Famous Historical Heirlooms

Posted by Sheryl Lutz-Brown on

We hear a lot about items passed down through generations that are deeply cherished by families and hold a lot of sentimental value. These items are all heirlooms, yet as modern society and cultures advance, the word ‘heirloom’ has become associated with objects passed on that hold not only sentimental value, but monetary value. These kinds of things tend to fall under the categories of jewelry, antiques and luxury designer clothing. 

Over the years, there have been many weird and wonderful artifacts left to loved ones. William Shakespeare left his second favorite bed to his wife… not his favorite, his second. Thomas Shrewbridge left 29,000 stock shares in the local electric company to his dogs, who frequented board meetings following his death. However, in this post, we’re going to look at some more of the extravagant pieces of jewelry, accessories and gems left behind as family heirlooms.

Benjamin Franklin’s Diamond Studded Snuff Box

a diamond and light refracting from it onto a white background

Benjamin Franklin was given an elaborate gift from King Louis XVI in 1785 upon his departure from France. This was a custom for diplomats leaving the country at the time, however, the King clearly viewed America’s first ambassador as more than a passing diplomat. The gift was a highly decorated snuff box adorned with a portrait of the monarch, alongside a dazzling 408 diamonds. 

It immediately became an object of much gossip and speculation. Upon receiving the box, Franklin may have been seen as being indebted to the King of France, and that he would bring corruption back to Philadelphia. However, not accepting the gift would go against the customs followed in France and could destroy any relationship held with the country.

In his will, Franklin requested that his daughter Sarah receive the snuff box, but was not to turn any of the diamonds into ornaments or jewelry. Initially, Sarah followed the wishes of her father, but eventually started removing the diamonds. The box was passed down through generations of daughters, each who took their share of the diamonds from the box, leaving only a single diamond by the mid-20th century. Some of the original diamonds have since found their way back home to the snuff box, but most are still traveling the world. 

Marilyn Monroe’s Baby Grand Piano

portrait of marilyn monroe wearing red lipstick, a necklace, and a white fur stole. she is in front of a red and white striped background.

Marilyn Monroe famously left all of her possessions to her acting trainer, Lee Strasberg, and his wife Paula, who were like parents to her following an upbringing in an orphanage and foster homes. Unfortunately, she never specified where her belongings were to go following his death and they ended up being passed on to Strasberg’s second spouse, one that Marilyn had no relationship with. Anna Strasberg sold the majority of Monroe’s possessions for a hefty sum in auctions, along with her name and image, in which she lisenced a variety of products eventually making between $20 and 30 million dollars for herself. 

One particular item sold in the process was Marilyn’s much loved baby grand piano. This belonged to her mother, Gladys, but was bought for Marilyn so she could learn to play the instrument. It was secondhand, originally belonging to American actor, Frederic March. Gladys spent much of her life in mental care facilities and when she was first institutionalized, the piano was sold and Monroe was sent to an orphanage. 

Years later, when her career began, Marilyn started searching for the white piano, eventually buying it back when she located it in an old auction room about a year later. 

Following Strasberg’s death, iconic pop star, Mariah Carey, ended up buying the instrument for a cool $662,500, with a value of between $10-15,000. Mariah expressed how she wished someone had enough money to buy the entire estate and donate it to a museum. Instead, she purchased the piano and vowed to take care of it until she donates it to a museum as part of her own estate. 

Princess Diana’s Cambridge Lover’s Knot Tiara

a painting of princess diana in a pink satin dress wearing a tiara. she is in front of a golden banner and the night sky.

One of the most recognizable pieces of jewelry in the British Royal Family, the Cambridge Lover’s Knot tiara was originally created in 1913 for Queen Mary. This was eventually passed down to Queen Elizabeth, who gave it to her daughter-in-law on her wedding day. Princess Diana would wear the iconic tiara often and, even though she said it was so heavy it hurt her head, it quickly became one of her favorite pieces. Kate Middleton has since been seen wearing the diadem on a regular basis. 

The crown has 19 delicate arches and 38 exquisite drop-shaped pearls suspended from pretzel-like twists known as lover's knot bows. 

King Edward VII’s Silver Presentation Pilgrim Flask

a black and white photograph if King Edward VII. he is wearing a suit.

Heirlooms don’t only need to be passed down in death, they can be gifted while the owner is still alive for any reason they desire. Whether that be a celebration, a mark of respect or just a symbol of love. This particular gifting from King Edward VII is thought to have been to his great nephew, Crown Prince Wilhelm, on June 6th, 1905 in celebration of his wedding to Duchess Cecelie Auguste Marie. 

This royal gift was a silver presentation pilgrim flask created by Elkington and Co Ltd and was made in 1900. The flask is valued between £25,000 and £35,000. 

These heirlooms are all rather extravagant in sentimental and monetary value. However, not all heirlooms need to be diamonds or baby grand pianos, they can be something simple. As long as the item tells your story and is cherished, you could have yourself an heirloom. If you’ve never received an heirloom or you’re not aware of any in your family, it is possible to create one. Turning your jewelry into an heirloom can be a beautiful way to share your story with your family and generations to come. 

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