Arts & Giving | Diary of a Somebody

Job Smeets

The Dutch design star on the enduring legacy of a serially bankrupt grandfather

Job Smeets

April 15 2011
Job Smeets

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As I’m sure you understand, every bankruptcy that Grandpa went through meant a move to a new town. Even today, the blood of nomads flows through my veins like a brook burbling through the Dutch mountains. It’s a minor miracle that my mother survived and even became a pan-European philatelist.

Ultimately, the legacy of Jacob Den Drucker was more than a dodgy upbringing in an unstable family with limited opportunities for education and personal growth. Without going into time-consuming details, it was because of Grandpa’s unreliable temperament that my mother developed an iron constitution and a robust instinct for survival.

But there was also a material legacy: Grandpa’s death on January 16 1986 left us the owners of an old shed, just off the border road near the unpleasant village of Kinrooi. I remember my first visit. In wooden racks several metres long, the souvenirs of Den Drucker’s life were on display. It was like a cabinet of curiosities.

Some were covered with years of cobwebs, while others were still relatively clean. A quick look around revealed old crates, a set of school bags, boxes full of sewing supplies, and more valuable items, such as a beautiful collection of Val Saint Lambert crystal, still sparkling under a layer of dust.

In the corner was the old delivery bicycle with its sad Valentine’s decorations. Next to it were six locked metal office cabinets, which later turned out to be packed with my grandfather’s famous files. All his records were neatly stored in dozens of old folders from the Nederlandsche Middenstandsbank.

Den Drukker’s life work turned out to be mainly a series of rotting skeletons in closets, which we kept discovering for years afterwards. Old socks full of blackened, useless francs, marks, and guilders. Bond certificates with fanciful designs from forgotten Dutch funds for industry. A huge pile of worthless dividend coupons from the tragic coal mine in Marcinelle.

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