My “What’s it?” is a Blackballer!

DSCN2963by Neva Bodin

Five or six years ago I made a random stop at a garage sale.

“What is this?” I asked a nice young man conducting the sale. I picked up a heavy, dark wood oblong box with a handle on one end. The box was divided inside by a partition with a hole in the middle. Each side had its own hinged cover. Thin felt covered the backside of the inside chambers.
“I don’t know,” he replied while helping another costumer, “I’m just selling it for my friend, it’s his sale. He’s not here right now.”

It looked antique to me. “I’ll take it,” and handed the man five dollars.

My “What’s it”

I have asked numerous people over the years, “What is it?” No one has solved the mystery until recently when I hosted four couples on our patio for a 7:30 AM breakfast on a Saturday.

“I think it’s a ballot box like for the Mason’s or something,” one man said. And the mystery is solved.

The term “blackballed” was first used in 1770 according to Merriam-Webster online. It seems this “what’s it” of mine was used to prevent or vote someone out of a private club. And the box I have does resemble very closely the one listed on a site of antique boxes for Masons.

DSCN3154A bunch of white and maybe one or two black balls are made available to voting members of a club. They choose their color and drop them under cover of the box lid into the top chamber where they will drop down to mix with others in the bottom chamber. No one will know who voted against allowing the hopeful person join their club. But if someone drops a black ball in the box, the person is blackballed, or not allowed to join.

We now use the term for someone who is voted against, or forced from a job or organization by someone who is against them. I wonder how many times this term is used now days without the user knowing the origin or what it describes.

The rules for the organization may say if only one black ball is dropped in the box, the person is not allowed to join. Or it may require two balls.


There were no balls with my box, but now I will be on a quest to find some. And because I enjoyed hosting an early morning breakfast (there are a bunch of us who go to breakfast at a favorite coffee shop every Saturday morning at 7:30), I now know what my “what’s it” is!


18 thoughts on “My “What’s it?” is a Blackballer!

  1. Fascinating history… I don’t really like the whole concept of blackballing. Keep someone out of a club or job, but be able to hide inside a fog of anonymity. But I do have to laugh now that I think about it… in my journalism days I sometimes used ‘anonymous’ or unnamed sources.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I see your connection in anonymity, but I agree with the blackballing concept as being a little underhanded. Using anonymous sources might depend on what you use them for I suppose. Thanks for commenting!


    1. Yes, the guy who told me what it is said to go to the Masonic website to look for balls but I haven’t done that yet. He also said blackballing may be done if the person just needs to leave or quit the organization because they don’t like him.


  3. I love when something that grabs our attention lets us go on these journeys of exploration and excavation. What a great find and fun story. Best on getting the rest of the ‘what’s it’ together. Doris


  4. It’s a very interesting find, Neva. Regardless of a person’s views on secret, selective organisations like the Masons, the box is historically something that probably made or broke someone’s future career path, or maybe their standing in the community.


    1. Hadn’t thought of it that way. Would make a good tool in a murder mystery maybe! Your creative brain was working. Will have to think on that one. while I like writing romantic inspirational stories, I also like mystery and how the twisted mind works and why–my psych nursing coming into play. Thanks for the comment.


  5. Very interesting, Neva. And I love that you nor the man you purchased it from had any clue what it was, yet you bought it anyway! Very spontaneous of you. I wonder if sororities used it back in the day for sorority rush. That’s what it reminded me of. Not a very nice process.


    1. Yes, the guy who knew about it mentioned sororities I think too. That was such an exclusive group too when I was in college. I never liked the thought of someone being excluded from a group. Seemed like snobbery to me. But then I never joined a group that did that either so probably didn’t understand the reasons. Thanks for the comment.


  6. I read your post last week, Neva, and thought I left a comment; I guess in my travels, the comment didn’t take. So, here’s another go: Interesting and fun post, Neva! Such a find!! Glad you learned what it was and thanks for enlightening us with your treasure!


  7. Interesting story. Just last week I purchased a small handmade cabinet at a yard sale. The owner wasn’t sure what it was intended to be used for. It is now my telephone table, but I hope to eventually discover what it’s intended use was.


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