Mark Forder's stamp collecting journey started at the exact same time he acquired the Steele box over 25 years ago.
His grandfather had a collection stamps that Mark would look at every so often when he was young. The stamps were amazing, the artwork itself was outstanding.
Getting into the stamp and ephemera collecting journey occurred when the Steele box first appeared. When he first obtained it, Mark created a web page called "1800's Ephemera". This is when the internet was in its infancy but you can still find remnants of it on the internet, other pages today link back to it even though the original page is no longer there. "I tried my best back then to research the items in the box by buying books, talking to people and, using the little information that I could find using search engines. They were limited and really did not help so much. It was not easy. I actually did so much research that someone listed me in a directory as an ephemera expert which I absolutely am not.
At some point I found that I could not get back to the papers / binders that I started to create. Work was very busy and is seems like for a quite a while I just did not have any free time. I decided to place the box & binders in a closet and there they sat for about 22 years more. Once COVID hit I pulled them out and started going through them again. The 22 years that went by made it a lot easier to find information on them via the internet and here we are today.
There are so many papers and with each day I find out more and more about them. The one thing that I have been asked time after time is "when will you be selling the papers from the box"? My answer to that is I am not at the moment. I am trying to figure out the mystery of "The Steele Box" puzzle and I am trying my best to connect the papers to each other. Unfortunately, I have not written much down yet, it's mostly in my head for now."
Mark shares the story of how he came across the box and describes some of the items inside the box below:
The "Steele Box" origins…
In the mid 1990's my wife worked as a manager in a bank in the town of Newton, NJ in Sussex County. I do not know the exact age of the building. The Original bank from where the "Steele Box" came from was across the square and it was called "The Sussex Bank". The bank building was located on the main square in the town. It was 3 or 4 stories tall and had a large basement full of dark rooms. This was the kind of basement people just don't wander around in. The basement had an active 1 1/2-foot stream flowing through it, there were rats and other things around as well. It also had a fallout shelter with boxes and boxes of war rations in it. In the basement there was also an old vault that was no longer being used, it was always open. In it there were several things, including a box which I still have.
In case you are wondering why I have the box it's because...
The management of the bank decided to sell the property. In preparation they reached out to my wife who explained to them the situation in the basement is in dire need of assistance. To sell the property, the bank decided that the basement needed to be emptied and everything needed to be thrown away. My wife then called the Newton Historical Society who came and took some of the items in the vault.
This is where I come in....
As the basement was being cleared out the bank basically looked at nothing, just picked up whatever they found and threw it away into a dumpster outside. I cannot imagine all these historical items ending up lost and forgotten. The basement of the building was room after room and seemed to have gone on forever. At the end of each day that it was being cleaned out I would go up to see if there was anything that was worth saving from the dumpster. I went a few times, and I could see old newspapers from the 1940's, a lot of damp worn out bank papers, some rations, furniture, the list goes on and on.
Then one day my wife said that the vault in the basement was next on the list to be cleared out. The workers were instructed to throw everything into the into the dumpster and they did exactly that. This is when I found the "Steele Box". It was on its way to the trash heap, and I grabbed it, little did I know what was inside. The box had another box sitting on top. In it is where I eventually found a few things that I would like to share.
More on the "Steele Box"...
I have done a lot of work looking into what I call the "Steele Box". Joined groups, shared information, and learned from these groups. Please know that I am not interested in breaking up the content of the box right now since a lot of these papers are related to one another.
What is the "Steele Box”? …
I can tell you it is a box that looks like an old milk box / storage container, with wood handles and made of metal. It's about 18 inches front to back, 22 inches side to side and about 18 to 20 inches deep. I named it the "Steele Box" because it is basically a time capsule from the 1860’s to the 1890’s from a Mr. Charles Steele.
Who was Mr. Charles S. Steele...
- Railroad Engineer of some sort
- Local Baseball Player
- Fan of the New York City and local theatre as well and an actor himself
- ...and more
In the box there were...
- Copper printing plates, one of which has the signature of George Washington on. Mt Vernon. I did find out that this is a forgery by a well know forger know as Robert Spring.
- CDV photos of actresses Lotta Crabtree from the California Gold Rush days taken by a well know photographer from New York City named Jeremiah Gurney. He was ranked up there with Matthew Brady who happened to be the person who made the cases for Jeremiah's photos early on. As you know Matthew Brady then went on to take the famous photos which he is well known for of President Abraham Lincoln.
- Employee timetables from the Lackawanna Railroad, Chicago Railroad, and other railroads.
- Love letters.
- A letter that is from a man Charles knew who was trying to evade being captured by the police or being found at all. He travelled all over, even throughout the Cape of Good Hope in Africa. The letter also says he was in London and Melbourne. He even contemplated suicide. The letter if you would like to see it is shown in the link below.
These are two of the papers were used in a movie produced by Disney. The movie starred Kevin Costner, Robert Duvall and Anette Bening. There is a "Wanted" poster that was used in the towns Sheriff's Office/Jail (they changed the name to a stage name)
a Longman and Martinez poster also used in the movie, next to the door in the General Store scene.
- Letters to bring electricity to Newton.
- Business Cards
- Papers, ledgers, and so on all tied to arranging local Baseball games in the area including New York City in such places as Coney Island.
- Broadside of the first kidnapping in the United States for ransom, Charles ("Charley") Brewster Ross.
- Opera house floor plans from New York City.
- Bill Heads and Broadsides.
- Bank Checks
- Obsolete bank notes that were used as currency before the Federal Reserve been into existence.
- ....and more. There are over 2,000 pieces of paper (Ephemera) in this box.
As you can see it's overwhelming, but I am sharing this story so that folks can see these pieces of history, enjoy them, and learn from them. Wish me luck!
Click here to see more photos of items from this unique find.
Please note that all images mentioned and used in this article should not be copied and reused/sold.