"After my dad died a year and a half ago, I started to explore my roots, and acquired a family ledger dating from the nineteenth century. The shabby brown leather tome had spent a good many years in an attic in East Sussex. In florid pen and ink, its pages list all the properties that my great great grandfather owned and leased across London. It details purchases, sales, freeholds, leaseholds, deeds, ground rents, drain plans, maintenance and repairs, ordinance survey maps, photographs, newspaper articles, as well as many illegible notes and instructions scribbled in the margins. I was astonished to learn that in the late nineteenth century my great great grandfather had built an entire estate more or less at the end of the street where I now live. Much of what was then known as the “Furneaux Estate” is still there today." -Caroline Furneaux, Photographer

"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

"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

"This knife was given by my grandmother as a gift when I left my parents home, at the age of 20. It was part of the cutlery she received as a gift from her mother when she married my grandfather in their hometown Vassouras and settled in Rio, in the 1930s. The handle and blade are originals. I have other knifes, more modern and sharper, but this is my favorite. It has a very comfortable grip, which reminds me of my family every time I use it." -Andre Fischer, Publisher

"This lamp has been something that has been in my life since I was born. My mother was born during the Second World War, and the house was bombed heavily, and my grandmother lost everything. Photos of her family from the 19th century, favorite possessions from her parents, heirlooms, everything. So after the war she started collecting things from her travels, or friends would give her interesting items. This Chinese carved lamp was one of those. It had a light blue pleated shade with pompoms on the bottom, quite charming and hilarious at the same time being on top of this Chinese carved man! I always loved looking at it, it seemed the most exotic thing at the time, in amongst all the velvet curtains, pink sofa and shaggy rug in front of the fireplace and the very english porcelain figurines." -Clare Waight Keller, Creative Director, Chloe International

"My grandmother’s rocking chair. It reminds me of afternoons spent at her house getting bored while the grownups were busy lunching or just being boring. I remember sitting in it and trying to think of ways to play with the wooden monkey and stacking soldier she had – pretty much the only toys in the house and they got boring pretty quickly.
My grandmother was not one to fuss over small children but she was very conspiratorial with me – I sat in the rocking chair and she taught me to play backgammon and cards instead. It’s funny now, doing what I do, to be so frequently appraising the design of mid-century Ercol furniture and Rosendahl wooden toys, I certainly didn't appreciate that at the time and I'm not sure my family did either. They probably did though. Nature or nurture - who knows?" -Henrietta Thompson, Writer

"My father died when he was only 41, and I was 14. He was a craftsman and enjoyed working with wood. Apart from losing him, one of my biggest regrets is that he died before I had the chance to talk to him and learn this craft from him. My most treasured possession is his old toolbox with his metal initials on, ‘MSC-Michael Stanley Cook’. This box contains some of his most-used tools. It’s a strong wooden box he made, and the felt lining shows the respect people had for tools back then, trying to minimize damage and scratches. In recent years I’ve become accustomed to using these, (using books and the internet instead to glean knowledge), and now also collect vintage tools to add to my collection. Soon I will need to make my own toolbox." -Gary Cook, Art Director

"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... 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

"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 recognize 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

"This lamp used to sit on my grandfather's desk and was probably bought by his father. I remember being fascinated by the metal dragons and how, when the bulbs were lit, they seemed to breathe fire. It is very precious to me, not only because it is a thing of great beauty but because it has this magical power to evoke very loved people, places and times." -Liz Corcoran, Journalist

"My dad, Eddie Garrett, was a Telegraphist Air Gunner in the Fleet Air Arm during World War II. 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." -Malcolm Garrett, Graphic Designer

"This Kowa camera used to belong to my Japanese granpa in Osaka. He died when I was 19 and I inherited it. He was a keen amateur photographer, loved taking photos in camera clubs and used to show off the images of beautiful models posing. He was also a keen English learner who would translate his favoruite ABBA records into Japanese and wrote to his Hawaian pen-pals in English. Now he must be enjoying his second life living inside me, speaking English every day and being a photographer in England. Without his influence, I would not be what I am now." -Mayumi Hirata, Photographer

"The little green plastic box is usually to be found tucked away in a drawer. It contains a humble pair of tarnished silver cufflinks, my fathers. A gift from his sister when she lived in Canada during the 60s.
Although he's been gone some twenty years it's only now, in my forties, that I'm starting to understand him more. He worked hard on the roads but the only picture I have of him is at a similar age, dressed in Sunday best. I don’t sport shirts requiring cufflinks very often these days but if I did I would most surely wear them." -Michael Harrison, Creative Director/ Publisher

"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." -Phillip Keller, Architect

"This type of clock used to be known as a granddaughter clock. It is a French timepiece in an English cabinet and an engraved plaque on the front reads: 'Presented to Capt. Geoffrey W. Sherston by the tenants of the Grantley and Brimham Estates, March 1935.' The tenants were farmers on large country estates in North Yorkshire and the recipient, my grandfather, was the manager of the estates. The clock and chime mechanism both have to be wound with a large key once a week, and there is a highly sensitive adjustment lever to adjust the speed of the clock if it’s gaining or losing a few seconds over that period."
-Kasper de Graaf, Writer and Editor

"My grandfather would sit in his chair in the television room. It was dark, lit by a tall lamp with a patterned fringed lampshade. There was an old gas fireplace which was surrounded by small ornaments and items that he had collected. Next to the chair there was a large ashtray in which he kept his pipe. This was the smell that first greeted me when I came into the house although not what you probably assume to be an unpleasant stale smell but a comforting subtle smell. Even after my grandfather passed away, this smell still lingered and when we cleared his house I knew that this was the one item I had to keep as whenever I smelt it, it reminded me so much of him." -Scarlett Blockstrom, Nutritionist BSc Hons

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An Online Project Collects The Stories Behind Favorite Heirlooms

Everyone has at least one handed-down item that seems more alive than the rest. A British photographer wants to tell its tale.

Genie lamps, ancient tomes, swords in stones: Classic tales reveal that certain objects possess magical powers, absorbed through generations of inheritance. With today's relentless pressure to just buy more and more, it's easy to forget the power of our own belongings. We’re all hoarders on some level. But most of us have at least one heirloom with a rich history, an item that seems more alive than the rest.

British photographer Joakim Blockstrom wants to hear these particular stories and to document your favorite heirlooms. Blockstrom founded The Heirloom Project, an online bank of images of passed-down objects along with their histories. The intent is to start a discussion about the meaning of inheritance and its relationship to our identities and what we value.

"It used to be that you’d inherit a chest of drawers from an ancestor. But now, with Ikea taking over the world, that happens less and less," Blockstrom tells Co.Design. "Mass production has benefits, but poor design can lower the value of an individual object, since you know 200,000 people have the exact same thing."

Stories in the collection range from the handed-down treasure, like a pair of 1960s silver cufflinks, to the handed-down trauma—one woman asked Blockstrom to photograph her naked body, post-mastectomy, to feature the breast cancer she'd inherited from her mother. Highlights include a stuffed baby crocodile, supposedly found on the banks of the Nile in 1904; an Australian paperweight shaped like a sleeping wombat; an old architect's brush; and a bald ebony doll named Cassie.

"I first tried photographing the pieces in dramatic lighting to give them a more theatrical presence," says Blockstrom, "but quickly became convinced that the best way to present them was in their simplest form, against a white background, allowing them to speak for themselves."

He has plans to develop The Heirloom Project into a book, as well as a gallery exhibition that would include photos, original objects, and stories.

How to submit your heirlooms: No object is too large or small. Did you inherit an old cigar box? The One Ring to rule them all? A scrap of your grandmother’s skin, peeled from a sunburn, pressed between the pages of an Edna St. Vincent Millay book? Blockstrom would like to photograph your treasure, either where it's kept or at his studio. All you have to do is send him a description and explain how it links your past to your present—what makes it a part of you. E-mail contribute@theheirloomproject.co.uk.

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