The Secret Treasures Museums don’t Display

By

13th Jun, 2013

When I take my nose out of the encyclopedic rabbit hole that is the internet long enough to read an actual book, it’s got to be for something really special. And since we have so much in common you and I, perhaps you might be interested in the book MessyNessy will be packing for a weekend break this summer….

The Secret Museum (Some Treasures are too precious to display)

A space suit dirtied in moon dust, Van Gogh’s personal sketchbooks, a piece of Isaac Newton’s apple– these are the sort of objects bright young author Molly Oldfield found hiding in the archives of museums around the world. To research her book, the modern history Oxford graduate and Telegraph columnist spent the last year wandering through high-security doors at the Natural History Museum in England, the bunker of the Peggy Guggenheim in Venice and venturing as far as the Afro-Brazilian museum in Salvador where she ended up drinking fresh coconuts on the beach with the museum’s curator. Wherever she had an invitation to delve into a museum basement and a couch to crash on, Molly went.

The result is a fascinating discovery into the secret collections of museums, which is in most cases, much larger than what is actually on display. Take the Flag from the Battle of Trafalgar  (pictured at the top of the page); the biggest flag in the collection of the National Maritime Museum in London. But the 33ft long and 48ft high fragile relic is stored away in a box on the bottom shelf of a cabinet because there’s no space to hang it…

And Harrison Schmitt’s 1972 spacesuit covered in moon dust, that remains at the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum storage facility, unseen by so many, sitting in a cold room ‘lined with hundreds of headless bodies on metal bunk beds … as if it were a morgue’.

‘Most of the Apollo spacesuits were dry-cleaned when they arrived back to Earth, but Schmitt’s never was. It’s too precious to be displayed in the museum, because no one has yet found a way to display it without damage to the suit and its moon dust.’

Then there’s Isaac Newton’s apple tree. At the London headquarters of his society, two fragments of wood from the actual tree are kept in secrecy, as well as two rulers and a prism made from the wood. One of the fragments was even taken on an adventure through space aboard a shuttle in 2010 for the astronauts to let it experience zero gravity. 

See inside the book….

Molly has been given the keys to the vaults and in her book of treasures ‘too precious to display’, she shares not just the hidden objects, but her encounters with the curators and the fascinating side stories they recounted.

You can order The Secret Museum now on Amazon or the digital edition for iPad here.

More: Read an interview with Molly Oldfield here and a  Telegraph column about her museum.

Images courtesy of Harper Collins

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