Wednesday 30 November 2011

Inside the Treasure Box

My father-in-law John, runs a second hand bookshop down in Folkestone, which receives a variety of donations from rare and antiquarian books, to magazines, CDs and sheet music. Occasionally, he gets brought in some unusual treasures; the personal items from house clearances that will not sell, like note books, letters and not so long ago, an extraordinary box.

This looks like a fairly modern jewellery box; not very expensive and rather worse for wear. It sits on little chipped feet and won't quite close properly because it is so full. There is a stylised flower painted across the top and has been painted black, like oriental lacquer on the back and sides. Some past spillage remains on the bottom right hand side and a sticker on the bottom declares, rather over confidently, "quality product, foreign." A ballerina once danced inside and the wind up device underneath still sends out a tinkling, unrecognisable melody.

While this may be of very little commercial value, the little wooden box contains the treasures and secrets of one woman's life, their significance now lost but their poignancy still as strong. As a historian of women's lives, I was fascinated to see the little tokens the owner had collected over the years: jewellery, tickets, stamps, cake decorations newspaper cuttings and letters, mostly from the 1970s, just the sort of thing that we all hoard away, never thinking they will mean anything to anyone but us. I couldn't help but wonder about the stories and memories attached to each and regret their loss. As an object, it was a wonderful Pandora's box of a life - briefly reopened and explored by a stranger - a remarkable period piece that could stand as a symbol for many lives. The items yielded up a few clues about their owner. There are leads I could pursue through official records but I rather prefer the many possibilities and stories they suggest, to the cold hard truths that research might reveal. I thought I would share some of the contents and hope they will be enjoyed by others too.

                                                The treasures within

                             "To the dearest, sweetest husband in the world..."

    These look like decorations from an old wedding cake or bridal headgear

                                          a lock of blonde hair on the left
                           wedding cake decorations and a man's wedding ring

                                                  more decorations

some stamps postmarked 1978, one pre-decimal and another celebrating the 1977 silver jubilee

                                            at the bottom, the box's key

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