. They perform the same function, but without the pop to aid the spinner in keeping track of the length of thread or yarn produced.

The mechanism making the pop sound on the spinners weasel is the possible source for  the nursery rhyme Pop Goes the Weasel.

All I know is that the crank-handled jack-in-the-box my son had as a toy when he was little scared the whey out of him the first time we cranked it up and the clown popped out.

I am not a fan of clowns – I am a coulrophobic, but these figures in the Jack-in-the-boxes aren’t really clowns but something called augustes. Clowns have white-face make-up and usually wear pointed hats and ruffled collars. Augustes are the red-nosed guys with oversized trousers and squirty flowers in their buttonholes. So I know why I liked my very first real ‘clown,’ Emmett Kelly, who was an auguste.

From Clownpedia/Fandom. Emmet Kelly, an auguste, with a clown on either side

Emmett Kelly was a world-famous American circus performer, who created the clown figure ‘Weary Willie’, based on the hobos of the Great Depression in the 1930s. Kelly’s creation of Weary Willie revolutionized professional clowning and made him the country’s most familiar clown. I first saw him in the Ringling Brothers circus.

‘Jack in the box’ got its name from the name given to a swindler who cheated tradesmen by substituting empty boxes for the full ones that were expected. Such a ‘Jack’ is found in James Cranstoun’s reprinting of Satirical Poems of the time of the Reformation.

‘Jack in the box’ was also the name given to a type of firework and this is found in John Babington’s Pyrotechnia, 1635.

So old Jack is an auguste, a swindler, or a firecracker!



8 thoughts on “Pop Goes the Weasel! And Clowns.”

  1. petespringerauthor

    I’ve seen plenty of photos of augustes, but I always thought I was looking at clowns. Thanks for clearing that up, Noelle. Most of the photographs I’ve seen send a message of sadness and hopelessness. They often look like they are down on their luck.

  2. Ooooh, I loved this history lesson! I’m especially shocked to learn there is a difference among clowns…well clowns and augustes, but I never realized they were separate. This was a very cool post from start to finish, Noelle!

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