We all have keepsakes, mementoes and family heirlooms that remain precious to us for a whole variety of reasons. From a precious trinket box, to a set of war medals, a family heirloom can mean something different to all of us. I posted this question recently online and I was amazed at the variety of things that we keep and treasure and hold dear to our hearts and in no particular order or preference, here are a few of the items that we treasure the most:
Kim Burkhardt starts us off with a wonderful family heirloom that her Great-Grandmother made for her Grandparents as a Wedding Gift during the great depression. This wonderful End Table has stayed with the family over multiple generations.
(Kim Burkhardt’s Family Heirloom)
Some other heirloom’s include:
“A little perfume phial of my mother’s sister and a little ivory fan, as she got very feverish. She died from Tuberculosis in 1929.”
“A necklace of Crystal and jet beads, that was my Mum’s.”
“A silk scarf, of my paternal great grandmother who was born in 1840.”
“A little sachet off scented cashews, always in Mum’s handbag, as she had the odd cigarette but used the little cashews to take away the smell of smoke.”
“I have my great-grandmother’s 9ct gold spectacles in their shagreen case, they are so tiny like a child’s specs.”
“My grandmothers nightdress case made for her when she was a child which is in the shape of an elephant and a beautiful parachute silk hand made, embroidered Christening gown that my grandmother made for the christening of her son (my uncle), which has been used for my mother, myself, cousins and her great-grandchildren.”
“I have a number of items that were my maternal grandfathers but the one that I treasure the most is his fob watch. Made from base metal, a bit battered (he was a coal miner), sometimes works sometimes it doesn’t.”
“I have a number of items, amongst them I have my grandfather’s Princess Mary WW1 brass tin, with card and pencil, he died in 1916.”
Barry Rees sent me these wonderful pictures of a Carpenter’s toolbox made by Albert Alfred Scott. Barry went on to explain a little bit more about the origins of the box and the life of his Ancestor;
“Albert worked as a Joiner at Sheerness Dockyard and was certified on 18th June 1898 by the Civil Service Commissioners, as posted in the 21st June 1898 London Gazette. It was likely that he had served an apprenticeship well before then, and typically, one of the jobs as an apprentice would have been to make all of his tools and the toolbox. Unfortunately, many such toolboxes have lost all of their tools over the years and you are left with just the box. However, we were in luck – Albert’s toolbox still has his tools – many of them stamped with the initials ‘AS’. The box full of tools is almost impossible to lift on your own – so would have been a two-man job. By taking out the piece of wood (with the whole in it), you can get access to the bottom of the box, which is mostly planes, saws and the odd mallet.
There are two sections at the front of the box, which can be slid into the centre of the box, to give you better access to the bottom.
The back set of drawers can also be slid into the middle to give further access to the bottom of the box:
This next shot shows the top section pushed across to the front, with its lid up, which gives access to the lower section. These contain a variety of hand tools – spokeshaves, screwdrivers and chisels.
There are six drawers in the back section, which again hold a variety of hand tools, including a set-square and some small planes.
Finally, there are two ‘hidden’ drawers, which just look like decoration, but can be pulled out and used to keep small items hidden – although I suspect that every joiner would know about these ‘hidden’ drawers, so not very secure.”
The toolbox was handed down over several generations before finally residing in the safe hands of Barry Rees.
Some more family heirlooms that you kindly shared include:
“I have Bibles belonging to two great grandfathers on different sides of my family, both listing BDMs, one entry is the only way I discovered stillborn twins sons in 1832.”
“I have my great grandfather’s William IV engraved pewter beer mug. The beer mug is special because I obtained it by chance, it was donated by a collector to a sealed bid auction for charity. Fortunately, a local historian remembered I had visited the town several years early, researching that surname name, she tipped off the organisers that I may be interested and gave them my contact details. I was lucky enough to place the winning bid. That great grandfather died in 1858, so the luck of it finding its way to me 150 years later, is why it is special to me.”
“We have the settee given to my 3 x great-grandmother as a wedding present in 1810. (Was it built by her father? I’m not sure). The thing was transported from Maine to Wisconsin. It was later tossed into the trash in about 1900 but was salvaged by an ancestor who put it into his mudroom to sit on when he removed his muddy farm boots. So, it’s still in the family and still as hard and uncomfortable as ever.”
“I have my great grandfather’s sea chest and a wool embroidery of a sailing ship done by him at some stage in his career. Also, a sampler made by his future second wife in 1855 when she was aged 10.”
My grandfather was a “special constable” in the local police force, but he was not able to serve as a soldier because of his poor health, but wanted to serve in some way. After the war ended these special constables were presented with mahogany truncheons emblazoned with a coat of arms and bearing a silver band inscribed with their name. Along with this, I have his lapel button, cap badge and whistle.
“We have 2 cups from my great-grandmothers tea set, sadly no more survived. Also a small brass pig with space to store matches and a strike plate on his tummy. The item which puzzles us most is a silver trophy which was never engraved, as yet searching online newspapers hasn’t given any answers.”
“I am fortunate in having so many items from my great grandfather. He was a gamekeeper in his early twenties and passed his gun onto my father, who disabled it and then left it to me. I don’t have a lot from my mother’s side as she came from a large family, but do have what my aunt described as “the Turner vase” a large pot which my grandmother kept peacock feathers in but could have been an umbrella stand.”
“I have a small “notepad” made of 5 or 6 leaves of ivory. It was used to write notes to one of my gt-grandmothers who had become completely deaf in her old age. Although not acceptable nowadays, ivory was smooth and non-porous so it could be wiped and reused indefinitely.”
“I have a notebook that belonged to my grandfather who was a builder. He used it to record measurements, timber lengths etc. My mother donated it to a small local museum. My mother thought that it was made from bone, but the museum note with it states that it is made from ivory. I was surprised by how clearly a pencil could write on it. The pages were about 2 x 2 inches. It was a dull yellow colour.”
“My favourite heirloom is a nearly complete set of wooden building bricks made by another great-grandparent for his children. They are very Gothic in style and include glazed windows!”
“I have my great grandfather’s journal, written on board ship from Adelaide to London in May/June 1886.
His father (my great-great granddad) was transported in 1846 but unusually he made good and twenty years later he was able to return to England a fairly wealthy man. My great grandad was 16 at the time and he wrote his journal every day during the sea trip, recording the daily routine of the passengers, the weather and the sights when they neared land. It must have been so exciting. At the end of the diary, there are several pages of recipes. Great grandad later became a master baker and confectioner and it’s clear that even at 16 he was into cooking.”
“I have two things I particularly treasure. The first is my great-grandfather’s garden spade! It was probably made in the 1860s or 70s when he was newly married and doubtless followed him to his various homes till he died in 1941. I suppose it went to his youngest son because he was farming the farm great-grandfather had managed from 1911 then bought in 1916. From there my mum inherited it and so to me. It’s too heavy for me these days, I plan to give it to my eldest son in Yorkshire since he’s become a gardener. The other item is rather older: the leather-bound “exercise” book of my GGG grandfather, dated 1779. He was privately tutored by a JQ (John Quant, we think) who wrote out, long-hand of course, a huge number of arithmetical problems for young Simeon, aged 13-15, to solve eg:
How many quarters of corn may be bought for 160 guineas at 4s a bushel? or
What is the rebate of a debt of £150 due 4 months hence at 4 per cent per annum? or
If a man spends 7s 6d per day, how long will 50 guineas serve him?
Then there are imaginary quotations for carpentry work or tiling a house to be calculated, and much more!
I hope at least one of my 8 grandchildren might be interested in hanging on to this one day.”
“I have two particular cherished heirlooms, the first is a family bible, dated 1845 and the second is a gate leg table, which was bought in 1935 by my grandmother with 12s 6d left to her at her own mother’s death. It was in thanks for her travelling weekly from Walthamstow to Greenwich to clean my great grandmother’s rooms. It’s a small oak side table, with barley twist legs, one of which has been put in upside down so it turns the opposite way from the others. This little table, now 86 years old, has just journeyed with me on my house move from Oxford to Sheffield (via a period in storage), and was immediately arranged in our new living room by my daughter.”
We all have a favourite heirloom or keepsake, here are my two:
My Great-Grandfather John Edwin Barnes WW1 Medals (he died at Gallipoli).
My Great Uncle John Daniels Army ‘Button Stick’.
What an amazing collection of family heirlooms we all have! The variety of treasures is incredible and just shows what things are precious and held dear to each family is as diverse as the families themselves.
I would love to know what your favourite heirlooms are?
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