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Little wonder, then, that there were plenty of takers at Christie’s East in New York on December 12 for the dispersal of The Driscoll Piracy Collection, sold to benefit the Wichita Public Library.

Mounted by the books and manuscripts department it was, nevertheless, not the ephemera but a lot of real substance, a strong box, which led the day. This heavily painted iron strong box, pictured, probably German and 17th century, had an exterior decorated with flowers, birds and the occasional angel in the Spanish style, the flat recessed hinged lid carrying a large and elaborate internal lock mechanism working independent bolts.

Folklore would have it that pirates carried their booty in wooden chests but they were far more likely to use a more durable container such as this 2ft 83/4in (84cm) long strong box, designed to transport valuables.

The box was originally bought from the descendants of Rhode Island’s Captain Thomas Tew, an ambitious young man from a prominent family who eschewed a comfortable existence in New England for a privateering commission which rapidly turned to the more profitable pursuit of piracy.

The profits involved are illustrated by his first serious assault, on a heavily laden Arab vessel, yielding a monumental £3000 sterling per crew member.

Tew became an admiral at the pirate settlement in Madagascar and, after returning to New York, became quite a city celebrity.
He resumed privateering and was mortally wounded attacking a ship of The Great Mogul.

A typical pirate’s life – but Tew apparently was not typical since he was humane to prisoners who would readily surrender when they learned their assailant’s identity.

The Tew association raised a winning bid of $54,000 (£37,000) for this box, paid by an American collector who by all accounts boasted neither parrot nor wooden leg.