SEACHESTS
AND
BECKETS
Last rev. Aug 12, 2010
Pictures with
YELLOW boxes are
clickable  to produce a
larger picture:  with
WHITE boxes are
full-sized already.
Among some of the most personalized and idiosyncratic of all a sailor's possessions,  the seachest was not only his storage locker,  it served as
table, seat, workbench and was often decorated lavishly in his free-time aboard ship.  In general (
and this is a blatant generality!) the chests
themselves varied in size from about 26" up to 40" long and from 16" wide to 26" wide, usually about 18" high.  That doesn't sound like much room,
but you can pack quite a bit of clothing and gear in there and it was often all a sailor possessed.  

Almost all true seachests had a "till" or a small drawer in which were stowed all the small items of which he might be possessed: knife, sail palm,
needle case, a pipe, etc.   

European chests tended to the rectangular, while New England chests were mostly wider at the bottom and sloped inwards toward the top.  This
"slant" or "tumblehome" was to give the chest added stability in a seaway.

While some chests were made by the sailor himself,  most were the product of skilled cabinet-makers... last thing you wanted was a chest that
would collapse on you, so you tended to buy as good a chest as you could afford, and sometimes a better.   Decorations, unless carved during
manufacture, were almost always done by the owner(s) and some (see below) were most impressive,

The one thing on a chest that was almost always made by a sailor were the handles to either side (the "beckets"), used for carrying or hoisting
aboard and securing to a bulkhead or batten.  Beckets are considered by many to be the absolute epitome of a knotter's art and the more ornate
were constructed over the course of much time.  Many retired or incapacitated seamen made their livings by supplying beckets to chest makers
and owners.  (
Mystic Seaport has some truly astounding beckets in their possession!)

The Beckets Only page may be found HERE: devoted to chest beckets and cleats.
Described as "An English Seachest from the 1850's", the flags on
the painted ships seem to bear this out.  The till box cover has been
tricked out with national and signal flags,  the beckets seem to be
painted rope or perhaps leather coachwhipping and the canvas
cover, while it has seen better days, is not untypical of the era.  
37" long x 16.5" wide x 15" deep.  Note pic #5 shewing a single
board for the bottom...a good indication of being from the era when
large boards were available.  (A "six-board" chest)
The cleats would have originally been secured by clinched copper
spikes, but judging from the amount of dust,  those screws were put
in a LONG time ago.

Note the canvas covering on the lid... a very common feature of
seachests, the canvas kept wear on the wood down to a minimum
and was a prime target for decorator-types.

Appraised in 1978 at $850, it sold on Ebay in 2006 for
 $175!  
Wotta deal!
Click on any pic for a larger view
I've contacted the purchaser who promises
clearer photos as soon as.....
.................................................................................................................................................................................
Over on THE WOODEN BOAT FORUM there is a gent who contributes... a LOT, not only to the forum
as a whole, but to seagoing tradition and it's preservation, and his name is
HUGHMAN.  Never met
him, don't even know his real name, but he can have a berth on my vessel any time he wants one.  
He knots, sails, sings and is generally a credit to the seafaring nation.

Some of his work:
(1) and (2): a lovely set of traditional beckets and the chest he made with them attached.  Colours are
spot-on and you couldn't want better workmanship.

(3) Nicely done traditional leathered beckets  (I wanna be him when I grow up!)

(4) and (5) Leathered and wormed beckets with the copper nails used to attach the cleats (they get
'clinched' over inside) and the chest he and some friends made.   Worming refers to the line sewn
into the lay of the rope pudding (or core) which has been covered with white linen or light canvas.
(I'd use the technical name for that crack in the rope, but then some spam-blockers would list this as
a porn site... S'trewth!)   Worming was done when covering standing rigging with small stuff
(serving) to protect it from the elements...  One would worm the rope to achieve a level surface for
parcelling, or wrapping the whole in tarred linen or tarred light canvas strips,  then serve or wrap
them both in a tarred marline or small cordage, then tarring  or "slushing" the lot again.   The result
was fairly impervious to seawater and sun.    
"
Worm and parcel with the lay,  turn and serve the other way."

Another example of HUGHMAN's expertise may be found HERE.
.......................................................................................................................................................................................
This old chest was obviously turned into a child's playchest after Grandpa retired from the sea
or passed on.  The pictures (8) are from a book published in 1862!   An interesting feature is
the hidden till section (5) (6), covered up by what looks like the side panel (3) (4)  from the
regular till.  (1) shews the chest in elevation and (2) the side view.  (7) shews a becket and its
cleat, which looks like a wormed hemp grommet that's seen better days.  Also, (9) is a piece
of fender-laid line,  which looks like it might be nylon, which was said to "have been found in
the secret section" and I assume the seller thought it was coeval with the chest itself!   Well,  
hope springs eternal in the stupid breast, Dunnit?  Despite that, it's a very nice old chest and
the hidden till definitely makes it interesting.
.......................................................................................................................................................................................
"A 19th Century Painted Sailor's Sea Chest With Inlaid Decoration Circa 1850      Most likely American, this blue painted sea chest retains its' original
paint and surface. The beckets
(sic) and lid are inlaid with wooden stars. The cleats and rope beckets are also original.     
                            W 35 1/2" H 13 1/2" D 17"                      Price: Recently Sold for $3,995.00"
Mid 19th century decorated Sea Chest, American, probably
from New England. An exceptional chest constructed of white
pine with superb dovetailed joints and canted front and back.
Two-board top with applied end cleats for structural strength
and to reduce warping. The interior lid features a painting of a
three masted barque under sail and entering a harbor with
smaller sailing and steam powered vessels fore and aft. A
lighthouse stands guard at the point of a peninsula with a
rocky shore in background. This colorful nautical scene is
enclosed in a half circle and centered in a blue-grey ground
with red borders that conforms to the shape of the lid. The lid
is attached to the rear panel with its original forged iron strap
hinges. The top edge of the panels is detailed with scratch
beading. A ditty box (till) is fastened in the upper left of the
interior. The front panel has the rare addition of a solid brass
heart-shaped escutcheon plate.

One of the finest features of this exceptional sea chest is the
carved and polychrome cleats, featuring a series of
hand-carved diamonds decorated in shades of green, yellow
and small traces of red. A finely woven macrame becket
painted to match survives on the left panel. The chest is
complete with its original carved base molding, retaining its
original dark green surface. Remnants of the original now
crusted black paint are still visible throughout the panels and
lid. The original lock remains but the chest is missing its
original keep.

Depth: 18 ½ in. Width: 39 3/4 in. Height: 17 1/4 in.
As of April 14, 2006 this chest was still available  at SkipJack Nautical Wares Inc.
19th Century sea chest with old green paint. Slant
front and back with label inside which reads
'Robert Adamson, Master. Sloop Revenge Boston
1781'. Inside of lid is decorated with a well
executed drawing of a three masted fighting ship
with quarter galleries. Lid has old hand forged
iron hinges that have replaced the original ones.
Hidden compartment beneath shelf on left of
interior. Dimensions: 40" x 20" x 17". Condition:
old and worn

Bloody shame the owner wasn't better at
photography!  "Old and worn" is a good estimation
of the condition, but if you were 200-some years
old you'd be a bit worn as well!

The Sloop Revenge (10 guns) is mentioned
several times (
HERE)  (HERE)  in historical
documents and listed as captured in 1781 by HM
Frigate (24 guns).  As master,  Mr. Adamson
would probably have been imprisoned in
Portsmouth, England for the duration of the
conflict and would probably have been allowed to
take his chest and possessions with him, then
allowed to have brought same back with him
upon his release.  A much more "civilized time",
that.
Counter
1
2
3
4
5
6
1
4
2
3
5
1
4
2
3
5
6
7
9
8
.......................................................................................................................................................................................
.......................................................................................................................................................................................
1
1
4
2
3
5
6
7
9
8
2
3
10
11
12
1
2
3
4
6
5
MORE ON NEXT PAGE
spam
Page TWO         MODERN CHESTS
All content these pages ©2004-20107Frayed Knot
Arts.  All rights reserved.  Reproduction or use
prohibited without prior written permission.