Sunday, May 4, 2014

Walk Like an Egyptian

You've heard those stories of priceless items being found at Estate Sales?  Well, it happened to me.

Only these items were not what one would consider valuable in the monetary sense.  From a historical perspective, I believed them invaluable.  Which is why we helped them find a way home.

Here's the story.  At the back of a dusty garage in a very large estate liquidation sale were 3 old travel trunks.  These trunks had a history, according to the owner.  They were used by one of the leading Egyptologists of our time of whom you've likely never heard.

His name:  James Henry Breasted.

James Henry Breasted with wife Frances Hart Breasted and son Charlie (1906)

In a nutshell (and according to internet info and The Oriental Institute's biography), James Henry Breasted (1865-1935) should be considered the Indiana Jones of his time.  He was the first American to receive a PhD in Egyptology and founder of the Oriental Institute at the University of Chicago in 1919.  His expeditions of the Near East uncovered archeological treasures and attracted the interest and financial support of John D. Rockefeller, Jr..  Breasted's book Ancient Records of Egypt (1906) is still considered one of the most important works of translating Egyptian hieroglyphic inscriptions into English.

All of this led to 3 travel trunks in a garage in Arizona.

Typically after an estate sale, the owner decides what to to with unsold property.  Most often, the items are donated to charity and a receipt issued for tax purposes.  After this particular sale and on a whim, we asked and received the client's permission to hold back the trunks from the donation pick-up.  At the time, I really couldn't say what I thought we were going to do with three musty trunks.  In hindsight, seeing the peeling hotel stickers and faded initials (FHB, JHB and AB) brought the history associated with these trunks to life.

Built early 19th Century, reviews today call her a "tired old lady" of a Hotel

Shepheard's Hotel Egypt - First est. 1840, renamed Shepheard's Hotel in 1860 

18th Century Palace turned Hotel, now the St. Regis Florence

Grand Hotel Santa Lucia est. 1900, Naples Italy

After placing the trunks in my own dusty garage, I finally decided to reach out to James Henry Breasted's legacy organization, The Oriental Institute at the University of Chicago.  After emailing with the Museum Curator, shipping was arranged for two of the three trunks, the "His and Hers" initialed JHB and FHB.  The trunks were headed home, thanks to the kind donation of the client and interest in their preservation at The Oriental Institute.

In my mind, the question remains: Were these trunks used on any of the Breasted expeditions?  Well, they were obviously in Egypt and Italy.  I've looked through photos of vintage luggage labels trying to link dates to the trunk labels with little more than speculation.  I've also poured over the photos available on The Oriental Institute's archive and can't find the trunks pictured with the Breasteds.  What I did find was photographic evidence documenting the cultural and historical significance of James Henry Breasted's expeditions.  I would have never known if not for three trunks in a dusty garage.

Consultation with an independent ISA appraiser can help families review their estate assets.  An appraisal can help establish market values for items being liquidated, whether through charitable donation, auction, or resale into the secondary market through a broker, dealer or estate sale professional.

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