Urban Archeologist: Big Things Come in Little Packages

By taking his time, Greg finds results divine.

Last week I provided a few essential tips for finding treasure, and this week I’m here to reveal how a few of those tips worked for me at a recent sale.

To give you an idea of how NOT to discover treasure: early in the sale I asked a fellow digger what sort of things he was looking for, to which he replied glibly, “The Hope Diamond.” In just a few minutes he had left the house and was likely off to another sale. As you’ll see, I found that if you look only for diamonds, you miss the gold.

After I had rifled through all the papers hidden in the back of a desk, I moved to the usual card-table checkout in the kitchen to pay for what I had found. I handed over $4 in stamps I’d uncovered, along with my dollar for a 1933 “Good Housekeeping” magazine. On top of a radiator I noticed a box of “smalls” (the name often given for a category of palm-sized items that are generally unrelated). These looked like they might have been emptied from the very desk drawers I had been digging through earlier. There were pins, paper clips, pens, homemade jewelry and an inscribed copper plate that caught my eye.

“Arthur E.B.Tanner” was etched in reverse on this tarnished plate, which meant it was possibly a printer’s master for a business card. I found it unique that it had no other traditional contact information (phone number, address). Could it be a true “calling card?” I snickered at the middle initials “EB” that, to me, could stand for “Easter Bunny.”

Among the other items was a dull white plastic jewelry box that, when opened, revealed a religious trinket – what appeared to be an extremely small book bearing a single cross on the cover, enclosed in a clear Lucite case. I momentarily mused, “Crackerjack prize?” The uniqueness of both these items had me return to the checkout, and for another dollar I walked away with two small mysteries to solve.

My internet research revealed that, interestingly enough, Arthur E.B. Tanner was actually a part of Connecticut’s political history. He served 6 terms as Woodbury's State Representative, the last, 1953-56 as speaker of the House. He was also a delegate to the Republican National Convention in 1956. He passed in 1987. I have no idea how the plate for his business card ended up in this sale, but I appreciated the posthumous copper-plated introduction nonetheless.

The religious trinket turned out to be far more than its size beheld. What I had found in this tiny plastic case was an actual book, 7mm by 7mm (yes, I said millimeters!). Notice the comparison images above — that’s about as big as the head of a thumbtack. Printed in 1950 or 1962, it was the Lord’s Prayer printed in 7 different languages. The clear Lucite case has a magnifier on one side, though it is only so that the book’s cover can be viewed. The printed text requires a microscope to read. But here’s the kicker: On a popular antiquarian/rare book website this tiny edition sells between $50 and $1,500. Treasure!

I thought of the “diamond” hunter earlier and what he might have missed — I only know that while I may not be able to visit every sale, by taking my time and looking in places others won’t I can benefit as much from equally precious, interesting and occasionally valuable finds.

Here is another local history mystery: What Connecticut high school has this raucous fight song? Tell me if it's real and what year was it written. Visit the blog to confirm the song and the stolen plays of a lost rivalry.

Greg Van Antwerp is a Brookfield resident and blogger, who can be found on the weekends in search of a good “dig” or a good story. You can read more about his adventures by visiting his blog.


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