Archived Story

Cook swords, pistols, books head for N.Y.

Published 1:15am Saturday, August 29, 2009

Niles Daily Star

A couple of weeks before his death Aug. 7 at 79, Grafton H. “Grif” Cook II and his wife, Barb, donated his lifelong collection to Fort Ticonderoga.

Curator Chris Fox was at the Cook’s house in the Sumnerville area of Pokagon Township this week inventorying and packing up the “toys” for their removal to upstate New York.
“There are about 130 weapons,” Fox said. “We don’t have a count on the several hundred books yet.”

“I am not going to know what to do when the walls of the house are no longer ‘dripping’ with weapons from bygone years,” Barb remarked.

Fox, curator since 1996, is a Flint native and product of the University of Michigan.
His museum is in northeast New York state, directly across Lake Champlain from Vermont and about 90 minutes from Canada.

One of the nation’s oldest museums, it boasts North America’s largest cannon collection.
Both Cooks had relatives in the region.

A friend of Grif’s in England urged him to auction the artifacts to private collectors.
“Grif still thought he had collected it so carefully that perhaps it had a future,” she said. “It’s no strings attached. It’s an outright gift.”

“This is unique,” Fox said, “a really big deal for us. I’m hoping that not long after I get back you’ll hear about it in bigger ways.

“I can say without reservation that this is the largest single donation that the museum has received since it became a not-for-profit organization in 1931. The core collection we have was developed by the museum’s founder. This is the largest single significant donation that we’ve had since.”

“I think one of the great things about Grif as a collector is the fact that he didn’t just collect the objects,” Fox said in an interview Tuesday afternoon. “He collected books, articles and the research materials that enabled him to develop a really deep understanding. Each and every piece in his collection fit historically. A number of his pieces have been published in important books over the years.”

“Chris has had his pick of Grif’s library,” Cook said, nodding at several empty bookshelves.

Fox hefts a fat coffee table tome he calls “about the most important book on British military firearms in America of the 18th century” (1664-1815) and points out illustrations that originated with Cook’s collection.

Some authors signed copies of their books for him.

One ordnance volume yet unpublished will be dedicated to Grif.

“The library portion of the donation, in my opinion, is every bit as important as the swords and the guns themselves because you can’t really understand one without the other. If you’re going to try to present this material to the public in any form, whether it’s an exhibit or the World Wide Web, you’ve got to understand the history behind these objects – where they came from and how they were made and used and who used them – and where that particular sword fits in the evolution of the rest of them.”

There are a few American-made swords in the collection, which largely came down through the centuries from Britain and Germany.

“But not many,” Barb said. “Basically, except as a decorative item, swords were not really used in the United States.”

“By the time of the American Revolution,” Fox added, “and the first truly American army was formed, the only people who carried swords were officers and, occasionally, some drummers. That’s about it. As a weapon, carried by individual soldiers, that had been phased out even by the time of the French and Indian War.”

When Highland regiments from northern Scotland came to America, “That’s why they came,” Cook said. “They could wear their colors and carry their swords.”

“The British army was composed of dozens and dozens of different regiments,” Fox said. “Within the army there were a couple of regiments like the 42nd which were raised in the Highlands of Scotland. Today they are most popularly known as the Black Watch. They were raised in Scotland at a time when Highlanders in general were not allowed to wear kilts as a symbol of their national heritage.

“After the uprising of 1745, the British government banned them from wearing their colors and from carrying their swords. Grif had one with a blade that’s not as long as it should be. He thought it was stuck in the thatch of a roof and rusted away. But if you served in the army in one of these Highland regiments, you were allowed to wear the kilt and to carry a sword.”

“Most of those men who came over here and fought in the French and Indian War did not go back to Scotland because economic times were very bad,” Barb said. “They felt with land over here, there was more chance for them to succeed. Many of them went to Canada.”
While the quantity of swords, pistols and long guns constitute three distinct collections in one, “They are all related,” Fox reminded.

“Grif enjoyed collecting swords and guns that went together,” Barb said. “Grif’s desk was always a disaster. Grif’s room was always a disaster. But Grif’s records for his toys…”

Meticulous, in voluminous loose-leaf binders with his footnotes and her photography.
The co-authoring Cooks certainly shared a passion for history.

Barb recalled the time her husband was in Stratford with a Southwestern Michigan College group taking in Shakespearean plays when a gun dealer called with some items for which the price had been dropped.

She bought them.

The dealer “has always been surprised,” she said. “He said more wives have killed deals, and he had never had a wife buy them.”

No collection is ever complete, of course, but Cook’s collecting had tapered off as his health declined.

“Grif may not have been perhaps as well known as other collectors, but his collection is every bit as important,” Fox said.

Take heart, those who disdain studying dry, dusty history.

“I didn’t pay any attention to history when I was in school,” Barb said. “I hated it.”
“Everybody does,” chimes in Fox. “I didn’t hate it, but I paid attention to certain parts that I was personally interested in and let the rest go.”

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