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Buried treasures; Searching the archives for relics we don't usually see.


MUSEUMS are like icebergs - what you see on display is only a small fraction of the whole.

Now writer Molly Oldfield has delved into the vast collections of objects stored away and rarely exhibited in museums around the world. In her new book, The Secret Museum, Molly gives us a glimpse of the treasures too fragile, too big or small or too precious to go on display. And here she shares a few of those gems with us.

The Secret Museum by Molly Oldfield is published by HarperCollins, price PS25. It's available in ebook, and on iPad, and is priced PS12.99.

THE DAGGER USED BY COLONEL BLOOD THE TOWER OF LONDON IN 1671, Colonel Thomas Blood used this dagger, left, to steal the Crown Jewels.

He befriended the elderly Keeper of the Jewels, Talbot Edwards, who invited him, his son and a pal in to see them. But they knocked Edwards out and stabbed him with the dagger.

Blood hid the Imperial State Crown under his cloak, his son started sawing the Royal sceptre in half and their accomplice stuck the orb down his breeches. But they were foiled when Edwards' son popped over to visit his dad. Imprisoned in the Tower, Blood requested, and was granted, a private audience with King Charles II.

Afterwards, Blood was pardoned, went unpunished and was offered a pension instead. What did he say to get himself off the hook? CHARLES DICKENS' LETTER OPENER NEW YORK PUBLIC LIBRARY DICKENS had three pet cats - Williamina, The Master's Cat and Bob, named after Bob Cratchit in A Christmas Carol. When Bob died, Georgina Hogarth, Dickens' sister-in-law, had his little paw immortalised as the handle of an ivory letter opener, engraved "C.D. In Memory of Bob. 1862".

Dickens kept it in the library of his Gad's Hill home.

POLAR SLEDGE SCOTT POLAR RESEARCH INSTITUTE, CAMBRIDGE SIR Wally Herbert became the first man to walk to the North Pole in 1969. His 15-month, 3,700-mile journey along the longest axis of the Arctic Ocean has never been repeated.

His team piled supplies on a wooden sledge pulled by 15 dogs and the explorer donated it to the museum before his death in 2007.

Curator Kay Smith says: "He probably had it in the garage at home and wondered what to do with it, so gave it to us.

"It's one of our treasures and we'd love to exhibit it but we just don't have the space."

So the sledge lives, wrapped in plastic, on a shelf beside other polar kit including a set of skis from Scott's Discovery Expedition - and pair of string underpants. No one is quite sure where they came from.

ARCHIE THE GIANT SQUID NATURAL HISTORY MUSEUM, LONDON CAUGHT off the coast of the Falklands in 2004, Archie (short for Latin name Architeuthis dux) is 28ft long with 31ftlong tentacles and so rare curators decided to preserve her whole.

Archie is stored in the basement as its floor is the only one that can support the weight of the huge specimen and tank.

And the formal saline that preserves her, formalin and salt water, is more toxic than alcohol so air around her needs to be monitored and vented in case of a leak.

VINCENT VAN GOGH SKETCHBOOKS VAN GOGH MUSEUM, AMSTERDAM THE artist wrote to his brother Theo in 1882: "My sketchbook shows that I try to catch things 'in the act'."

Some 130 years later, four of those books, with their original covers, are stored in the museum archive, each one carried in the artist's pocket at different stages of his life. One is full of things he saw in Paris in 1886 - museum sculptures, female nudes and the windmill at Montmartre, as well as his brother's laundry list.

His final sketchbook has two drawings of sunflowers in vases, which match up to his iconic paintings.

ASTRONAUT'S SPACESUIT SMITHSONIAN NATIONAL AIR AND SPACE MUSEUM, US IN a cold, morgue-like room lie scores of headless "bodies" covered in sheets - astronauts' spacesuits being preserved for the generations of the future.

One of the rarest belonged to Harrison H. "Jack" Schmitt of Apollo 17, the only scientist to walk on the moon - and it's covered in grey moon dust.

As he collected rocks, geologist Schmitt fell over more than any other astronaut, getting his suit filthy. Most of the others were dry-cleaned when they got back to Earth, but NASA decided to preserve his - and the precious lunar dust embedded in its fibres.

GREAT AUK EGG THE NATURAL HISTORY MUSEUM EGG COLLECTION, TRING, HERTS THE last Great Auk was killed in 1844 and the 75 remaining eggs from the extinct birds are the most valuable in the world. This one is kept in a secret store and is so precious that few staff have even seen it.

The creamy white egg is covered in wiggly lines that make it look like a toddler has been scribbling with a felt pen and it can fit into two cupped hands - although the museum's previous egg curator was too nervous to touch it. It was bought from an Italian museum in the 19th century by oologist (egg collector) Robert Champley, who found it covered in dirt.

BATTLE OF TRAFALGAR FLAG NATIONAL MARITIME MUSEUM, GREENWICH, LONDON AT 33ft tall and 47ft 6in wide, it's too big and too fragile to display, but this huge flag has flown at two hugely significant moments in history.

The first was on the back of Spanish warship, San Ildefonso, as it fought against the British fleet led by Nelson at the Battle of Trafalgar in 1805. And then during Nelson's funeral service on January 9, 1806.

SLAP-SOLED SHOES OWNED BY BATA SHOE MUSEUM, TORONTO, BUT STORED IN UK SAID to have been worn by Queen Elizabeth I, these extravagant 16th-century shoes most likely belonged to her lady in waiting, Frances, daughter of Elizabeth's spy master, Sir Francis Walsingham.

When high-heeled shoes were first introduced into Western dress in the 1500s, men wore them with flat-soled mules underneath, so they didn't sink into the mud. The shoes made a "slap, slap, slap" sound as they walked, and the name stuck.

This pair are made from cream, kid leather and are decorated with gold and silver braiding, sequins and pink ribbons.

LIVINGSTONE AND STANLEY'S HATS ROYAL GEOGRAPHICAL SOCIETY, LONDON ONE of the most famous lines in history is: "Dr Livingstone, I presume?" It was uttered by journalist Henry Morton Stanley. He was on assignment for the New York Herald, looking for David Livingstone, a Scottish missionary and explorer who was searching for the source of the Nile in Africa.

When the two men met, in what is now Tanzania, in 1872, they doffed their hats to one another.

Livingstone's faded blue sailor cap and Stanley's red-banded pith helmet are poetically side by side in the archive of the Royal Geographical Society, London.

CHUNKS OF SIR ISAAC NEWTON'S APPLE TREE THE ROYAL SOCIETY, LONDON EVERYONE knows the story of Newton sitting under a tree when an apple fell and bounced off his head in 1666. Newton wondered why. His answer? A thing he called gravity.

Many people say it isn't true, but the tree stood in the garden of his childhood home, Woolsthorpe Manor in Lincolnshire, until it blew over in 1800. The owner saved some pieces of the tree, which are now in a cool basement in the Royal Society's archives.

The package includes two rulers and a prism made from the wood. Another fragment is preserved in a little pink plastic bag, after it went into space on the Shuttle Atlantis in 2010.


GEOLOGIST n Harrison Schmitt
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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:The Mirror (London, England)
Date:May 3, 2013
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