Monday, December 6, 2021

Safe But Forgotten

All That Glitters

How do you keep your valuable jewelry safe? Is it just lying in bureau drawers or did you make it even more convenient for a thief by leaving your entire collection in a fancy jewelry box on your dresser to be grabbed by any intruder in one fell swoop?

I remember a sad time in my life when my grandparents went from their home to a nursing facility. While in the process of moving their furniture and belongings before getting settled in their new environment, they both became agitated and motioned to my mother to check the drapes and her winter overcoats immediately! 

What? What the heck was so important about drapes and winter clothing in July? First a little family history. My grandmother Josephine was a seamstress/dressmaker her entire working life, she made everyday dresses, wedding gowns, bridesmaids gowns you name it. My grandfather was a craftsman. He handmade fine quality leather shoes for the old Bostonian Shoe Company from the 1930s to the late 1960s. He was also a skilled carpenter; both my son and I currently work at benches my grandfather built for me in the 1970s. You have to understand that Nana and Pa were victims of the Great Depression and lost nearly every penny they scraped up and saved together. After that event, they never trusted a bank again. Pa was adamant I check his workshop for valuables… I assumed he meant his beloved woodworking tools.

Now back to the future past. It was a hot summer weekend when we moved their whole previous life to the nursing home. On Nana’s advice, my mother and sisters checked the drapes and curtains, and to our amazement, they noticed there were hidden zippered compartments in some of the hems! You guessed it, they contained cash and jewelry! From there they went to the closets containing the winter coats where they found more hidden zippers on the insides of the coats that were full of valuables and cash. 

It was now up to my brother and I to investigate Pa’s cellar workshop. It turned into an unusual Easter Egg Hunt, only we found out we were looking for cash, silver and gold coins. We found mason jars full of silver dollars, small leather bags with gold coins, along with rolls of $20s hiding in nail and screw containers. I went so far as prying up a loosened door threshold and found cash wrapped in wax paper. He built secret compartments in his workbench, containing more cash and coins! We searched everywhere in the cellar; I’m sure to this day we did not find everything in that house. Come to think of it, I never checked the backyard! I once heard a story of another elderly gentleman who buried thousands of dollars wrapped in ordinary newspaper in his back yard, and when he went to retrieve it years later, he found all the cash had decomposed to a mildewed confetti-like substance. Not exactly safekeeping.

May 9th, 1998 was a sad day. My grandfather passed away only days before I flew up to Boston to be with him. He gave me his favorite ring, something I will always cherish and hand down to my son when it’s my turn to make gold halos for the angels in heaven. He held my hand and said to check his woodworking shop in their cellar very carefully. I could barely understand him, in Italian he said to me, “There are valuables down there!” I told him my brother and I did what he asked 2 years ago and everything we found was brought to my mother and dad for safekeeping. He seemed pleased to hear that.

Folks will do all kinds of things thinking their safekeeping method is foolproof; it’s not foolproof if you forget where you hid it! And that reminds me of another couple who destroyed all their jewelry in a bright flash. Let’s call them “The Smiths.” Apparently, Mr. Smith was in charge of hiding the fine jewelry when they went on vacation. In his mind, what he had dubbed the ultimate “hidey hole,” was the trash incinerator in his basement. There was one flaw in this stroke of genius, however. He didn’t mention the hiding place to the Misses. 

You guessed it… He forgot the stuff was there, and days after they got back from a restful vacation, she decided to burn some trash. What they brought into my shop was at my initial inspection, or so I thought was a really bizarre Salvatore Dali sculpture. It was a bunch of burnt and melted jewelry, coins and what appeared to be a Rolex watch fused into a heavy oblong mass. The question that was put to me was “Is there anything I could do?” 

Ah, no… It appears you pretty much choked the chicken here with your valuables! When I asked what the heck happened, I was told the story and their main concern was that somewhere in that block of fricasseed precious metal was her two-carat diamond ring. They wanted to know if I could find it.

Well, after grinding, heating and prying away layer after layer of what used to be a very impressive jewelry collection, I found the ring, removed the diamond and had it repolished to remove the fire stain. Yes, I was able to save the diamond, everything else was a nightmare, however. Some of the precious stones—such as emeralds, opals, and a set of vaporized pearls—shattered from the intense heat.

Another thing about hiding valuables around the house is fire. If your house burns down, it’s unlikely you will find your valuables intact, unless you own a fireproof safe. My suggestion for avoiding any future pain and anguish is to invest in a small or large floor safe for your guns and valuables and have it bolted to the floor or wall for the ultimate in peace of mind. Bank deposit boxes are okay, but I have learned most folk don’t use them for the everyday jewelry they wear, and it’s a bit of a hassle. My friends at Gulf Island Lock & Safe here on the island can hook you up with a simple safe system to use in your home.

Be safe and be smart during these trying times and remember a little courtesy won’t kill you!

Richard Alan is a designer goldsmith and owner of the Harbor Goldsmith and welcomes your questions and comments at Please note his shop The Harbor Goldsmith at The Island Plaza on Marco Island will be closed for their annual vacation August 31st – September 20th.

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