Saturday: So the season that has been creeping up on us
for the last four months has finally arrived. But there is no rest
for the wicked, or obsessive, possibly insane collectors, of curios
– we have been busy designing, researching and making new items.
We were met by Conway who took us to the Vicarage, this
is a neat little building set up as a school room complete with
some of the sturdiest school room furniture I have ever seen, the
all in one row of seats looked as though they had come out of a
Roman galley. We also had a print of Queen Victoria and a
map with pink bits in it; I haven’t seen one of those
maps for decades!
Once we had parked the car and we had set up Conway returned
to have a look at the museum and asked the first important questions
of the seasons: “Is it real?” and “What’s that?” Because we expect
these questions we have decided to put in our talks a little bit
about the ‘secrets’ of our exhibits; the research, materials and
time that it takes to produce our exhibits.
It is an interesting fact that when you tell someone that the item
they are holding is a reproduction or reconstruction they sometimes
react with some derision, “So it’s all a con then!” Actually I spent
a week making a platypus to look like a Victorian specimen so that
you can say “Wow! I have never seen a real platypus”.
The morning was a bit on the slow side but we did have the Grand
National to compete with. One of our first visitors listened
intently at my story of The Last Great Auk and then said
with a smirk “But I thought they all died in Lord of the Rings!”
Top marks there!
There are 75 great auk eggs left in collections around the world
and our museum has copies of two; one illustrated by Henry Seebohm
and the famous ‘Pingouin’
egg now in Aberdeen. The first egg I had on display was a
poor model from Edward Bay’s Emporium that I put up with until I
could make my own – first attempt was a disaster – something horrid
happened in the baking wasting lots of time. The Seebohm was a better
but time consuming project, making a master is always hard and quite
frankly with that useless gift of hindsight it would have been cheaper
to buy a repro. Our lovely ‘Pingouin’ egg was, along with several
other specimens, made by Peter Rowland of Original
Egg Replicas. Actually when you include the rubbish egg
and the damaged project we have had four great auk eggs, which is
a little excessive for a museum of our humble proportions to say
My main project this year is extinct birds, although one or two,
huia and passenger pigeon were just rather rare by
the 1890’s. My department now has male and female huia
‘specimens’, I am trying to illustrate human impact on wildlife
during the mid-late 19thC. One of my exhibits is a simple CDV of
a cat; it just sort of lies around and is so mundane that several
visitors asked why it was there. That innocent looking feline represents
Tibbles, the lighthouse keeper’s cat that in 1894 not only
discovered the Stephen’s
Island wren (Travesia Lyalli), on Stephen’s Island, New
Zealand, but then proceeded to eat it to extinction! Tibbles
was probably the only ‘European’ that saw the species alive.
One of Dr Tooms’s new toys is a genuine Lydia
Pinkham bottle for which he has made a label and a box.
While my skills tend toward models, Tooms is an extremely dab hand
at the reproduction of paper items. He even sang a couple of verses
the Pink’ for a family who had never heard of her.
Sunday: Started slowly and then built up into a pretty busy
day, although we were never inundated, allowing us to spend time
with our visitors on an individual level.
I met a very interesting lady today who is the first person that
I have ever met who thought that the platypus is a fake critter.
I found this really interesting; there can’t be many Europeans who
have never seen this creature in some form.
I had a chat with a Viking re-enactor who wanted to know how we
acquired items, someone who understands that in our hobby you often
have to make quite a bit of your own equipment; swords, armour,
clothing, books…almost anything really. He was most interested when
I told him that the Vikings hunted great auks and then by one of
those strange, synchronous moments, he said “I only know orcs from
Lord of the Rings!” I remember one show when several unconnected
folks thought that the cannibal fork was a dried squid – not happened
before or since.
A couple of kids were remarkable in that the girl was captivated
by the stereoscopic slides; she went through most of them before
wandering off to view the Tooms Department, and a 5 year old boy,
already into collecting bugs and shells, who did not really need
any more encouragement.
Well, that went well…excellent location and great weather…next
stop for us: Alsace.
This is Prof Grymm, writing to you, live, from Helm’s Deep