It’s obvious you get to see some pretty amazing things working at Heritage, but sometimes it’s what you don’t see that’s the most amazing of all. One of my favorite things to learn about is secret spaces, hidden messages and concealed compartments.
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Call it a throwback to the Batcave: Every boy wants their own secret lair under their house. It turns out that lots of collectors are eager to own a secret compartment, too.
We’ve handled a number of these clever items and here’s a few of my favorites.
The original Wooten’s Patent Cabinet Office Secretary is known as one of the finest examples of American craftsmanship ever built for the retail market. Built by the Wooten Desk Co. of Indianapolis, Ind., the multi-chambered secretary was popular during the late Victorian Era, aka the last quarter of the 19th century. Two great paneled doors open up to reveal dozens of drawers, paper slots and tiny compartments suitable for holding enough supplies to run a small business. Wooten desks were a status symbol, for sure, and were often custom built for their owners. Many can be found with hidden compartments to stash cash or valuables.
Is it a $20 gold St. Gaudens coin or is a pocket watch? It’s both! Built by the Ebel Watch Co., this watch has a 17-jewel mechanical movement concealed within a replica of a 1927 $20 gold coin weighing just 33.3 grams. The hinge is nearly invisible but allows the two sides to split open, revealing a simple watch face.
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It’s easy to see how craftsmanship affects value and sometimes an item’s true value is enhanced by the ingenuity built inside. Gadget canes are popular collectibles and are known to hide everything from liquor to firearms. It’s dazzling the lengths some cane makers would go to hide compartments. This carved ivory and wood cane gives you a pretty strong hint at what’s tucked inside: The handle pulls away to reveal a brass storage compartment for two cigars. How neat is that?!
Al Jaffee’s ingenious back cover illustrations in MAD magazine were always my favorite part of the book. I usually took care of the comic books I bought as a kid, but I had no problem practically mutilating my copies of MAD by folding the back cover in on itself to reveal Jaffee’s latest joke. Sometimes you could guess what the hidden image was going to be before the fold but other times the joke wasn’t so clear. Most other times, the gag was worth sacrificing a mint copy.
By Eric Bradley