What’s Your Favourite Family Heirloom?

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-1

(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;

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“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.

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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.

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The back set of drawers can also be slid into the middle to give further access to the bottom of the box:

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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.

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There are six drawers in the back section, which again hold a variety of hand tools, including a set-square and some small planes.

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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.”

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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.”

Pig Match Holder

“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.”

margaret's book

margarets book 2

margarets book 3

“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).

https://chiddicksfamilytree.com/2020/10/27/great-grandads-world-war-1-medals-framed/

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My Great Uncle John Daniels Army ‘Button Stick’.

https://chiddicksfamilytree.com/2020/06/10/52ancestors-handed-down/

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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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24 thoughts on “What’s Your Favourite Family Heirloom?

  1. Great question! My fav’s would be between the family photo album which I begged my mom for years & finally got. Also an original “Noah” not Miriam Webster encyclopedic dictionary that’s been in the family several generations. My brother wants me to sell it, but I could never. My grandson now uses it as a great resource.

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  2. I have received very few heirlooms. But one I did receive I got rid of long ago (now I wouldn’t do that). It was a hideous lap blanket my grandmother insisted I preserve. The problem was she didn’t pass along any story to go with it. I have no idea who had it originally or anything. That should be a lesson for anyone wanting their descendants to preserve something.

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    1. Its heartbreaking when you receive precious items without the story behind them. When my Mum died she had lots of items of jewellery but we had trouble working out where it all came from. Was it hers? Her Mums, her mother-in-laws, she was married twice, was it her Nan’s, her sister’s? The list goes on, so it makes the jewellery somehow a bit less meaningful without the story.

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  3. An intriguing question…really enjoyed the answers you gathered and the terrific photos! What I especially love is that these heirlooms survived and their current owners treasure not only the items but the memories of ancestors involved with those items.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Hi Paul, the current heirloom in our house is a radiogram from the 1950’s – still in working order – we play some old vinyls on it at special occasions. This belonged to my parents-in-law.The grandchildren think its a hoot! Such a long way from Spotify and YouTube. The other much older item from 1920 is my Dad’s RAAF uniform, cap and medals. My only surviving brother has possession of that one. I will inherit it when he goes. Many more of my parents’ heirloom pieces are scattered among my nieces and nephews – and that is as it should be. As the only family historian I now value the family tree and stories, developed by me, that I pass on to my descendants.
    Cheers
    Carole

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks Carole, i love the fact that we all have such a diverse collection of family heirlooms. I can remember my own Mother’s Radiogram, they were the height of fashion in the 1960’s, sadly it is no longer with us. Your Dad’s RAAF uniform is probably one of the most unique heirlooms that I have heard mentioned so far, to have that along with his medals and cap are absolutely priceless and a very rare item to have

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  5. Oh my! Yours are so special! How fortunate you are to have heirlooms from so long ago!
    In my country of birth, heirlooms were swept away by teists of history.,. and the few I have are very sad ones. Like the map case from my grandfather which didn’t have time to wear off…

    A Flash Of History

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  6. I treasure two items. One is a quilt- not very elaborate- made by my maternal grandmother and her sister from bolt ends left in the sister’s general store. The other is a small wooden toy rolling pin made by my grandfather for me. He died before I turned 4. I was the only grandchild who was privileged to know him. Oh, and a letter he wrote addressed to my grandmother, my mother, and me. I was 4 months old at the time!

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    1. these items must be so precious to you Judy how wonderful that you have kept them all these years. I have received so many new and wonderful stories about family heirlooms that I am writing a second blog and would love to include yours if you wanted me to? My email address is chiddicks@yahoo.co.uk if you want me to include them, thanks Paul

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      1. Very nice! I admire your polished writing. I also appreciate your call to make heirlooms by hand for the future. I have made a quilt for each of our grandchildren. And on my husband’s side, each niece or nephew has been welcomed with an “Auntie” quilt. One of the aunts chooses a theme, such as farm animals or angels, and stamps the designs on squares of fabric. (See Aunt Martha for transfer designs should you be interested) Then the squares are distributed to aunts, grandmothers, older cousins, etc. to be embroidered, signed, and returned for assembly into a quilt. We have made about a dozen of these.

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      2. Thank you Judith for your kind words, it’s always nice to know that people enjoy what you write. I am truly inspired by your families quilt idea and I think that writing about all these wonderful heirlooms has really made me think seriously about something that I can create myself to pass down to my own children. Inspiration can come from all sorts of places and sometimes when you least expect it, this blog has certainly made me think about my own legacy.

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