From Outer Space to Museum Case: a Whiff of the Strange and Exotic

Two fragments of iron meteorite from Canyon Diablo Meteor Crater, Arizona, acquired by Leisure and Culture Dundee in 1983 with an NFA grant of £170.97; polished slice of meteorite from Kainsaz, Russia, 13 September 1937, acquired by the Hunterian in 2009 with an NFA grant of £164.77; fragment of Strathmore meteorite, 3 December 1917, acquired by Leisure and Culture Dundee in 2011 with an NFA grant of £2,000.

There is no question that meteorites have more than a whiff of the strange and exotic about them – and one or two types of meteorite actually do smell! As mankind explores further and further into space and discovers more and more about the origins of the Solar System and the Universe, so the interest in acquiring and studying meteorites has increased and this has led to an increasing awareness by the public.

In response to this, museums are re-evaluating, strengthening and expanding their meteorite collections and the support of the National Fund for Acquisitions is absolutely vital to achieving this goal. The increasing popularity of meteorites has led to a vigorous market in buying and selling these stones and this has resulted in an increase in their value. Some specific types of meteorites can fetch very high prices indeed and this can put them out of the range of most museum budgets. It has been my good fortune, as expert adviser to the NFA, to be involved in the two most recent acquisitions at auction of specimens by the Hunterian in Glasgow and Leisure and Culture Dundee.

Strathmore meteorite

Fragment of the Strathmore meteorite

The specimen bought by Dundee is of particular note as it was a small fragment of the Strathmore meteorite which fell in the Blairgowrie/Coupar Angus area in 1917 and is one of the best documented of the four known Scottish falls. At the time of writing, the fragment is on display at the Mills Observatory in Dundee along with other meteorites, including one on loan from National Museums Scotland. In supporting these bids I was keen to both promote the expansion of these meteorite collections and to see a wider public appreciation of these strange but wonderful objects.

Peter Davidson
Curator of Mineralogy and Expert Adviser to the NFA
National Museums Scotland

The ‘Heart of Kirriemuir’ Returns Home

Silver Freedom casket and Burgess ticket presented to J M Barrie by the Burgh of Kirriemuir in 1930, acquired by Angus Council Cultural Services in 2013 with an NFA grant of £4,230.

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Wednesday morning 24th July 2013, full of trepidation after a fortnight’s holiday but fortified by a cup of the best arabica, I pluck up the courage to open my email to find message after message – ‘BARRIE CASKET MUST HAVE!’ – ‘Barrie Freedom Casket’ – ‘Barrie Burgess Ticket’ – ‘Barrie Kirrie Casket Auction’. Could this be something to do with Peter Pan author and proud son of Kirriemuir Sir James Matthew Barrie? Having read one or two emails I do the only sensible thing possible … go to get another cup of coffee.

It would appear that the silver casket and illuminated Burgess ticket conferring the Freedom of the Burgh of Kirriemuir on J M Barrie in 1930 was to be auctioned in Taunton on the 8th of August. The auction estimate was £2,000 – £3,000. A swift noodle round the web confirms that this valuation is unrealistically low and a quick look at our purchase fund confirms that the coffers are empty. What now? More coffee, obviously, then a call to NFA to explore the options. From this point onward everything falls into place. I get a sound appraisal of the casket from staff at National Museums Scotland and, having kindly given the silverware a ‘once over’ on our behalf, colleagues from the Museum of Somerset give it the ‘thumbs up’. Before we know it we are making the winning bid on the telephone, safe in the knowledge that we have pledges of financial support from NFA and the Art Fund.

JM Barrie receiving the freedom casket

The Provost of Kirriemuir presenting the Freedom of the Burgh to J M Barrie

The casket and Burgess ticket are now on show in Kirriemuir Museum along with the ‘Lockit Book’ Freedom Register and the silver pen (in the form of a quill!) used by Barrie to sign it. There is even an invoice for £38 for the purchase of the freedom casket at auction in 1938 after Barrie’s death. It cost 200 times that amount to secure it in 2013!

A Pathe newsreel of the 1930 presentation ceremony suggests that a good time was had by all. The Provost declared that Barrie was being presented with the ‘Heart of Kirriemuir’, a reference to the town’s coat of arms on the front face of the casket. The mood was even merrier after lunch when Barrie officially opened the Cricket Pavilion and Camera Obscura he gifted to Kirriemuir, the town of his birth.

Willie Milne
Museums and Galleries Manager
Angus Council Cultural Services