Historic House Museums · Uncategorized

Uncle Joe’s Boxes and Two Mysterious American Flags


These old boxes wouldn’t cause any excitement on Antiques Road Show. They don’t rise to the level of “artifact,”  because they have no particular cultural or historical importance. I suppose you could call them “heirlooms” because they’ve  been passed down through four generations of Herb’s family to us. We don’t know much about them but  somehow they open a window into the past that other more impersonal objects—or more historically important artifacts— do not.

We do know that they were made around 1840 by “Uncle Joe,” who was the brother of Herb’s great-great grandmother, Betsy, and that the family lived in Aspatria England. (Herb’s great-aunt Nettie had helpfully written that information on the paper lining of one of the boxes before she died.)

One is jewelry box lined in velvet and decorated inside with a ribbon rosette made of red silk and a red velvet button.  A flowered ribbon stretches diagonally across the inside lid. The outside of the lid is a fairly complicated marquetry, which would have taken many tedious hours of handwork. The other is a tea caddy with two compartments for precious tea leaves.

Velvet-lined jewelry box made by Uncle Joe and two mysterious American flags.

We hadn’t even known the boxes existed until one day they came up in a conversation with Herb’s mother, who retrieved them from a closet to show us. Seeing how delighted we were with them, she gladly gave them to us. They seemed like a mystical link to a distant time and place. 1840! Aspatria, England? Where was that? A look at a map revealed that it was a village near the Scottish border. The boxes were probably brought to the United States by Betsy’s daughter when she returned from a visit to Aspatria from whence we learned she had emigrated in 1880.

Two-compartment tea caddy, made in 1840 by Uncle Joe.
Two-compartment tea caddy, made in 1840 by Uncle Joe.

Inside the jewelry box we found a puzzling surprise: two tiny silk American flags like you might stick on top of a cupcake on the Fourth of July.  One has 30 stars and the usual 13 stripes; the other, 18 stars and 11 stripes. The 30 star flag was adopted in 1851 when Wisconsin was admitted to the Union, long before any of Herb’s family had come to the United States. But what about that 18 star flag with only 11 stripes? After a little research on the internet I discovered that it is a Louisiana secessionist flag—11 stripes for the 11 confederate states and 18 stars representing Louisiana, the 18th state to be admitted to the Union. Well, who knew?  Where and when and by whom were the flags purchased? We’ll never know. Still, in spite of the mystery surrounding the boxes, their maker, and the little flags, these boxes provide us with a daily connection to the past—to the people who came before us.Come to think of it, that Louisiana secessionist flag might indeed cause those folks on  Antiques Road Show to take a second look.

What’s in your house?

Leave a Comment

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.