When my father-in-law, Jerry, moved to New Jersey three years ago he could only bring a few personal belongings with him. He had already been living in an apartment in El Paso, so he didn't have much in the first place. But now he was moving into an even smaller place in an assisted living facility, so he had to cut back even more. When it came time to make the tough choices, he made it clear that the “antiques” were at the top of the list of items moving east.
Pop had two pieces of furniture that he had inherited from his parents – a very large, heavy sideboard and an ornate secretary with a flip down desk top, seemingly endless drawers and compartments, and an intricate locking system that baffled us (fortunately, it wasn't locked). They were beautiful pieces, but they certainly showed their age – darkened by years of New York City soot, dimmed by Texas desert dust and discolored by verdigris accumulated over countless years in unknown places. Dirt and grime notwithstanding, the antiques took prominent places in his new, 3 room suite – and they looked great.
As Pop’s health declined, Jessica and I became more and more involved in his medical care and financial decisions. He was a simple man, so his finances, though perhaps a little unorthodox, were not overly complex. One day, as we were discussing his portfolio and what to do with it, I joked, “OK, Pop, where are you hiding the secret treasure?” He gave me a wry smile and pointed nonchalantly to the secretary. I said, “Oh great, with all of those drawers we’ll never find it!” Pop just smiled.
Pop died in 2011 after a courageous battle with Parkinson’s disease. As the executor of his estate, it was my job to go through his papers. That meant I had to tackle the drawers and compartments in the secretary. It wasn't a job I was looking forward to – not only were there lots of drawers and compartments, but they were STUFFED with papers. It took me several hours to get through it all, but it turned out to be a fascinating trip through time. I found lots of papers that could have been thrown away years ago, but I also found some wonderful heirlooms: poetry and letters from his mother; old photographs; some college term papers he had written fifty years earlier; and even a play he had crafted in his youth when he aspired to be an actor/playwright. When my work was finished, I turned my eyes to the heavens and said, “Well Pop, no cash, but some pretty good treasure anyway.”
Jessica inherited the secretary, and her sister Jackie inherited the sideboard. We decided to have the secretary cleaned and restored right away, so we moved it straight from Pop’s suite to a wonderful furniture restorer in our area. As soon as Bob looked at it, he knew we had something special. He called in reputable antique appraisers and restoration experts from the Metropolitan Museum of Art to advise him on how the piece should be restored. We were stunned to learn that the secretary dates to about 1650. Now, we knew it was old because we have a picture of Pop’s grandfather standing in front of it in Germany as a young man, but we didn't know it was that old. As it turns out, the secretary is a treasure in and of itself!