Nine year old James Whittaker brought a treasure trove of items including bones, bottles and pottery to the Fabulous Finds Day at the Potteries Museum & Art Gallery.
24 Hour Museum Renaissance Student Journalist Roslyn Tappenden was on hand at the Potteries Museum on April 30 to get the lowdown on what Fabulous Finds turned up.
Fabulous Finds day at the Potteries Museum gave lucky visitors who braved the damp weather a chance to chat to experts and get a real insight into the treasures they’d brought along.
The drop-in day hosted at the museum and art gallery in Hanley, Stoke-on-Trent, allowed members of the public to bring in items for identification and to learn about their history.
On hand were experts in ceramics, natural history, antiquities and popular culture, all of whom were put through their paces in identifying some rather bizarre objects.
Visitors sat enthralled as the story of their finds was revealed. Everything from car boot bric-a-brac to family heirlooms was brought in to see if the experts could shed light on these curious finds.
Experts were on hand all day to identify the many fabulous finds brought in. Courtesy Potteries Museum & Art Gallery.
One such visitor was Carl Edwards who made a remarkable discovery in the garden of his old house in Forsbrook: “I found it in my garden in 1985,” he explained. “The experts said it’s late Victorian, a tobacco or snuff box.”
Don Steward, the museum’s natural history collections officer said the decoration on the lid of the box was a cowry shell, which is native to the Indo-Pacific Oceans. Inside the silver box was a piece of gold jewellery. "I thought I’d just found a tin can or something," said Carl, "but as I threw the lump of earth to one side I caught sight of this shell and when I picked it up this piece of jewellery out."
Since making his discovery Carl has now got the bug for metal detecting and took the opportunity to get advice and information from the Portable Antiquities Scheme.
“We often attend events like this for metal detectorists and clubs,” explained Peter Reavill, a finds liaison officer for the scheme. “People bring in objects they’ve found and if they’re more than 300 years old we put them on our online database of objects.”
Five year old Amelia Grocock and little sister Carenza brought in a large fossil they found on a day out at Craven Arms in Shropshire.
Sarah McHugh, the museum’s collections development officer, said the event had been a great success.
“It’s actually gone really well,” she said, “We’ve had a steady flow of people and a variety of finds. There was a big emphasis on archaeology and less on ceramics, which is a surprise because we don’t normally get a lot of those objects brought in."
She added: “What’s really fascinating is that there are a lot more children and younger people, so it’s good to see younger people bringing in their treasures.”
One such youngster was astounded to learn her fabulous find was 400 million years old. Charlotte Cartwright, 10, found a fossil on holiday with her family in North Devon last October.
Now, she can’t wait to go fossil hunting again. “I’m surprised,” she said, “I didn’t think it was as old as that.”
Charlotte Cartwright's fabulous find turned out to be 400 million years old. Courtesy Potteries Museum & Art Gallery.
For many people, it was the first time their treasures had been identified. Husband and wife Gavin and Mandy Smith, from Biddulph, brought in some parchment and paper scrolls that have been kept in their attic.
“These have been in the family, they belonged to my father,” explained Gavin, “but this is the first time anyone has actually told us what they were. The smaller document is apparently a list of rents payable on the feast of St Andrews and probably dates back to the Tudor period. I’m very surprised at how old it is.”
Luckily there were two palaeography experts on hand who managed to decipher the scroll. Cathy Shingler, the Interpretation Officer for schools, was involved in a separate kids’ activity in a neighbouring room but came to the rescue to help the Smiths decipher their scroll.
“I’ve seen lots of similar documents in museums and so on but I’ve never seen one in private hands before,” she said.
Scrolling through the years - Gavin and Mandy Smith brought along some treasured items from their attic that needed extra expert attention.
Deb Klemperer, the local history collections officer, was delighted that the event was a success. “It’s a stepping stone for an annual event,” she said, “and I’m very pleased overall. If it becomes a regular thing the numbers will definitely increase.”
She added: “We couldn’t have done it without support from the MLA.”
And if you missed the fabulous finds day, don’t worry, there is another one planned for next year.
But if you can’t wait that long, the Potteries Museum and Art Gallery operates a ‘What is it?’ day on the first Wednesday of every month which is by appointment only.
Roslyn Tappenden is the 24 Hour Museum Renaissance student journalist for the West Midlands region. Renaissance is the groundbreaking initiative to transform England's regional museums, led by MLA, the Museums, Libraries and Archives Council.