Over the next few months we’ll be sharing some highlights from the Old York Historical Society’s “The Best of York” exhibit. The public can view these objects during the 2017 season.
Today’s “Best of York” object is a late Gothic reinforced document box. The box is oak with wrought iron fittings and an interior till for storing coins. Made in Belgium or the Netherlands around 1550, the box was decades old by the time New England was successfully settled in the 1620s.
The box descended in the family of Henry Sewall (1576–1655) who was born in Coventry, England, and immigrated to Massachusetts in 1634. His great-grandson, Captain Samuel Sewall (1688–1769) settled in York around 1708. Henry’s father, Henry Sewall, Sr. (1544–1624), had been a wealthy linen merchant or linen-draper in the city of Coventry.
In the 16th century, Flanders (now part of Belgium), held a monopoly on the production and sale of fine linen. English merchants like Henry Sewall, Sr., regularly imported large quantities of costly Flemish linen brocade, which may explain why this 16th-century Flemish-style box belonged to the Sewall family of York, Maine.
Old York staff discovered a nearly identical 16th century lock in the Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam, seen here.
“The Best of York” exhibit features over seventy rare artifacts, most made or used between 1690 and 1850 in Southern Maine and the Piscataqua Region of New Hampshire. Many of these objects have previously been in storage, or were part of period room settings in historic buildings. Together, they tell the story of one of New England’s oldest communities development from a frontier outpost in the 17th century to a community of sophisticated tastes and world views.
The exhibit is open to the public during regular museum hours, Memorial Day through October. Please visit the Old York website for more information: oldyork.org.