What's the oldest heirloom you own, or have heard of anyone owning?

While reading this thread about genealogies allegedly reaching back to ancient Greece, I got to wondering, who’s got the oldest heirloom? Does anybody here own something, or have a relative who owns an object, say a piece of jewelry or silver, or perhaps a book, that has been handed down from generation to generation, for an extremely long time?

For those of you who want to tell me of heirlooms not in your family, I’m not interested in royalty, who would obviously own many such things. But if you have a neighbor who owns a Bible that his ancestor acquired in the 17th century, that’s the kind of thing I want to hear.

In more general terms, I think it’s interesting that nobody seems to have something that’s been owned by their ancestors for thousands of years. It’s understandable while valuables would have to be sold off at some point, but it seems to be the case that no family has owned anything for that long. Is it a question of nothing being able to last that long? Or is it the case that every line of descent, sooner or later, reaches a point of complete destitution, or having to unexpectedly flee someone or something, that all personal belongings are lost?

Not too impressive in the grand scheme of things, but a viola I just bought was made in 1868.

I should have offered something here, though I’m not aware of anything we have that’s remarkably old. We’ve got some sterling from around 1910-1930, and a folding table that came with my g-g-grandmother across the Plains. That would have been around 1850-1860.

in no particular order of things, hm…

portrait of 3 very constipated dutch ancestors 1589, gave me nightmares when I was fairly young. family trust ownership

ceramic roof tile, chinese, 1300s … not a family heirloom, something I bought at Southbys back in the 70s when mom dragged me to an auction. personal ownership

assorted diaries, bibles, account books, correspondence years back to 1371 from different ancesters, both sides of family. family trust ownership

assorted pieces of egyptian and roman glass and ceramics, ranging from 500 BC to 200 CE, personal ownership

widows mite, ca 50 ce, dumbest wedding gift we got=)

roman coin, ca 80 ad, family trust as nobody can remember who bought it so I chucked it in the box.

assorted furniture, ca 1550s - 1800s, family trust. We don’t throw anything away=)

Anything more detailed I would have to drag out books and check and I am pretty much too lazy to do that=)

My wife’s family has been in the US since the early 18th century. We have a sampler from 1790 or something, but more interesting is that we have a set of green chairs that we use everyday from 1820 or such. (This from a Sotheby’s roadshow we went to 25 years ago. Kind of like Antiques Roadshow. but not televised and less crowded.)

We also have a table that was handed down to the first daughter setting up housekeeping from 1830, and some chairs from about the same time. We are eventually going to get some antiques from her parents, but this stuff has been in the family for this long, and wasn’t bought.

On my side we have some diamonds that get handed down from about 1900, but that’s it.

What’s a widow’s mite?

Oldest family posessions I own AFAIK are books that my father’s father owned ca. 1920 and a book that his mother owned (though I don’t know when).

I did also get to look at the end panel of a wooden pew that my 12-g grandfather’s son (a g-uncle) built for the town of Marblehead, Mass. This was in a museum. They also had the paperwork involving its purchase by the town. They said that at about 380 years this was the oldest piece of documented woodwork in the New World. They also thought the father (my ggrandfather) may have helped construct it, as he had stopped working the fishing fleet off Cape Cod and settled in Naumkeag (now Salem) by 1623, taking up woodworking. We spent a very pleasant day talking with the historical society and museum staff.

Old photos of family members including Daguerrotypes dating back to the Civil War Era; my 3 x great grandfather’s gunpower horn (from his Civil War service); a scrapbook with newspaper clippings about family and friends from the 1880’s; and a family bible printed in the 1850’s. Also some family china from the late 1800’s.

When I got married, I was given a set of six Waterford crystal tumblers that were given to my great-great-great grandfather, the Victorian scientist Thomas Andrews on his wedding day in 1846. Unfortunately, no provenance, only word of mouth, though they’re clearly very old.

Also at the wedding, my mother gave my new wife a necklace that was reputedly given by the Duke of Wellington to his daugher on her 18th birthday. It’s been passed down the female line of my family ever since. Unfortunately this is also the only provenance I have for it. The design looks a bit art deco to me, and I can’t find anything about Wellington having a daughter, so someone down the line might be telling porky pies.


a coin approximating the penny used in Rome. Ours is mounted on a framed card with the provenance [paragraph explaining its origin]

As I said, a useless wedding gift as I have seen them for as little as $10US, and neither of us is christian … though I am an historical recreationist nut=)

Might be able to provenance the tumblers in a couple of ways, if they are in any photographs of the wedding or his life in a recognizable form, if they are mentioned in his or his new wifes diary or correspondance and the pattern corresponds to one that was current at the time. I believe waterford might be able to take a look at them and date them if the pattern is old and discontinued, or if a small part of the pattern is different from one currently in use.

As to the necklace, in a letter from May 1831 from his manservant John [mentioned in correspondance to Mrs Arbuthnot ] does tell his master
(29th April) I think that my servant John saved my house, or the lives of many of the mob - possibly both - by firing as he did. They certainly intended to destroy the house, and did not care one pin for the poor Duchess being dead in the house.

so he was at one point legetimately married in 1806 to Lady Katherine Pakenham.

Can currently find no mention of children, but I am not anglophile enough to own any books where he is covered in more detail. A marriage of some 25 years woul normally be long enough to produce children, even giving him his propensity to be off fighting and politicking=)

As far as I know, there were no photographs of him - since the wedding was in 1846 (or thereabouts), I don’t think Daguerreotypes were up to the task! And unfortunately a tyrranical great-uncle-by-marriage of mine took all his papers and scientific equipment from my late great-grandmother when he married my great-aunt, and gave them all away to his adult children of a previous marriage, then died. :mad: Needless to say, the family is no longer in contact with them.

A 1921 Martin guitar that belonged to my great-grandmother. (Still has the original finish! And it sounds great.)

I believe our family has a commemorative plate that was issued when one of our somewhat distant cousins was elected President.

lol i did say wedding or life…but it does suck that the papers got given away. Any way to track down whoever got them? maybe they would part with them…you can only ask=)

But you could at least give Waterford an email and ask if they can help you date the glassware…can’t hurt to give it a try=)

The Duke of Wellington, assuming you’re talking about the famous one, Arthur Wellesley (1769-1852), had no daughters. He had two sons, one of whom died childless, the other producing 6 children. The 8th and current Duke was born in 1915.

My husband’s family has lived in the same town since the late 1800s (where we live now, as a matter of fact) so we have lots of old family things. One neat thing we own is a portion of a handwoven bedspread that his great-grandmother made, and it is dated 1824. We’ve got it framed and mounted behind glass over a bookshelf. Loads of old books dating from as far back as 1810, old family silver and crystal from the early 1900s; lots of stuff from the first third of the 20th century. We also have a glass sugar and creamer set that allegedly belonged to Abigail Adams, according to family lore. The WryGuy is a descendant, but we don’t know for sure if these really belonged to her or if that’s just family legend.

Oldest thing I have from my own family is my great-grandmother’s hat, circa 1913.

The oldest thing I have is a signed letter from Teddy Roosevelt. Apparently, one of my relatives was the ambassador to Bolivia. :cool:

I have a Native American flint point which dates to the Paleo period (ten to fourteen thousand years ago.) I found it when I was a kid, and never thought much of it-- I thought it dated to the “cowboy and Indian” days, and they’re very common around here. (Add to that it’s very plain and crudely made when compared with the lovely flint points of later times.)

Based on the shape, or fluting of a piece, scholars can tell you which people made it, and how old it is. I took mine into the museum in which I work on the day an expert had come to advise us on the new Native American exhibits we’re installing. I casually mentioned the piece when we were chatting, and he asked me to bring it to work with me the next day. When he told me how old it was, I was floored.

That doesn’t make it particularly valuable, mind you. Even points as ancient as these are relatively common in these parts. I just love it, though, because I enjoy imagining what the person who made it might have been like. It’s sheer “ancientness” is humbling. This very point might have been used in a mammoth hunt!

Oldest heirloom I have is the wedding band of one of my great-great-great gradmothers.

Oldest heirlooms I have are photographs from the 1880’s and 1890’s.

Heirloom horror stories:

When my great grandparents died, their children threw out:

  • The letters my Grandfather wrote home during the war
  • The family bible, containing locks of hair of every member of the family
  • Old photographs

Another relative’s aunt had their very old family bible, but decided to throw it away because “it was falling to pieces”. She kindly tore out the pages with the names and birthdates of all the family members and sent them to her (horrified) niece. The rest of the book went out with the trash. :eek: