Our July Artifact of the Month is a small toy brass ring that was offered as a premium to fans of the 1940s Sky King radio program. It was found during excavations at Leetown hamlet as part of an archeological field school at Pea Ridge National Military Park, a well-preserved Civil War battlefield landscape in northwest Arkansas. How did a 1940s kids’ toy turn up on a Civil War battlefield site? Archeologists are always prepared for the unexpected, and internet sleuthing by the field school students helped solve this particular mystery.
Founded in the 1840s, the hamlet of Leetown played an important role in the Civil War battle of Pea Ridge. However, with the exception of a couple farmsteads, the community was gone by the 1880s. No reliable map of 19th century Leetown exists and the documentary record offers many opinions about how many buildings were a part of the community and where they were located. During the Spring of 2017 the Arkansas Archeological Survey conducted a remote sensing survey of the area of the Leetown hamlet. This was followed by test excavations undertaken as a part of the 2017 University of Arkansas archeological field school in June. These excavations were the subject of Victoria Jones’s master’s thesis. All of the fieldwork was part of a four-year cooperative project between the Arkansas Archeological Survey and the National Park Service (NPS) Midwest Archeological Center to carry out a comprehensive archeological inventory at Pea Ridge National Military Park, under the NPS CESU (Cooperative Ecosystem Studies Units) program.
Field school excavations at the Lee/Mayfield house uncovered the entrance to a large 19th century cellar that had been resurfaced in the early 20th century and later filled in with trash. Large quantities of refuse from the 1930s through 1950s were recovered, including our July Artifact of the Month — a toy ring associated with the popular Sky King radio program of the 1940s. Sky King recounts the adventures of a rancher who also flies a plane and solves mysteries and international intrigues. A subsequent Sky King television program ran in the 1950s.
As with many radio shows of the time, “radio premiums” were offered to young listeners as marketing accessories, including several varieties of rings with “secret” functions. Our artifact most likely was a Magni-Glow Writing Ring (there were other Sky King rings, including the Electronic Television ring, the Radar Signal ring, and the Teleblinker ring). Kids obtained the rings and other premiums by sending in labels from a jar of Peter Pan peanut butter, the sponsor of the Sky King program.
The adjustable brass ring has a molded image of a horse (“Yellow Fury”) on one side and a plane (“Flying Arrow”) on the other. The top of the ring is square-ish and shows the remnants of a red plastic plug, now broken off, by which the top part of the ring would have been affixed. The Magni-Glow Writing ring originally had a crownpiece that was a red plastic box with a hinged brass lid. The lid was set with a plastic “cabochon-style” magnifying glass. Inside the box was a tiny ball point pen in a hinged glow-in-the-dark D-shaped plastic holder. The Magni-Glow Writing ring was produced in the late 1940s, but most likely in 1949.
The base of this ring appears to be indistinguishable from that of the Electronic Television ring. This style also had a small red plastic box affixed (again via a red plastic plug through the top of the brass ring) with a hinged lid. The lid was a molded brass frame made to look like a television set with dials and a clear plastic screen. Opening the lid revealed four interchangeable paper images from the Sky King show.
Other artifacts from the cellar refuse included a souvenir coin from the 1939 Golden Gate International Exposition, plus many diagnostic personal and household items that, taken together, provide a snapshot of WWII era and post-war consumerism in the Ozarks.
Artifact: Sky King Magni-Glow Writing Ring
Material: Metal (brass toned; would have had a small plastic compartment on top)
Age Estimate: 1940s
Courtesy of the Pea Ridge National Military Park 2017 archeological collection
Looking for Leetown: Preliminary Archeology at a Nineteenth-Century Hamlet in Pea Ridge National Military Park, by Jamie Brandon, Jami Lockhart, Carl Drexler, and Victoria Jones. Paper presented at the annual meeting of the Arkansas Archeological Society, North Little Rock, 2017.
The Archeology of Leetown Hamlet: Households and Consumer Behavior in the Arkansas Ozarks, by Victoria A. Jones. Master’s thesis, Department of Anthropology, University of Arkansas, Fayetteville, 2019.
“Sky King Decoder Ring,” by Victoria Jones, Artifact of the Month draft description, June 2019.
Artifact of the Month Series
A first principle of archeology is that the significance of artifacts depends upon documented information about the context of their discovery. At what site was the artifact found? Can we figure out the age of the artifact? Where was it found in relation to site features (houses, trash deposits, activity areas, etc.) and the distribution of other artifacts? Only with knowledge of those facts can we assess further information about the manufacture and use of artifacts, and their role in other spheres of activity such as social organization, trade and exchange, and religious practice.
In this series, we feature select artifacts that are extraordinary both for the context of their discovery and for their unique qualities that contribute exceptionally important information about Arkansas culture and history. New artifacts will be added monthly. Find the list of artifacts here.