15 January, 2010
On October 17, 2003, a large iron strongbox, dated from the late 19th century, was discovered in the basement of a small house in Duquesne, Pennsylvania. The house was once owned by my grandfather, Cedric Pepper. The house was sold following his death in 1987. The subsequent owner returned the strongbox to my family, as my grandfather was the house's only previous occupant. That was the beginning of my association with the enigmatic and wondrous Hawkins Strongbox.
It took a team of technicians eleven months to decipher the strongbox's locking mechanism. On January 21, 2005, it was finally opened. In the years since, the contents of the Hawkins Strongbox have been disseminated, examined, cataloged and preserved by scholars and curators at the Victorian Mechanical Museum in London, England. To say that many of the items found within the strongbox have been revelatory would most certainly be an understatement. Manuscripts, letters, photographs and other assorted ephemera discovered therein have unveiled an enigmatic "age of wonders," a lost history of the Victorian era that has remained mysteriously unexamined by contemporary academia.
The namesake of the Hawkins Strongbox is one Geoffrey Hawkins, and it is his story that will unfold here in the many months and possibly years to come. Four hundred and ninety-six items from the strongbox have been cataloged to date, and museum officials have indicated that those items represent just one half of the box's contents. Therefore, the story of Geoffrey Hawkins will certainly not be presented here in any type of linear fashion. It will be a potentially puzzling, disjointed exploration, but one that I hope will still ultimately prove enlightening and satisfying.
As we launch this effort, I want to express my thanks to Archer Bowens, Documents Archivist for the Victorian Mechanical Museum. It was a chance meeting with Archer at Wake Forest University in late 2003 that brought about the Museum's involvement with the then still unidentified large iron chest. Archer has since been with the Hawkins Strongbox project every step of the way and has been instrumental in helping prepare collection items for online exhibition. His is a spirit of adventure not entirely dissimilar from that of Geoffrey Hawkins, whose life and legacy we now explore.