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

www.leisureandculturedundee.com

www.gla.ac.uk/hunterian

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Desperately Seeking Dan

Christmas 1943 issue of The Beano published by D C Thomson, Dundee, acquired by Leisure and Culture Dundee in 2007 with an NFA grant of £145

Despite Dundee being home to such iconic popular characters as Desperate Dan and Dennis the Menace, not a single Beano or Dandy was to be found in the museum collection. In fact we didn’t have anything at all to represent D C Thomson, the company behind journalism in Dundee’s ‘3 Js’; jute, jam and journalism.

2008-5 

With responsibility for selecting objects for The Making of Modern Dundee in the redeveloped McManus Gallery, I set about filling this gap and found a Christmas 1943 issue of the Beano on ebay. With a cartoon on the front cover showing the Beano office and the old printing presses, it was a gift to interpretation!  It also contains some fascinating wartime propaganda. Cartoonist Dudley Watkins, who was responsible for Desperate Dan and Lord Snooty and His Pals, frequently lampooned both Hitler and Mussolini in episodes which saw them outwitted and humiliated by his characters. This issue carries an appeal to readers to help the war effort by recycling their comic: ‘To Adolf, here’s wishing you a terrible Xmas and a worse New Year. All our readers are saving all their waste paper to make sure you’re beaten in 1944’.

Through discussions with staff at NFA I knew I would have to move fast in order to receive financial support. I contacted the seller and he agreed to take the comic to a curator at Brighton Museum and Art Gallery who had kindly agreed to help with condition checking. I was now ready to bid. I had a good idea of how much other comics had sold for and managed to buy ours for just under our top price. Bidding in the final moments was nerve racking but we won.

The seller posted our Beano immediately and we were able to prepare it for display alongside other items from D C Thomson and a typewriter on loan from National Museums Scotland. The display has captured the interest of young and old and our Learning and Access team have used the idea of a comic strip to introduce schools groups to the gallery, helping to bring social and industrial themes to life for children.

My next challenge is to update the display and rest our Beano to prevent light damage – so I am now on the lookout for an interesting and aged Dandy!

Rhona Rodger
Curator (Social History)
Leisure and Culture Dundee
http://www.leisureandculturedundee.com/