Wednesday, October 5, 2011

That's a tankard made from Oliver Cromwell's horse? You have got to be kidding!

            Like many Americans, I am awed by the age of “stuff” found in other parts of the world. In 3000 B.C.E., the Egyptians left us hieroglyphs and pyramids; in the 5th century B.C.E., the Mayans left us a calendar; in the third century B.C.E., the Chinese left us terracotta warriors. The British have a written land survey from 1066 A.D. that you can still read! That is mind-boggling, don’t you think?

            What amazes me even more than the sheer age of the “stuff” is that somewhere along the line, someone made a conscious decision to save that thing for posterity. Now I’m not talking about buildings, gold jewelry and tax records; everyone knows that it’s a good idea to save those. I question the wisdom of saving what my grandmother would have called “dust catchers.”

            Oliver Cromwell became Lord Protector of England, Scotland, and Wales in 1653 A.D. when he and his supporters overthrew the monarchy of King Charles I. Now stay with me here; I’m getting to the point. A short while after he became Lord Protector, Cromwell’s favorite war horse died. Poor Blackjack. Instead of giving the fellow a decent burial, Cromwell decided it would be a good idea to make large leather tankards out of Blackjack’s hide. These special tankards were inscribed with the words, “Oliver Cromwell, Lord Protector of England, Scotland, and Wales, 1653” to commemorate the victory. I believe I speak for us all when I say “yuck!”

            Now the point – yes, I’ve finally gotten there – is that somebody actually saved one of these “Blackjack jugs” for posterity! No, I’m not kidding. Paul Hoare recently showed up at a taping of Antiques Roadshow cradling this precious memento of Cromwell’s victory in his loving arms. It had been in his family since…um…1653. Apparently, not one family member in the last 350 years had the good sense to say, “Get that disgusting thing off of my fireplace mantel. I don’t even want it in the house!”

            I must admit that a tankard made out of Cromwell’s horse does make a good conversation piece. BTW, if you keep something like that for several hundred years, it may become valuable. Antiques Roadshow appraised the tankard at 30,000 pounds (about $45,000) which, in appraiser John Foster’s opinion, is “good beer money.”

            So raise a glass and toast Blackjack…and good taste.