When I was 5 years old my grandfather gave me this ‘stuffed’ baby crocodile. It was already a very old specimen. He claimed it was found on the banks of the Nile in 1904. Whilst it probably dates from around this time, I think he may have made up the story to appeal to a child’s imagination! I thought it was incredible and it became my most treasured possession. It was the centre-piece of my bedroom ‘museum’ and undoubtedly sparked an interest in taxidermy and curiosities. Many years later I discovered just how ordinary such things are, but it never lost its appeal. It now has pride of place housed under a glass dome in my ‘Cabinet of Curiosities’ at home and it’s my children’s favourite piece.—Alexis Turner, Natural History Dealer and Founder of London Taxidermy
While our identity in the present most often rests at the forefront of our minds, it is where and who we came from that feels forever intriguing. Past, present and future, we are made up of stories, and what we’ve inherited, be it object or not, helps us to piece those stories together. Swedish, London-based photographer Joakim Blockstrom has started a collective piece called The Heirloom Project in which he “is trying to investigate the links between those ‘hand-me-downs’ and how that has made an impact on us as individuals.” He has created an ongoing library of heirlooms coupled with personal stories of identity, memory and nostalgia, reminding us that so much can be contained in an object, the magic inside growing more powerful with age. Blockstrom invites your stories, saying “this project is about and depends on your contributions.” You can contribute here.
My grandfather was a great sailor and taught me a lot about boats and sailing. He always carried a ‘Leatherman’ sailing knife, which he was constantly using. Whether cutting ropes or just tinkering, it was always with him. I remember how he kept it so well oiled and it smelled like his workshop. He passed away a few years ago, and unfortunately we had to sell his yacht, but I tried even harder at sailing hoping to make him proud. My grandmother wanted to give her grandchildren one special thing to always remind us of how gentle and nice he was and I was given his sailing knife. I now sail all the time, training and competing around the country and always hope that he can see what I’m achieving. I carry the knife in my kit bag everywhere and use it just like my grandfather did and hopefully, when I am older I will own a yacht and use it as much as he did.—Stan Chick, Age 13
Ever since I can remember I’ve had this paperweight, playing with it as a child I payed close attention to it’s cold touch and it’s rough texture. It once belonged to my Australian grandfather, a person I never met and know very little about. Although I have always known it was his its significance never occurred to me. Only now do I look at it and wonder who he really was. Sometimes I think this sleeping wombat knows more about my grandfather than I do.—Luke Cave, Biochemistry Student at UCL
No one in my family ever seemed to notice how weird it was that one day my grandmother started wearing a Swatch. I have no idea how it came to her, or when. Ok, it wasn’t a fluoro coloured glow-in-the-dark Keith Haring edition.
It was a relatively demure black one with a white face and roman numerals. But still, it was a Swatch.
Visually, I’d always thought of my grandmother as a prototype “little old lady”. Classic, a bit elegant, with no particular acknowledgement of current styles or trends beyond the comfort zone she’d mapped out years previously.
Throughout my childhood she wore the same delicate thin gold watch with a very tiny face, in keeping with someone born in an earlier part of the twentieth century. She wore it with black leather open toe shoes, forties style, opaque white stockings and dresses. Always. From these givens I could take some unintellectualized kid comfort. When I first caught sight of the Swatch on her wrist, I couldn’t quite process why I found it so curious. But the disconnect between my grandmother and this plastic disposable pop-up fashion item was so huge to me, I wondered what else I might have to re-evaluate in my life. The reverberations were potentially massive.
From that day on, I could think of my grandmother in no way other than Swatch-wearing. And it never became any less curious to me that the gold watch had mysteriously been replaced with something from another era. The one we were currently living. When she passed away I knew I had to inherit her Swatch. Just that. Nothing else mattered. No one really understood my obsession. It was happily handed over to me.—Valerie Phillips, Photographer
I inherited this bible after the death of my grandfather, Manuel Simeão da Silva, but the most important thing I inherited from him was his stories. My memory of him wasn’t so much as an ardent bible reader but as the adventurous young man he once was and for his playfulness. He lived in another state and I was about 4 years old when I first met him. I remember him swinging me on a hammock, feeling terrified by his wrinkly face and dark skin every time the hammock swung close to his face. He was a cafuso, his mother was Brazilian Indian and his father an African. It was only later when he came to live with us, after my father’s death, when I was 11 that I got to know him better. He had mellowed by then; he wasn’t the severe man I had heard about. In fact, I think his old age regression matched my age at the time.
He was a great storyteller, telling me the wild tales of his youth and how he was quite the Don Juan. There were many stories about travelling through the jungle, and in particular his encounter with a dangerous snake. How he had eloped with my grandmother and how her father contracted bounty hunters to kill both of them. It was only much later that I realized I was the only one he told those stories to. At times, I would get bored of listening as he repeated them over and over again. In hindsight I can see the wisdom of the repetition, because I can now remember those stories.—Viviane Carneiro, Psychotherapist
After my parents divorced in 1948, I went to live with my grandparents in Carnerigasse 35 in Graz, Austria. Almost every day grandpa would tell me stories about his time on the Eastern Front during WW1. They featured Cossacks mounted on horseback skewering Austrian soldiers with long pointy iron lances. During an attack in Galicia he was shot in the head but survived. Sometimes I was allowed to poke my little finger in the bullet hole inside his head.—Otmar Thormann, Photographer
My dad died when I was just a lad leaving me with just a few vague memories of things we did together. The things I tend to remember more are the things he did funnily enough. He was always doing something, be that making furniture, printing his photography in the darkroom, screen printing, painting, or just sitting drinking whisky late at night playing his guitar. He never made it feel like we couldn’t join in though, it was just he was busy and we were all happy to fit in around him because it made him what he was.
Memories can be triggered by many things, none more so than our sense of smell. So If you put a bottle of Rotring ink under my nose today I know I’d be straight back to dads study. His wooden swivel chair, his blood red desk, Letraset pages scattered all over and his Rotring pens all laid out, whilst he toiled over his latest poster for a local theatre or communist party poster . I always loved the coloured collars they all had and thought they must be very special. By Day his proper job was teaching kids with behavioral problems at a local school, but at night he’d let loose on his current creative outlet and we might not see him for hours. Its funny but as I write this I realise i’m becoming exactly the same. Every night I escape to my studio at home, somewhat oblivious to everything around me, and sit there and make music or work on images until the wee small hours. Got a lot of my dad in me I guess, although I never did get the taste for whisky.—Owen Gale, Picture Editor
In the early 1970s I was nine years old when my family scrimped, saved and borrowed to take a train from Liverpool to Jersey for our first and only holiday ‘abroad’. The hotel had palm trees and a swimming pool, and seemed like the most exotic place in the world. My sister Joanne was five years younger and hadn’t yet learned to swim, but on our first evening she walked backwards into the swimming pool. There was nobody else around, so I jumped in fully clothed and lifted her from under the water to the side of the pool. I was more concerned about being in trouble for getting my clothes wet, but my parents were beside themselves with gratitude, and recounted the story to everybody in the hotel.
We never had much money at the time, so I was amazed when they offered to buy me a watch the next day while out in the town. They were thinking of something small, inexpensive and age-appropriate, but I pointed to a large, ostentatious diver’s watch, which was well out of their budget. We left the shop empty-handed, and I thought nothing more of it until the next day when they surprised me with the watch. I wore it constantly for years after, and now it sits in the bottom of a draw, but in my mind it will always be a most valued possession to pass-on, representing the love and selflessness of my parents.—Ian Pendleton, Creative Director
My father’s mother built this house in the mountains near the small town of São Francisco de Paula in Brazil, in 1954. There was only her house and my mother’s aunt’s house there. My mother was born there and would later go back for holidays, as did my father. They met only because of this house. They could see each other from the windows as the houses were 300m apart. This was before the trees they planted grew: over the years many trees and other houses grew up nearby. Looking at this picture now, it’s hard to recognise the place. We went there on holiday – extreme summers, hard winters – a place for reading, dreaming, eating, playing. The only time I have seen demons, red and hairy, was there.—Lucia Koch, Artist
My dad was a fundamentalist born-again hellfire preacher, and I grew up in a very antagonistic relationship with him. My normality as a teenager was hoping new girlfriends wouldn’t notice the faith-healing, amens and hallelujahs going on in the front room. I left home as soon as I could and it took me over a decade to sort out the mess that kind of religion leaves you with. Then I was able to notice the man my friends had – funny, eccentric, generous (he loved cartoons, he regularly gave away more money than he could afford, he taught himself Hebrew, Greek and Aramaic so he could read ‘what the bible really said’). We still disagreed on almost everything, but we found we had a lot of common interests.
Shortly before he died he gave me his sermons. It was a brilliant, tongue-in-cheek gesture from him (mixed with some earnestness). They’re dated, with where he preached and what hymns they sang, and they’re passionately annotated and reworked. They were the thing that I most wanted, because they were him put down on paper. I can never read more than a couple of lines though, because they’re so intolerant, aggressive and angry, and that’s not how I want to remember him. But that’s also why they’re so great, because their accidental message to me is about not being too hasty to dismiss someone because I dislike their attitudes. I’d have missed some great conversations that way. My heirloom reminds me that we’re all weird, and we only think we aren’t because we choose friends who are weird in the same way as us.—John Wyatt-Clarke, Photographic Agent
I inherited Cassie from my mum years ago – guess I kind of just took her one day, as she had been shoved in a cupboard for years, and was wearing no shoes, no knickers, no top, just a rather chunky, unattractive knitted pink skirt and braces, and even though the smile (obviously) remained intact, looked somewhat chipped and neglected! I felt a bit sorry for her. She was my mum’s first doll, and sported hair ‘back in the day’, but like a well loved grandad, I’d only ever know Cassie as a baldie! But the broad metal staples that held three strategically placed tufts of hair remain in her head – another reason to feel for her!
My Mum passed away a few years back, so Cassie’s presence in my home has taken on even more significance. I like to move her around a bit, so that I never quite take her for granted! Although most visitors think she’s rather creepy, to me she’s always just my Mum’s Cassie, and I think she looks really rather magnificent in all her naked, ebony glory, albeit a bit chipped!—Suzanne Stankus, Creative Director/ Stylist
If you have every wondered why Architects of a certain age stereotypically wear bow ties; the reason is simple practicality, not sartorial elegance. Before working with a computer screen and a mouse, Architects spent hours hunched over a drafting board putting pencil to paper. Those Architects who wore normal ties were forced to either invest in a tie clip and look like a 1950’s accountant or throw their tie over their shoulder like a World War One flying ace.
Part of drafting, prior to the undo button, was erasing which created large deposits of rubber and paper debris. To clear one’s drawings, all Architects kept a drafting brush to hand. My heirloom is my Grandfather’s drafting brush. Dating from the 1950’s or 1960’s, it was manufactured by the German firm of Dietzgen from 100% sterilized horse hair. The brush also features the letters “BE” carved into the timber frame. These are the first two letters in his surname, Berry. The rest of the letters have been rubbed away with time. When I started architecture school, my Grandfather passed on his drafting tools to me. While a majority of the tools were of sentimental value only, the brush proved its usefulness over three years of graduate school and seven years of drafting before my board was replaced with a 21” monitor. The brush has now found a third life for itself. Despite my best efforts to keep it hidden away in my man drawer, my young daughters are convinced it is really a crumb brush and should, like in a fancy restaurant, be used to clean the table between dinner and dessert.—Philip Keller, Architect
My dad, Eddie Garrett, was a Telegraphist Air Gunner in the Fleet Air Arm during World War II. He mainly flew in the old open-canopied Fairey Swordfish bi-planes, affectionately known as ‘stringbags’. This was the same type of plane that famously pursued and sank the German flagship, Bismarck. He sat behind the pilot, facing backwards and was responsible for staying in communication with his base just using morse code, and for defending the plane from attack from above and behind.
This is dad’s leather flying helmet, which he kept after being demobbed and gave to me some time before he passed away. The tubes connected to the ear pieces are not electronic but merely open pipes which plugged into the console in front of him and allowed him to converse with the pilot above the noise of the engine.
In the early 60s it was clear that England was still living in the shadow of WWII. Consequently people such as me, who grew up through that period, have a curious sense of nostalgia for aspects of the war even though they have no actual memory of it. This helmet gives me a direct and enduring physical connection both to my dad and to a period of history from which I am obviously disconnected yet feel strangely familiar with.—Malcolm Garrett, Graphic Designer