Tag Archives: num:ScienceMuseum=A641560

Objects with a story to tell?

I’ve previously posted of how our feelings about objects can be influenced by associated stories or by knowing who once owned them. Such links can provoke powerful responses, but perhaps none stronger than when objects have personal links to us. This is why family heirlooms are so treasured – they allow you to make a connection, to hold the same thing that a long dead ancestor once held.

Gold mourning ring

What's the story behind this ring? (Science Museum)

At the Science Museum we like to consider that, potentially, every object can tell an ancestor’s story. And of course, our collections are littered with objects associated with named and identified individuals. But others offer tantalising clues that, with further research, could reveal some intriguing stories.

One of many such is the small, well-worn gold ring picture shown above – which featured in one of the Christmas posts. This was made to mourn the passing of one Augusta Bruce. Somebody thought enough of her to wear this memento mori. But as yet, we don’t know who Augusta was or even when she died. Her story is one yet to be revealed.

Surgical instrument set

Surgical instrument set, 1812 (Science Museum)

Similarly, this surgical instrument set carries the following inscription on it’s wooden lid:

    Brass plate

The dates place it in Napoleonic times, but the set hardly looks battle-scarred. Was it presented to Ward for his services in the Peninsular War? Hopefully, in time we can reveal its story – but then we have many thousands of objects with stories to reveal.

Silver Medal

Dr Houlston's silver medal (Science Museum)

One final object. A medal awarded by The Royal Humane Society to a Dr Houlston who “restored” a Mr W Young on 22nd August 1781. Such medals were often given to individuals who saved lives, especially when reviving those who had apparently drowned. 

Houlston strongly advocated a tobacco enema in such situations, so chances are he employed its supposed restorative powers on this occasion. Perhaps smoking really can be good for your health sometimes. A bracing little chapter in Mr Young’s hopefully long life? Though perhaps not one he regaled his grandchildren with.

The 12 days of Christmas (well sort of)…Part 2

Here’s the second installment of our festive 4-parter – the 12 days of Christmas re-worked with items from our collections. Beware it gets a little dark in part 2…

Four Calling Birds

Canary cage

Canary cage carried by coal miners, c1951 (Science Museum)

‘Calling’ is actually a variation on ‘colly’ or ‘collie’, which are derived from colliery. These words are associated with soot or coal dust, so we’re really looking at four blackbirds. Not that they would be of much use in a colliery. The most valuable bird for miners was the canary. 

Ultra-sensitive to dangerous gases like methane, canaries were carried underground in small cages and watched closely for any signs of distress that might indicate danger. Cages were often simple wooden affairs, so this example represented the height of canary comfort. The use of these tiny yellow birds in British mines only ended in 1986

Five Gold Rings!

Memento mori ring

Gold memento mori ring, 1700s (Science Museum)

Wearing a gold ring has symbolised many things. A mark of social standing and wealth, an indicator of marital status, even absolute power over the free peoples of Middle Earth… 

It’s also been a symbol of death, grieving and remembrance – a form of memento mori. Worn to commemorate a loved one, but also to remind the wearer of their own mortality. Such rings were particularly popular in Europe from the mid-1600s to the early 1900s.  The example above is in memory of Augusta Bruce. Her story is lost to time, but the design on the ring (the inscription ‘Nipt in the bud’ against a white background) suggest that sadly her life was a short one.

Six Geese a Laying!

Artificial nose

Metal artificial nose, c.1600s (Science Museum)

Geese have long been a favourite choice for the traditional Christmas meal. But for several centuries a very different kind of ‘goose’ was popular in parts of south London. The so-called ‘Winchester Geese’ were prostitutes working in Southwark, an area once regulated through the Bishop of Winchester

It was a dangerous occupation. Being ‘bitten by a Winchester goose’ meant catching the deadly disease syphilis, with ‘goose bumps’ slang for the symptoms. In its latter stages, syphilis can lead to the disintegration and loss of the nose – a state that this metal replacement did its crude best to conceal.

Parts 3 and 4 to follow…