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Treasure Chests

Author: wilkmd

I take up pen just having finished construction on a round-top steamer chest for use in pirate entertainment. I chose this model because it's the one that Hollywood has made most famous and irrevocably linked to Pirates. As I constructed it, however, I realized the truth of it. Most steamer chests, for a very long time, were pretty much like the modern suitcase: a wide, flat affair with a couple of closures and materials that determined the base price of the item. And for modern air travel, usually any old case will do. Unless the plane crashes or has some other major failure, the case won't be exposed to water, vacuum, or anything else that would cause alarm. Traveling on the high seas, however, the first thing to fear is water. Even with attentive battening, the chances of water getting in a hold were pretty good. And then, of course the tiny spaces in the berths would mean that cases would get stacked from floor to ceiling. If you were the owner of one of these squarish-shaped cases, the odds were about 1 in 10 that you'd be on the bottom and collect some water damage. Also, about the same odds that you'd be on top of a stack and have the water pool up on the lid until it soaked right through. But, wait, what if you had the money to afford a round-top case? Such as case cannot have others stacked upon it, so it would virtually always be at the top of a stack. It wouldn't ever stand in water. Plus, the slatted boards and lacquer form a nearly perfect method of guttering off any sitting water, so no damage from water on the top of it either. Now we get to the piracy. Not all pirates charge a ship, kill the crew and steal the ship, cargo and all. Often, nighttime raids, when most were asleep, were preferred if they could be accomplished. In such raids, which box are you most likely to grab? The one soaked in water at the bottom? Or the one obviously owned by someone wealthy, sitting neatly at the top of the stack? You'd get the top one first. And if your raid were interrupted, the odds are much better that you would get away with the round-top rather than a flat case. Similarly, if you do take the whole ship, you're likely to toss or sell the cheap stuff. If you were to keep just one or two chests around, they would probably be the really good ones. And the round top boxes were most likely to be made by genuine craftsmen, and built to last. So, there you go. Sometimes, they get it right. The round-top steamer case was almost undoubtedly the preferred case of pirates.

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