musings from Canadian author Cheryl Cooke Harrington ... home of The Write Spot

Wednesday, August 31, 2016

mystery in my history...

I keep an antique chest beside my bed. It's small – only eight by twelve inches and five inches deep – and it's showing its age with bumps and scars. Even so, it's a real beauty, hand crafted from dark burled wood with mother-of-pearl inlay on the top and around the key hole. 

A hand lettered card glued inside the lid reads:

M. S. Gainfort
from I. Sawyer

I'll probably never know who I. Sawyer was. That detail is lost to the mists of time. But M. S. Gainfort was Margaret Susan, my maternal great-grandmother. I imagine she thought the beautifully polished box was a very fine gift. For me, though, the real treasures are the bits and pieces of history that dwell inside. Some of those bits and bobs have been puzzling me for a very long time. These, for instance... 

Puzzling bits and bobs. (Quarter included for scale.)

I remember how thrilling it was as a child to be allowed a peek inside that box. I loved the tiny boot with its secret compartment. What, I wondered, had the owner been able to hide in such a small space? A banded wood cylinder revealed another small hiding spot. Very odd. And what about the chunk of quartz? It looked like a stone I might find on the beach but... was that real, honest-to-goodness gold glistening on its surface? Most intriguing of all was the weird glass ball with numbers all around. Was there a Victorian era version of Dungeons and Dragons? Somehow I couldn't imagine great-grandma in the role of dungeon master.

Last week I peeked inside the box again and decided to do a bit of sleuthing. It's true what they say. You really can find everything on the Internet. Here's what I discovered...

My cute little boot with its secret compartment is probably a Georgian era snuff box. Snuff box collectors have pinned thousands of images at Pinterest, some of them incredibly ornate. Shoes were a popular shape and I spotted quite a few similar to this one. Mystery solved. (I'm left to wonder... who was the snuff user?)

I'd long suspected this little container may have held pencil leads. Research suggests I'm right. Some similar containers were large enough to hold a small mechanical pencil as well as spare leads.

Did I strike it rich or not? Alas, everything I found makes me think this is iron pyrite or fool's gold, not the real deal. Of course, the only way to be absolutely sure is to have it tested. I think I'll put it back in the box and let the dream live on.

Turns out this little Czechoslovakian crystal ball with its thirty-two numbered faces does exactly what you'd expect a crystal ball to do. It's a fortune teller. This was definitely a surprise and the best discovery of all, but I sure wish great-grandma had saved the instructions.

I managed to find a few photos of partial instruction sheets online and decided to give it a try. I chose "surprise" and rolled a nine. My fortune said:

"An old bag or trunk holds a hidden fortune for you."

Excuse me while I retrieve that hunk of quartz with the solid gold veins. I think I'd better take it to the bank.

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At 10:16 am, Blogger Fran McNabb said...

Cheryl, I love your wonderful box and its contents. How great it must feel to know your grandmother cherished these items enough for you to now be able to hold them. Thanks for sharing.

At 11:19 am, Blogger Heidi said...

How fun! I love this!

At 6:48 pm, Blogger Cheryl said...

Thanks for stopping by, Fran and Heidi. I'm glad you enjoyed great-grandma's little treasures. I love them, too!

At 10:00 am, Blogger Joanne Guidoccio said...

Cheryl, How wonderful to connect with your great-grandma in this way. Cherish those treasures!

At 3:44 pm, Anonymous Susan McNicoll said...

This is fantastic Cheryl. How wonderful to have these items although I think I might be tempted to find out if it is fool's gold or the real deal, especially after your "fortune" revealing it just might be. Regardless, the box really did hold a fortune in my mind.


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