A box without hinges, key, or lid,
Yet golden treasure inside is hid.
“Riddles in the Dark” is one of the most-quoted chapters of J. R. R. Tolkien‘s classic, The Hobbit. In this chapter, the Ring makes its first appearance, and Bilbo’s wit and resourcefulness prove him worthy of his role in Thorin’s company. Simple by Bilbo’s standards, his riddle nonetheless stumps Gollum, but Gollum’s memories of the sunlit world come to his rescue: “’Eggses!’ he hissed. “’Eggses it is!’” Bilbo’s riddle came to mind as I contemplated Photography 101’s Treasure assignment. Like the answer to a riddle, the golden treasure of an egg is hidden — not a suitable subject for a photograph.
All that glisters is not gold –
Often have you heard that told.
Many a man his life hath sold
But my outside to behold.
Gilded tombs do worms enfold.
In Shakespeare’s The Merchant of Venice, Portia’s suitors must choose from three caskets to determine who will become her husband. The outward appearance of the golden casket belies its true value, as the Prince of Morocco learns to his disappointment: “All that glisters is not gold” (2.7.69). The casket of gold contains a skull, while the real treasure — a portrait of Portia — lies within the casket of dull lead. While gold and jewels gleam temptingly, most of us realize as we move into adulthood that the things we treasure most are often ordinary, even humble, in appearance. Such is the case with the item that I chose to showcase for “Treasure”: my printer’s tray.
In the 1980s, hanging a wooden printer’s tray on the wall became a decorating trend. My tray has followed me from abode to abode for decades. With one exception, the items on the shelves could hardly be called “treasures.” Many are remnants from the dollhouses that I furnished as a child. The plate, the copper pots, the brass vase and pitcher, the “Little Poetry Book,” the lamp, the picture frame, the nesting houses, and the candlesticks came into my possession as accessories for my dolls’ dwelling places. The phonograph, the rocking horse, and the iron started out as Christmas ornaments but were soon appropriated for dollhouse use.
Some objects on the shelves predate my dollhouses. The Little Kiddle in the lower lefthand corner was part of a Mattel craze in the late 1960s and early 1970s. There were Storybook Kiddles and Locket Kiddles (the doll on the shelf came inside a large plastic locket). Despite their over-sized heads, I was an enthusiastic collector of Little Kiddles, owning even a few Kologne Kiddles. Glancing at the Vintage Little Kiddles site, I felt a pang when I saw the amazing Kiddles that I had missed out on, such as the Chitty-Chitty-Bang-Bang Kiddles. (Had I owned them, they would be languishing in the attic now, along with most of my childhood possessions. Such is the way with material things.)
A few objects came from my grandmother’s house: the china shoe, the ivory elephant, and the disconsolate gray puppy all found their way from her collection of curios into my printer’s tray. A high school friend presented me with the green slippers and the china pixie, while a college friend gave me the mushroom candle. Another friend cross-stitched and framed the words of our college hymn, “All for Jesus.” The green camel came — I think — from a shop outside Bryce Canyon, while the red-roofed house, which scrolls through a slideshow of “Cinderella” as the chimney is pressed down, is stamped “West Germany”: a souvenir from the travels of my great-aunts, perhaps?
While most of the items have little monetary value, many represent a time when the limits of my world did not extend much farther than the rooms of my dollhouse. When I look at the miniatures, I remember Alisa, whose dollhouse was the inspiration for my father’s building mine. Glancing at the old-fashioned shoe, I remember the dim shelves and musty books in my grandmother’s house. The black cat came from the house of a elderly woman in Virginia, I think? I cannot remember where that cheerful dog came from: I named him Wimsey, after Lord Peter, but did my mother give him to me? Where did I acquire the blue-and-white candle holder? Which forgotten friend or relative donated it to this assortment of oddities?
Fitting into the large opening on the bottom shelf, the opera glasses that belonged to my great-grandmother are a genuine treasure. My mother bequeathed them to me when I was in college and going to operas at the Tivoli in Chattanooga. Often, I ushered so I could get in free, but I bought a ticket to attend a production of “Carmen” with a couple of my friends in the chorus. The glasses actually work, although it has been years since I tucked them into my purse for a night at the opera. They need polishing, but they are an heirloom — and a testimony to a time of gaiety in my great-grandmother’s youth.
Are the curios on this shelf the items that I value most in the world? No, but the relics of my youth have value: like one of J. K. Rowling’s portkeys, the ivory elephant can transport me back to my grandmother’s house in seconds.
Today, as I heard heartbreaking news about a friend who had hoped to become a mother, I was reminded of how much I treasure my husband and my children. In mid-November, I took this photo of my husband and youngest son while we were on the “Mystery” photo shoot. Later, after Thanksgiving dinner at my in-laws’ house, my children posed for a photo, Brady Bunch-style.
I do not deserve these riches, nor am I a worthy recipient of such treasures.
For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.