Kees Box – Portrait of a driven amateur
Kees Box is a person who literally knows all the embankments, revetments–in fact the entire polder–like the back of his hand.
When he was only eleven, an uncle exposed him for the first time to splinters. His uncle used to dig holes now and then and had already managed to dig up quite a few nice items.
The enthusiastic stories about his finds and the history of Grootschermer found their way into the impressionable young soul and stimulated the young explorer to practice what he learned. He began searching along the banks of ditches and in the evening he would display his treasures.
Especially after dredging activities, he found the most items. He also benefited from the severe Dutch winters that were common in those days. Armed with a plastic bag, screwdriver and hammer, while standing on the ice, he searched the banks for objects, such as buttons and old lead seals (sometimes frozen into the banks). He always returned home with something. Because he quickly noticed that the dredged sludge from ditches often yielded additional objects and he didn’t want to wait until the next dredging, he constructed his own dredging device. He criss-crossed the polder in a rowboat foraging through peat moors and bogs with a hand drag and a net. After sieving, he often found small useful objects. Since then, the sensation of finding something has never left him.
Genuine excavation skills are something that Kees mastered only later. As a young amateur, he did hear that you first have to find the side of the old revetments. The places that by now have disappeared and where waste was thrown away or where farmwives washed their dishes.
“With some luck you start to dig a hole and sometimes you encounter a jug or bottle. If it had turned black by the peat or shattered into pieces, then it was simply thrown back.” Later he understood that every fragment was important and then everything was rinsed and sorted.
His father, who often saw his mud-covered son busy with his fragments, gradually also became enthusiastic about Kees’ findings.
Together they would spend days near holes–Kees below ground and father above. Sometimes he created pits that were four square metres and he assured me that the work was very heavy... The work had to be done methodically: spreading the soil, sieving and lastly packing the finds in crates. He looks back with pleasure at the joint efforts with his father. Their proven method: initially searching for a revetment, digging a test hole and searching for shards with a pricker. Thanks to this new approach, the ground started to yield more and more treasures. Kees’ girlfriend, Marieke, was not actually interested in his hobby, but rather in puzzles, but she changed her mind when out of a pile of shards, she managed to put together a majolica plate. This was to the great satisfaction of Kees, who preferred to leave the finicky work to others.
Ultimately, many objects were restored professionally.
Kees, an exemplary digger, never stuck a spade in the ground before getting the permission of an owner. Afterwards, the site was always left in perfect order. Kees has never sold or given away any of his finds; his ever-expanding collection–sorted and cleaned–by now is contained in many boxes and includes kitchenware and pipe bowls. It is worthwhile seeing. He has also never bought anything. All the objects in his collection are from his own region, Grootschermer, though he sadly notes that many treasure hunters in the 1970s have removed objects from this area. By now he has arranged many exhibitions in antiquities associations and he made quite an appearance in the TV programme ‘Between Art and Kitsch’. His greatest wish is to set up a museum in his own village so that everyone can enjoy the treasures he acquired with so much effort.