A pair of Victorian-era binoculars were found at White Rock’s Salvation Army Thrift Store. As it turns out, the binoculars have a unit connection to WWI. (Aaron Hinks photo)

COLUMN: White Rock thrift-store venture brings focus to world war

Mystery solved: Internet historians help piece together story on discovered treasure

Some have a knack for finding forgotten treasures buried in boxes marked “miscellaneous” at yard sales or thrift stores.

I’m not one of them, although my grandparents do have ‘the eye.’ Their treasures mounted to the point where they opened a now-closed shop, ‘Finders to Keepers,’ to sell their discoveries.

I wasn’t much help in stocking the shelves, but a blind pig can snort up a truffle, eventually.

In the second week of businesses reopening in phase 3, my partner and I visited the White Rock Salvation Army Thrift Store.

We felt like two Indiana Jones-esque characters braving the hazards to search for a sacred, golden idol. More accurately, we looked like a pair of masked sloths hesitantly leaving their branch for the first time, double-checking every step of the way.

Almost immediately, we found an old leather case containing binoculars. The leather on the case was stripped of its colour and looked frail. The binoculars were heavy, in fantastic shape, but they looked, felt and even smelled old.

We bought them. What we didn’t realize was the history behind this pair of J.H. Steward Optician “The Tourist” binoculars, but we were curious.

Thanks to the internet, we learned J.H. Steward was established in London in 1856. Steward was a well-respected optician to the British government, as well as the National Rifle and National Artillery Associations. We found an advertisement for the same binoculars in a book titled London in 1880. Our research indicated that the binoculars could be 140 to 160 years old.

A fascinating find, but there’s more. Engraved with a skilled hand, hidden underneath the lens hood, was another mystery. The marking read “U.S. NAVY ®29287.”

We spent days trying to figure out how exactly U.S. navy markings got on a 1880 pair of English binoculars. With the help of strangers online, we found the answer.

During the First World War, America was in a spyglass-, binocular- and telescope-shortage emergency.

In response, then-secretary of the navy Franklin D. Roosevelt launched the “Eyes for the Navy” program. The program asked Americans to sell their binoculars and telescopes to the navy for $1. In his appeal, Roosevelt said more “eyes” were needed onboard ships to look out for German U-boats, according to the Boston Athenæum.

The program promised to return the binoculars after the war, if possible. The navy recorded the name and address of the donor and engraved a serial number on each object. Americans reportedly donated more than 51,000 pieces of equipment to the program.

After the war, our guess – judging by the impressive condition – is that this pair of binoculars sat in somebody’s attic for 100 years before finding a spot on the shelf of White Rock’s Sally Ann for $50.

The true value is hard to determine and would require an expert opinion. However, a similar pair is currently for sale on eBay for $500, but that’s without the unique U.S. navy connection and original case.

According to an old advertisement, “The Tourist” binoculars were sold for £6 in 1880. Converted to Canadian with inflation, that puts them at about $1,000.

Unfortunately for collectors, we’re not selling. After all, finders keepers.

Aaron Hinks is a reporter for the Peace Arch News

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

A past extreme weather response shelter set up for women inside Surrey’s Nightshift Street Ministries. (Photo: Chris Paul/nightshiftministries.org)
Homeless people in Surrey face ‘shocking and scary’ scenario this winter

Last winter there were nine Extreme Weather Response shelters in all of Surrey and White Rock. So far, during this pandemic, there are only five lined up for the coming winter

Highway 99 traffic flows under 24 Avenue in South Surrey Monday afternoon. (Aaron Hinks photo)
A cyclist crosses above Highway 99 on 24 Avenue Monday afternoon, Oct. 19. (Aaron Hinks photo)
Liberals promise new freeway interchanges for South Surrey

NDP candidate taking pre-election announcement ‘with heavy grain of salt’

Surrey RCMP say a 30-year-old man was arrested and later charged following a traffic stop in Whalley. (Phil McLachlan photo)
Surrey RCMP say man charged after using allegedly stolen ID in traffic stop

Police say they found ‘stolen credit card data, lock picks, demagnetization devices’

File photo
Surrey Mounties seeking dash-cam footage of Whalley road rage fight

Two men are alleged to have stabbed one another

The RCMP helicopter. (File photo)
Suspect escapes after police pursuit through Surrey, Langley, Abbotsford

Police chase involved two stolen vehicles, including one taken in Mission

Conservative member of Parliament Pierre Poilievre speaks during a press conference on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on October 19, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick
Liberals say Tory effort to set up COVID-19 committee will be a confidence matter

The Tories were originally proposing an ‘anticorruption’ committee

A injection kit is seen inside the newly opened Fraser Health supervised consumption site is pictured in Surrey, B.C., Tuesday, June 6, 2017. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
B.C. records 127 fatal overdoses in September, roughly 4 each day

Vancouver, Surrey and Victoria continued to see the highest numbers of overdoses

A Rick Hansen Secondary School student died in hospital after suffering a medical incident in class on Monday. (File photo)
Abbotsford student dies after medical incident in class

Rick Hansen Secondary School offering additional counselling for students who require it

Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

Investigators work at the Sagmoen farm in Silver Creek. - Image credit: Observer file photo.
Sex workers allegedly called to farm of Okanagan man convicted of assault, RCMP investigating

Curtis Sagmoen, convicted in relation to assault of sex trade workers, is prohibited from soliciting escorts

Join Black Press Media and Do Some Good

Pay it Forward program supports local businesses in their community giving

(Black Press Media files)
Early voters more likely to favour NDP, but overall B.C. election is tightening: poll

According to Elections BC, 383,477 people cast a ballot during advanced voting days

(Pixabay)
Wave of racist emails ‘unleashed’ on B.C. researchers investigating racism in health care

The team has received close to 600 calls and emails since the investigation started in July

With local MLA Adam Olsen looking on, BC Greens leader Sonia Furstenau said a Green government would convert BC Ferries into a Crown corporation Wolf Depner/News Staff)
Green leader Sonia Furstenau promises to convert BC Ferries back into Crown corporation

Promise comes Monday afternoon with five days left in campaign

Most Read