Homeless in Vancouver: Today on the Antiques Dumpster Show…

My binner friend Henry found this glass pitcher in a Dumpster.

It’s emblazoned with the number “1657″, which Henry fervently insists refers to the actual date when the pitcher was made, in England, of course.

He says he saw one just like it on an episode of the BBC’s Antiques Road Show TV program. He remembers the evaluator pointing to the same number and telling the owner that their jug was really that old.

The one Henry showed me is cloudy to look into, crudely and garishly decorated, broken and hastily glued back together—kind of how I picture England in the year 1657.

The year Cromwell didn’t become King of England

The English Civil War between parliamentarians and the royalist forces of King Charles I had ended six years earlier in 1651. The royalists were defeated; Charles I had been beheaded.

Oliver Cromwell was a key military leader of the Parliamentarians or “Roundheads” during the civil war. In the aftermath he consolidated dictatorial control.

In 1657, when Parliament offered him the kingship, he turned it down. He effectively had the job; he just didn’t want the title. Instead he ruled as Lord Protector for about a year before dying of natural causes.

To take him at his word he took the ultimate power not for personal gain or self-aggrandizement but to protect his country:

“I am a man standing in the place I am in, which place I undertook not so much out of hope of doing any good, as out of a desire to prevent mischief and evil, which I did see was imminent upon the nation.”

Having set up a police state, this staunch parliamentarian had no taste to dress it up in royalist trappings:

“…as far as I can see I am ready to serve not as a King, but as a constable. …to keep the peace of the parish.”

Cromwell had the misfortune of dying too late (by some 40 years) to be the subject of a play by Shakespeare and consequently British historians have never been able to agree on his legacy.

Over 350 years later, Oliver Cromwell still presents us with a complicated pitcher picture.

Sure he committed both regicide (against King Charles I) and something close to genocide against the Irish and Scottish people, but he also won the victory for constitutional monarchy, brought England back to stability, and helped paved the way for parliamentary democracy.

Peace, security, and freedom—pick any two.

Dumpsters didn’t even exist 350 years ago!

As for my friend Henry’s belief and hope that he’s binned a 350-some-year-old glass pitcher out of a Dumpster…I wish him luck with that.

The key to going through the trash in hopes of finding treasure is hope. Dumpster divers are eternal optimists: that could be gold. That might be a diamond. That might be a really old antique glass jug that someone glued back together with contact cement and then threw away. You never know.

I was able to find a similar antique listed at an online auction site: “An Historismus glass Jug, dated 1657” with an estimated value of £150 to £200 and a starting bid of £70. The auction was in 2013 and is closed now.

Without taking a position one way or the other on Henry’s find, I did counsel him to gently pack it inside with toilet paper and wrap it up safely.

The only thing more common than stories of Dumpster divers finding really valuable things in the garbage are stories of them finding and losing—or breaking—such things just before they could cash in on their good fortune. 

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