A Timeless Tradition: A Man’s Treasure Box

by Brett on August 6, 2012 · 133 comments

in A Man's Life

“We used to wait in the library in the evening until we could hear his key rattling in the latch of the front hall, and then rush out to greet him; and we would troop into his room while he was dressing, to stay there as long as we were permitted, eagerly examining anything which came out of his pockets which could be regarded as an attractive novelty. Every child has fixed in his memory various details which strike it as of grave importance. The trinkets he used to keep in a little box on his dressing-table we children always used to speak of as “treasures.” The word, and some of the trinkets themselves, passed on to the next generation. My own children, when small, used to troop into my room while I was dressing, and the gradually accumulating trinkets in the “ditty-box”—the gift of an enlisted man in the navy—always excited rapturous joy.”  – Theodore Roosevelt

Growing up, one item that loomed large in my boyish imagination was a small wooden box my dad kept on top of his dresser. There was nothing really special about the box itself. What made the box an object of fascination was what my dad kept inside it.

The box was the place my dad stored all his little trinkets that he had gathered through the years: pocket knives, cufflinks, class rings, and tie bars are just some of the items he kept in the box. But to me and my brother, my dad’s knickknacks were more than mere trinkets. They were treasures.

It was always a treat when dad would bring his treasure box down from the dresser and let me and my brother explore the items. I was amazed how much stuff he was able to cram into such a small space. Even as a boy, I recognized that my dad’s treasures were pretty darn manly. The box even had the faint manly smell of metal and musk.

I’ve talked to other men who share a similar memory as mine. Just like Theodore Roosevelt, they can remember specific items from their father’s or grandfather’s “treasure box.”

My dad’s treasure box is still in the same place it’s always been for nearly 30 years. Last weekend I visited my folks and brought my camera along so I could take some pictures of my dad’s treasure box and share them on the site. Below I take you all on a photo tour of my dad’s treasure box. I also snapped some photos of my own burgeoning treasure collection.

Top of my dad’s dresser.

Close-up on various pocket knives and my dad’s New Mexico game warden name tag.

Shotgun tie bar.

I was obsessed with this tie chain as a kid. It’s a working replica of a foothold trap. You can set it and put your finger on the trigger and it will snap shut. I’ve seen something like this sold in truck stops marketed as “mosquito traps.” I thought it was the coolest thing in the world as a kid. Twenty years later, I still think it’s pretty darn awesome.

One of many pocket knives in my dad’s treasure box.

My dad has recently added another box where he says he keeps “the real treasures.” These are all his badges he’s collected over the years in his service to the U.S Fish & Wildlife Service.

Fish & Wildlife badge when my dad did some work up in Alaska.

“Your readers who are hunters will know what this is,” my dad said. It’s an elk tooth, also known as elk ivory.

The Guardian of My Dad’s Treasure Box Since 1978: The Ceramic Mallard Soap-On-A-Rope Holder

Containing a manly scented soap-on-a-rope, this ceramic mallard has sat atop my dad’s dresser, standing guard over his treasure box since 1978. Avon sold these back in the 70s. I know there’s got to be some older readers who got this awesomely manly soap dish as a Christmas present along with cologne in pheasant-shaped bottles. I always thought it was cool, manly, and distinguished as a kid. I will be fighting my brother over it when we settle my parents’ estate.

I don’t think my dad ever used the soap. It still smells great. Avon needs to re-issue these bad boys. I think they could sell a boatload of them for Christmas. I’m pretty sure Old Spice got their idea for the  grizzly bear deodorant holder from this duck soap dish.

My Treasure Box

I’ve continued the tradition of keeping some “treasures” above my dresser. My dad gave me some of his treasures, to which I’ve added my own mementos. I’ve had several treasure boxes over the years, including old cigar boxes. Those are great man treasure boxes. Today I keep my trinkets in a wooden valet that I got for Christmas a few years ago. My collection is pretty paltry compared to my dad’s, but to be fair, he’s had a few more decades than me to build up his collection.

My memento mori cufflinks I wear to my monthly Freemason meetings.

This tie bar belonged to Kate’s grandfather. He passed away a couple of years ago, and Kate’s Nana gave it to me. It’s in the shape of the USS Indiana, the battleship he served on during WWII.

Several of the items in my box are things AoM readers have sent me over the years. Those are some of my favorites. One AoM reader sent me this handsome meerschaum pipe that’s in the shape of a pirate’s head. I don’t smoke, but it will forever hold a place in my box of manly treasures.

Front of the pirate’s head.

Some of you have probably noticed the  Mormon missionary name tag nestled among my treasures.  I served a Mormon mission when I was 19 in Tijuana, Mexico. My mission was a defining moment in my life and definitely a rite of passage into manliness for me, so the name tag definitely deserves a place in the box.

This is a pocket watch that two of my friends from high school gave me before I left for Tijuana. They engraved a quote from Seneca on one side: “Time discovers truth.” On the other side are their initials.

You’ve got to have pocket knives in your box of manly treasures. This one used to be in my dad’s, but now it’s in mine.

Douk Douk pocket knife the kind folks at Bench & Loom recently sent me.

My almost two-year-old Gus is already interested in my treasure box. He likes to sit on top of my dresser and rummage though things. His favorite thing is the harmonica. He still doesn’t have it quite figured out yet. I’m looking forward to when he gets a bit older and I can share the stories behind the items, just like my dad did with me.

Showing Gus his Pop Pop’s old pocket knife. Just as my dad gave me some of his treasures to start my collection, one day I’ll give Gus some of mine so he can start his.

What’s in Your Treasure Box?

Who else out there has a box on their dresser that contains their manly “treasures?” What do you have in your box? Share with us in the comments.

Better yet, share a picture of your treasures with us. Take a picture of them and upload it to the AoM Community, or you can use Instagram and tag them with with @artofmanliness and #manlytreasures. I’m looking forward to learning about your man treasures!

If you don’t have a ditty-box for your manly treasures, start one today. It’s a great way to store your memories as well as those small assortments you use on a regular basis like tie bars and watches. It doesn’t have to be very fancy. Old cigar boxes are great for holding man treasures. (If you’re looking for a cigar box, pick up The Art of Manliness Collection. It’s both our books encased in a vintage inspired cigar box.) Or just pick up an inexpensive box from a craft store, like Hobby Lobby. Someday your kids will enjoy rummaging through your manly treasures and hearing the stories behind the interesting things you’ve picked up along life’s way!

{ 133 comments… read them below or add one }

101 RL November 1, 2012 at 4:00 pm

I’ve got a couple of challenge coins I got when I was in the Army, my first set of Jump Wings and CMB as well as E-5 rank insignia, a pocke knife from each of my grandfathers, a spent casing from the honor guard gun salute at my grandfather’s funeral, an old one phennig coin, a ten guilder bill, HS and College rings, set of my old dog tags and a set from my grandfather.. lots of other stuff these are just the ones that I can remember right off the top of my head.

102 AWright November 4, 2012 at 7:48 pm

Wow! I thought I was the only one with a treasure box. I am not aware of my dad having one, but I sure sure do. Some of the exact same items as well. Small trinkets, tie tacks, class rings, pocket knives, arrowheads, foreign currency, etc. Thanks for sharing! Love the site too!

103 Acleek November 6, 2012 at 10:38 am

I strongly remember growing up my dad’s treasure box was his ‘Dog Box’. He still uses it to this day, and I can only imagine what it has in it now.

104 Nate November 14, 2012 at 11:23 pm

I have that same Fossil watch among my “treasures”.

105 Benny November 15, 2012 at 1:10 pm

Great article! I have a lot of similar items: pocket knives, different forms of currency, some $2 bills, concert tickets, retired watches, smoking pipes from my dad, old rosarys, and pins of acheivements, and I have some trinkets of the Space Needle as I’m a Seattle guy. But I’d say one of the better treaures I have and value are some charms of Bugs Bunny and Elmer Fudd that were passed down to me. My grand dad was an animator for Warner Bros. and they are pretty neat.

106 Brian November 15, 2012 at 8:03 pm

Another great article and valuable advice. I have no treasure box, but will get one to keep all my memorable items in. Family is a very important part of life and I can’t stress it enough in our day and age. I have a nephew who’s 1 1/2 and a niece who is 2. They already look up to me at such a young age, so I’d love to start off on the right foot; influence them in the best way possible. This article has definitely helped me in many ways and I will incorporate it in my everyday life. Kudos!

107 E.A. Burt November 19, 2012 at 5:42 pm

There’s something about these things things that’s definately wonderous to a father’s son. I remember the one my father had and all the cool things he kept in it. Unfortunately I don’t think I’ll see it again. I hoped to inherit it but alas, it won’t be for family problems. I did find one on Amazon that seems pretty good but otherwise, a good valet box seems hard to come by. I’ would love to make a custom one. If anyone know where some GOOD ones are at, let me know!

http://amzn.com/B000TJYXRI

108 Matt November 30, 2012 at 9:28 pm

Anyone have woodworking plans for making one?

109 Matthew December 3, 2012 at 10:50 am

I want to start one of these for my kids that my wife and I are planning on trying to start having soon – I already have a few trinkets and stuff that I keep, but not a box to put them in. Anyone know of a good place to get a good box? One that has multiple levels or drawers would be nice; felt lined as well…

110 Bryon December 7, 2012 at 3:23 pm

I’ve gathered objects from my travels or those that remind me of friends. This ranges from a wine cork to a stone from Omaha Beach.

111 RandyN December 23, 2012 at 9:51 pm

I checked, I have five. No I’m not a junk collector just tons of neat stuff I’ve managed to collect over the years. Handcuff keys, name tags, pocket knifes, loose .223 /.40cal rounds, extra uniform badges, my dad’s WWII wings….the list goes on and on. Mine are all cigar box’s that I pick up at the local cigar shop for a few buck. After thinking about it and all the stuff maube I am a junk collector.

112 Andrew December 29, 2012 at 10:10 am

Is that an Eagle Scout ribbon in your treasure box? It looks like it, but I think you would have it pictured if it was.

113 Hunter January 3, 2013 at 10:27 pm

I have my grandfather’s cigar box that he used as his treasure box. it has a really cool drawing of a tall ship on the top and deco carved sides. unfortunately its rather small. i am challenged since i have already overfilled it. Recently I am considering finding an old large humidor for my treasure box. What do you think?

114 Joe January 7, 2013 at 4:51 pm

I thought it was just me or something but I have had a treasure box for years. Didn’t know other guys did that. Thought I was a bit weird for it.

115 Lebron February 22, 2013 at 7:10 pm

I didn’t know men did this, and quite frankly I think it’s awesome. I’m 23 and I plan on starting mine tomorrow!

116 Philip Shimer April 21, 2013 at 12:54 am

Thanks for the inspiration! I just started this with my son! It is absolutely fascinating to see what a 3 year old places value on “to make the cut” to be put in the box!

http://shimergap.blogspot.com/2013/04/be-boy-8-secret-stash.html

You probably hear this a lot but, I really enjoy this blog! Keep up the good work!

117 Joe August 6, 2013 at 11:27 am

My probably most prized possession, a mickey mouse watch from my grandfather 44 y/o with an unbreakable wind up spring, still works today.

118 Steve August 6, 2013 at 11:34 am

Mine includes the standard issue compass my great Uncle Neil carried as a WW I doughboy. Has a fob and a snap-open cover like a pocket watch, and the initials U. S. on the cover. Still works beautifully. Also one of his rings, a ring from my maternal grandfather and a ring and watch from my paternal grandfather. They will go to my own grandson.

119 Michael AtKisson August 6, 2013 at 11:35 am

I’ve had treasure boxes since I was little. The collection is now spread all over the place. My most current box is by far my favorite: a plate glass salesman’s sample box that would be shown to customers. It reads ‘Mississippi Glass’ across the front of the lid face, and my dad found it when we worked together at a small furniture manufacturing plant when I was a teenager. The box itself is a treasure to me. Among other things, it holds ponytails from my three daughters’ first haircuts, pictures of my wife when we were younger and she made my brain quit working correctly, and several glass marbles that I have discovered when disturbing the soil around my home. Every man needs a treasure box.

120 de-junker August 6, 2013 at 11:54 am

I’m not sure if I should be disappointed that I don’t have such a thing… I throw things away first chance I get. Keeping things that have lived passed their usefulness or were never useful to begin with I toss gleefully. Even one small box is too much for me. I’d rather throw it away and clear the space. I also decidedly do not keep a journal either… something about the past just holds no appeal to me.

121 John August 6, 2013 at 11:55 am

I have things like the medal from my first boxing match, pictures from when I use to rodeo, a drawing my dad did, a pocket knife my brother gave me, a firefighting pin(I want to be a firefight not one yet), a paper I received the first time I gave blood, a couple two dollar bills, a bullet necklace my sister gave me, and two things my grandma and mom gave me.

122 jerry August 6, 2013 at 12:04 pm

I have a small treasure box..my main t b was my memories that I shared with my daughter. My time spent sharing truth was far more important to either of us. Make you treasure words of life, wisdom, honor and love. Copy?

123 D Velasquez August 6, 2013 at 1:23 pm

this is a great idea, im going to start my own treasure box so i can share it with my future kids (i have no kids so far) , it could be fun and a manly tradition to pass to your child.

124 Crystal August 6, 2013 at 6:04 pm

Funny, my dad kind of had one, but do did my mom. I have probably 10 at this point. Navy challenge coins, a few lapel pins, some things that belonged to my grandparents, key chains from family trips, etc. I was always a packrat. And a tomboy, so that probably adds to why my husband and I both have our own ditty boxes lol

125 Dane August 6, 2013 at 6:39 pm

I have 3 boxes on my chest of drawers, one is a red tin ‘toffee box’ from the 70′s that contains items from my childhood such as my scout and cub scout ‘woggles’, a stone from my great grandmothers grave, a 1940′s pocket knife from my father, a cameo brooch of my mothers, a box of matches from the 60′s with a dog on it; the second box is a large carved box given to me by my kids to replace a cardboard cigar box, it contains: 3 pocket watches, 4 wrist watches, 3 pocket knives, various rings from my ex wives and from my father, cufflinks and jewellery my children have given me, the final small carved cedar box contains my 4 straight razors that I use for shaving

126 Gregory August 9, 2013 at 3:48 pm

My box is made of cedar and has a painting of “The End of the Trail” on it. I remember getting it from the Kings Canyon NP around age 10.
It holds four broken watches (I really need to get them fixed!) two tie clips, and some lapel pins: my college (Cal State San Bernardino), two BSA camps (Camp Whitsett and Camp Emerald Bay), National Eagle Scout Association, and a Toastmasters pin.
The box also has a grommet from an American flag I retired while working at Camp Whitsett.
I also have Camp Whitsett challenge coins, a “obey the beard” button, a few sea shells. A few coins: two pence, wheat penny, and a John Adams dollar coin (I’m a big Adams fan).
Next to my box I keep cufflinks (including my grandfather’s) and my fraternity badges (as a proud Sigma Chi alumnus).
I keep a box of just letters and notes from my wife, and she has a box of mine.

127 AJR August 20, 2013 at 4:02 am

Reading what all you guys are putting in your treasure boxes kind of makes me feel pathetic… I, um, don’t really have anything significant or important like pins, medals, badges, knives, watches and so on…

When do you guys pronounce an item worthy of enshrinement for the future?

128 Gerry September 29, 2013 at 11:27 am

That US Fish and Wildlife Alaska enforcement Agent badge is definitely a treasure. There are no more than 40 in existence and they are a true collector’s item. Worth at least $1000!! I have one, and although I have no family connection to it, it is treasured by me, as I do work in that field.

129 Elece Johnson November 13, 2013 at 2:35 pm

What’s in my box: A Morgan silver dollar, my old license from when I was 18, pocket knifes, a mini flask, an old Toys R’ Us nametag, a half dollar my parents taped to a hernia I had as an infant, a varsity letter from high school sea shells,…. among other random things.

130 Tanner November 13, 2013 at 5:34 pm

I knew it! You are LDS. That’s cool, keep up the good work!

131 Luke Mitchell January 19, 2014 at 10:30 pm

Every since i was a little boy my grandmother used to take me upstairs and show me my grandfathers treasure box. I would get so excited everytime going through everything. Im 16 now and i didnt realize this was a past tradition for other people. It awsome to be able to have a treasure box and this is a tradition that absolutley needs to stay. I just hope one day i can add half the amazing and manly stuff that my grandfather had.

132 Blake February 28, 2014 at 12:13 am

I recently brought two tough boxes (foot lockers) back to my new (more permanent) place from storage. I didn’t intend to bring them as I didn’t take everything–still keeping the storage–but I was pleasantly surprised. On the outside are shipping forms and the script I wrote on one metal surface in industrial sharpie. The return address called to me from a time passed: FOB Rushmore, Paktika Province.

I wondered as I read this what I could possibly put together for future generations; my brother is going to have his first kid in a few months. Then, I remembered, I still had those tough boxes.

I think they’re great how they are, but this article has great ideas for making it even better.

You guys are the best!

133 TKM March 10, 2014 at 1:32 pm

Absolutely loved this post, Brett…That pocket knife of your dad’s is a nice-looking tool. Also a big fan of the mori cufflinks; I’ve got a set of basic silver S&C cufflinks on order. Also, never knew you were LDS, props on the missionary work.

My box contains my old ID card from the hospital, a few of the knives I regularly carry, my first # tag with it’s broken pin, my wrist watches, a Zippo, a neoprene memorial bracelet for 3 slain colleagues, and an antique wind-up pocket watch that works like a charm anywhere but in my pocket.

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