Although some might deem the term "treasure" too strong, it always depends upon perspective, doesn't it? The tale surrounding hidden gem goes something like this. Each year I attend the "Antiques in the Valley" antique show in Oley, Pennsylvania. Soon after my arrival this weekend, the folks manning one of the booths called me over to show me something. There stood this charming blue blanket chest. It was a handsome piece indeed, but, I rarely look at furniture. I looked at "Babs" slightly confused, knowing I was missing something.
"In the chest, it is in the chest. See if you can find it."
Okay, I was game. Who doesn't love a good scavenger hunt? I looked through the chest and there "it" was. A small, out-of-sight, alcove had been built into the chest under the till, so as to hide valuables. Tucked away in the alcove was the 1919 handwritten will of Mary Slate Mensch.
Although the show had just opened, the chest already had a couple interested in purchasing it, so I began to quickly photograph the Mensch document and chest. As the show was busy and the booth was getting crowded, taking the pictures was a bit difficult. The photos leave a little to be desired, but I am grateful I was given the chance to record the items.
We all know what they say about assumption, but I am going to assume this blue chest was "that old chest" willed to Catharine Gottshall and Lizzie Jane by Mary Mensch. Considering Mensch directed they "share it out," the content stored in the chest was likely intended to be divvied between the women. Even if the assumption proves correct and this chest is the "old chest" in question, several questions arise from the discovery of the will.
The first, and most obvious question is who was Mary Slate Mensch and who were the people she mentioned in the will? I tried to find Jane Moyer, Catharine Gottshall, and Mensch but, surprisingly, I met with no success. Considering these people lived and loved a mere century ago, I am a little flummoxed at my inability to track them down. Various name spellings and a gradual broadening of the locale still resulted in no accurate information.
In any event, another question arises. Did Jane Moyer need that watch? At first blush, this question may seem silly but, as interest in genealogy, family heritage, and family artifacts grows, many famililies are trying to reunite with items. This will provides a clue as to what might have happened to the watch. Actually, the fate of not only the watch but "my mother [sic] things" and the pieces of furniture, including this chest, might be resolved due to this hidden document. Unless, the will was never found and Mensch did not leave her family with clear intent regarding her possessions. Which begs the final question (which only leads to more questions). Were her instructions followed?
Given that the will was hidden and remained with the chest, were Mary Mensch's wishes known? Were the furniture, the chest, and the "big box" divided as instructed? Is she buried by "mom and pop?" If Mensch's brother and sister outlived her, did they get the money kept in the bank at Collegeville? Or, did none of this happen because the will was hidden?
As Babs and I pondered these questions, the chest (and papers within) sold. All are to remain together and I am sure the artifacts have found a great home. I suspect Mensch would be pleased.*
*A big "Thank you" to the folks at Robert M. Conrad Antiques for bringing this to my attention and for allowing me to document the history of the pieces. .
For more information about blanket chests, I found these two websites:
Fine Woodworking: 18th-Century Six-Board Chest. (I do not know if Mensch's chest was the same type, but this article gives a great lay-out of blanket chests.
Wayne Mattox Antiques and Auctions. Antique Talk: Blanket Chests