Tuesday, May 10, 2011

What's in Your Pocket?

Some years ago, a friend gave me a photograph of all Mahatma Gandhi's worldly possessions at the time of his death, in 1948. The photo was remarkable in that there were less than two dozen items total, including a 1910 Zenith pocket watch and his spectacles.

The Moderate Voice

This past March, five of those items were auctioned off in New York, causing much concern in India that ownership might pass to another country. There was an intense bidding war which was finally won by the Indian billionaire, Vijay Mallya, chairman of United Breweries Group and Kingfisher Airlines. Gandhi's relics would stay in India after all. The five items sold for $1.8-million.

The image of those items got me to thinking of a couple of similar photographs.

Thomas Jefferson Memorial Foundation
Above are the contents of Thomas Jefferson's pockets, found after his death. They include (clockwise from upper right): a key ring and trunk key, a gold toothpick, a goose quill toothpick, a pocket knife, an ivory rule, a watch fob, steel pocket scissors, and a red leather pocketbook.

National Park Service
Above are the contents of Abraham Lincoln's pockets the night he attended Ford's Theater. They include (clockwise from the right): newspaper clippings, a pocket knife, a monogrammed button, eyeglasses and eyeglass case, a watch fob, an eyeglass buffer, a monogrammed handkerchief, a wallet with a Confederate bill, and a second pair of eyeglasses and case.

Library of Congress

Library of Congress

One need not be famous for such collections to be of interest. My friend John Atkinson sent me images of a few of the many items that were found in the wallet of his grandfather, Dr. Harry H. Atkinson (1880-1932).

Dr. Atkinson was an avid hunter and outdoors man.

One of the more interesting articles found in Dr. Atkinson's wallet was a Civil War letter from his grandmother to his father and uncle. The uncle was killed weeks later. Dr. Atkinson must have carried this for decades.

Would the contents of your pockets or wallet reveal your character, or a provide a window into your personality?


  1. Hello Mark:
    There is something very salutary about all of this, a reminder, possibly, that we brought nothing into this world and we take nothing out!

    But how fascinating and intriguing to learn of the outcome of Gandhi's possessions, about which we knew nothing, and then to have a glimpse into the pockets of both Jefferson and Lincoln.

    Best of all in many ways is what you write about Dr. Atkinson for this is not only very personal [i.e. the grandfather of your friend] but serves to connect history with the present day.

  2. Hi, Jane and Lance - the Gandhi items that were auctioned off had been given, at the time of his death, to Gandhi's niece. I believe she was staying with and attending to him at that time.

  3. Mark, what an interesting post. Leave it to you to tackle the unusual.

  4. Checked out my pockets, and cleaned out my wallet. I had to reflect and gather my thoughts on this one Mark.
    Absolutely yes to both your question, but I think women tend to carry meaningful things in their purses instead of their wallets ( I do anyway). As for my pockets, the crumpled up tissue, dog treats, and small change, reviled my daly routine of seasonal allergies, bribing my dogs and the change I find doing laundry and cleaning the sofa. I will add that the paint stains found on too many of my clothes, completes the picture. Very interesting exercise.

  5. Hi, Gina and Anyes - I do my best not to carry things in my pockets, especially my weighty key chain, and that sometimes causes problems! But I do carry around several quotes in my wallet, and sometimes I'll hold onto a business card solely for its good design.

  6. SO interesting!! Hadn't heard about the Gandhi auction. I'm afraid my wallet would not be that revealing at all - would just show that I like to buy in bulk for my reasonably large family (Costco card), local (my local supermarket card), that I try and support the arts (MMA membership card) and that I've been other places and long to go again (a few Euros that I'm saving as a reminder)!

  7. Oh, well, you'll be remembered at the very least for a fascinating and classy blog!

  8. What a great post and equally terrific images! I will never fill my pockets the same way again.

  9. Google managed to lose a comment from WANDERING EYE, so I am replicating it here:

    What a great post and equally terrific images! I will never fill my pockets the same way again.

    Thanks, W.E.!

  10. I love the improved mosquito dope! That's fantastic. I tend to switch boat bags, totes, and briefcases with the same regularity Anna Wintour does purses, and I'm always pleasantly surprised by what I leave and find in my collection of catch-alls.

  11. Me, too! Especially when I find money from the winter before!

  12. What a unique idea for a post. It made me realize how much I miss having a pocket knife as I did when I was a child.

    The contents of my own pocket are very dull, but I think this little window of individuality is incredibly interesting in the case of famous people like Lincoln.

  13. Hi, Terry - Your comment reminds me that as a child, I always carried a good luck token of some sort. I look at the fancy "L" button that Lincoln had in his pocket and wonder whether he kept it to remind himself how far he'd come in life.

  14. Mark,
    Your blog is just fascinating! I checked it out the other night and there were so many topics that caught my attention, I am planning to go through all of the previous postings--otherwise I may miss out on something really interesting. I love the format, and WHAT GREAT STYLE! I will visit often.

  15. Thanks for visiting Aubrey! Such generous feedback is inspiration and incentive for all the postings to come! Mark