The Orphaned Images Project: Resseguie, Comstock and sundry items

20 01 2011

Several years ago Michael and I attended an ephemera auction in Alexandria, Virginia on a whim. We were out shopping and saw a sign announcing the auction to be held the next night, so we decided to check it out. I don’t remember spending much money (less than $100, as I recall), but I came away with a wealth of paper treasures. In addition to several etchings (one dated 1794!), I acquired a medium-sized (ratty) rattan suitcase, its lid bulging from the contents of the case—early 1900s photographs, concert programs (including a Casino de Paris production of Charming Paris, directed by Henri Varna and featuring French film actor Robert Berri, Joan Daniell, Nicolas Arasse and others), a 1910-11 Scholar’s Monthly Report (for fifth grader Earl C. Holsinger from Mayland, VA), books (including Hindenburg’s March into London, translated from the German original and published in 1916 by the John C. Winston Company in Philadelphia), postcards, magazines (including a 1920 Harper’s Magazine), newspaper clippings, a Savings Bank of Baltimore statement booklet (for Mr. Carl E. Weingarten of Baltimore, MD with deposits in 1939–1941 ranging from $1.10 to a royal sum of $5.00!), a 1921 automobile insurance card (for Raymond Koonts of Bedford County, PA), several 1930 Western Union Cablegrams (sent to London from a New Jersey woman named Mimi reporting about a man named Gunnar who is very ill), handwritten letters from a Syracuse University student from Maryland in 1972, and manuals for everything from motors to kitchen appliances. There are numerous other items that I’ll share with you as the mood strikes me. I have no clue as to whether this collection is from one sentimental person or a jumbled mix thrown together by the auctioneer. In any case, I will share a few of the more interesting items from this treasure trove of history.

Most items were loose in the suitcase, but there was one plastic baggie with a stack of photos seemingly all relating to a house or two and the families who resided there. Several of the photos show a family on the front porch of a beautiful white two-story structure, a grandfather with his grandchildren and various gardens around a house. The first photo is a b&w postcard of a watercolor painting of a house labeled “Alexander Resseguie—1738.” Written in pencil on the back is the following:

My great grandfather purchased this house in 1858 for his son-in-law James Comstock, who was my grandfather (father of Strong Comstock). The original Comstock house was across the road on land still in the family (grant of land, 1700) long since burned.


In my research I first found mention of an Alexander Resseguie in Norwalk, Connecticut in 1709. Below is an excerpt from the genealogical record I found on this site here.

Alexander Resseguie was a settler in Norwalk, Conn., in 1709. Tradition has it that he was the younger son of one Alexandre Resseguie, a Huguenot refugee from France, who brought with him from the mother country a small hair-covered trunk, studded with iron nails, containing all of the family wealth he was able to secure, consisting largely of title deeds to property in France. Hoping to some day regain his abandoned possessions, he educated his eldest son to the profession of the law, intending when the time was ripe, he should return to Fiance and establish a claim to the family estates. This hope was destined never to be realized, for the son died just previous to the time of his intended departure on this mission, and the father, disheartened, abandoned the undertaking; the trunk* and papers passed into the possession of the younger son, and at a subsequent period the latter were, the most of them, destroyed by fire.

(*This trunk is now in the possession of Col. George E. Gray of San Francisco, It is eleven and one-half inches long, seven inches wide, and four inches high; the top oval. The wood is worm-eaten; very little hair remains upon the leather, and the nails with which it is studded are of hammered iron. The papers contained in the trunk were nearly all destroyed by fire, by the wife of Timothy Resseguie (14), during a fit of temporary insanity.)

Just how much of fact underlies this tradition we know not. It is the opinion of the compiler that the family fled to England, before coming to this country, and that one Alexandre de Ressiguier, from Trescle’oux, in Dauphiny, who was known as a silk manufacturer in London, in 1696, was the father of Alexander of Norwalk. It is probable that an earlier residence of the family in America would have been a matter of record, but no trace of the name of Resseguie (save one * ) has been found prior to the appearance of Alexander in Norwalk, in 1709. Thus we are compelled to record him as the head of the family, and the ancestor of the American Resseguies. On the first day of April, 1709, he purchased a tract of land of Samuel St. John, and from this time for many years, he was interested in acquiring land, the records showing one hundred or more estates to which he held the titles, located in what is now comprised in the towns of Nonvalk, Wilton, Ridgefield, New Canaan, Westport and Weston. The ability to make these large acquisitions would seem to indicate the substantial character of the contents of the hair trunk.


So here I am with my (ratty) rattan suitcase full of treasures, suddenly wishing I possessed the moth-eaten leather trunk! It is highly likely the house in these photos was inhabited by generations of people related to Alexandre Resseguie. Let’s go with that assumption until I discover otherwise.

Notes: The photo of the little girl has “Lilly” written in pencil on the back. Looks like Grandpa is catching a few zzzzz’s before dinner in the photo of the elderly gentleman in the dining room. The last photo of a house may be the same house and perhaps the portico was changed at a later date. I zoomed in on the photo in Photoshop and the shutters and narrow windows on either side of the front door are the same, but it could possibly be the original Comstock house directly across the street from this house, which, according to the postcard author, “long since burned down.” It looks like there is a lively lawn party going on—and take a look at the car in the foreground!

When researching just exactly what classifies as “ephemera,” I discovered there is a club for such collectors (but of course there is!)—The Ephemera Society of America. Their definition of ephemera: “includes a broad range of minor (and sometimes major) everyday documents intended for one-time or short-term use.” I wouldn’t consider these family photos “one-time or short-term” use, but my suitcase did contain a lot of memorabilia, ticket stubs, programs and the like.