Lot 104

Official Catalogue of the Great Exhibition of the Works of Industry of All Nations 1851I’ve probably remarked before that one of the joys of working on the Cambridge Library Collection is that our books, or connections to our books, or ideas for new books, pop up everywhere. Last night, for example, Jeremy Paxman was waving a copy of Steel and Gardiner‘s Complete Indian Housekeeper and Cook about in a graveyard in Ootacamund.

Today, Christie’s in London are auctioning a set of grotesquely impractical garden tools, of which the handles are muntjac’s legs with the hair still on. These implements were made for display at the Great Exhibition, and on page 108 of the Official Catalogue, there is the entry: ‘Class 21, Cutting, edge and hand tools, item 13: Moseley and Son, New Street, Covent Garden, Planes and tools with modern improvements. Tool-chests, cutlery and needles.’ The auction estimate is for £2,500–3,500…

Scanning through the book to find the item, I was truck again by the sheer weirdness of it all: the Hope and Koh i Noor diamonds alongside a ‘Silver-gilt table-spoon, representing Jenny Lind as Alice in Robert le Diable‘ or ‘The Prince of Wales’ feathers in hair’. The whole thing was self-financing, and of course the surplus money (over £16 million in today’s terms) was used the build the three great Kensington museums. Another (exhausting) triumph for Prince Albert!


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