A Priceless Heirloom For 50 Cents

A FAMILY treasure, almost, sits prominently in our living room, and it is a sea chest. Ever and anon somebody eyes it and says, "Do you know what it's worth?" Sometimes this means, "Do you know its market value?" and sometimes it means, "Gracious! Do you realize that you have a treasure there?" Antiques accumulate price as they mature, so the question is valid, but I fear the sea chest remains at its original figure of 50 cents. My Grandfather Thomas never spent more than 50 cents for anything he bought at an auction, and he picked this sea chest up for that princely sum at the Oliver Grover auction at Carter's Corner in August of 1919. Today, nobody has money enough to persuade me.

When my Grandfather Thomas's ninth ancestor came to America from Hull, England, in 1613, his previous situation as a poor-debtor and a land-bound potwalloper limited in travel caused him to be leery of the ocean, and he was not at his best all the way across. Hoping things would get better as landfall approached, he was disappointed to hit the Fundy tides and a brisk wind simultaneously just this side of Sable Island, and this eventuality was so unsettling to Joseph (that was his name) that in the succee ding 12 generations not one of us Goulds has considered following the sea. That is, a sea chest is nothing for me to have in my living room.

It was in July of 1919 that a midnight fire drove poor Grandfather Thomas from his bed. He saved his strongbox, and then got to the barn in time to release the stock and drive them up the lane to the pasture. At daybreak, he surveyed the cooling embers and set about renewing his affairs. He bought a one-room "camp" from a neighbor, and the neighbor moved it for him. Grandfather Thomas was 78 years old at the time, and not so spry that he felt like moving the camp himself to save two dollars. Then he bega n attending auctions about the countryside to pick up the things he needed to start all over again.

This was before antiques were an established business, and before summer people found them fun. Usually, an auction then was the last chirp of a family place - old folks gone and the young folks disinterested in the farm. The public notice always finished with, "and other items too numerous to mention, the accumulation of a lifetime."

Grandfather Thomas had found harnesses for his horses, and had a new hayrack, and he would go with his hayrack to an auction prepared to bring home whatever he saw that he needed or wanted. Usually at 50 cents.

At the Oliver Grover auction there was a big pile of tools, and he needed tools. Some were old and dull and broken, so the auctioneer had decided to sell them good and bad together - so much and take the lot. Thomas looked them all over and saw numerous opportunities. Some were farrier's tools, used to care for horses, and one was a formidable rasp meant to buff a horse's back teeth if necessary. I remember wondering as a boy what it was for, and Grandfather told me readily enough, but I never saw it in action.

There was a barrel-header, for heading up apple and potato barrels, and that I did see in use. Lots of shop tools, and all manner of the wrenches that came with corn shellers and milk separators and garden cultivators and water pumps - odd wrenches that would fit only one thing. And all manner of tools of long-forgotten purposes. Gramp bid his usual start of 50 cents, and then somebody in the crowd said, "Old Tom Gould wants 'em - he was burnt out, you know." The bidding ended, and now Grandfather Thomas

had to have something to put all his new tools in. He said to the auctioneer's helper, "Why don't I give you 50 cents for that old box, there, and we'll h'ist the thing right into the rack?"

That's how we acquired a sea chest. It's truly a beauty, with original beckets. There was a superstition about suitcases and trunks aboard ship - every tar had his chest, and the unwritten law forbade meddlin' with another man's belongings. The beckets were not so much for carrying as for lashing down in a blow. Dangerous to have things sliding around in a storm. Grandfather Thomas never used his sea chest in the house he build later to replace the temporary camp. It remained a chest for his tools, some of which I still have - in my shop. The chest, now, is a priceless heirloom.

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