Agatha Christie's picnic basket - Junk or artifact - British museums let the people decide





University College London has a jumbled collection of objects and is asking visitors to vote on what deserves to be kept

Agatha Christie's picnic basket – a wonderfully Miss Marple-ish object holding a bizarre assemblage including fragments of 4,000-year-old pottery, a door handle, a sheet of newspaper and a key – almost certainly did not belong to the world's most famous crime writer.

It is just one of myriad oddities that have ended up among more than 250,000 objects in the museum collections of University College London. Visitors will be invited this week to vote on whether it deserves its place there, along with the skull of a giant water buffalo, a death mask of a Victorian murderer, an Native American war bonnet presented to prime minister Stanley Baldwin, salami-shaped clay samples from the Channel Tunnel rail link, a dilapidated wheelchair that may have belonged to Joseph Lister, and some spectacular Texan cowboy boots – right feet only.

"We have wonderful things in the museum that we would never dream of getting rid of – and we have things that we really have no idea how they got here, that are broken or duplicates, that have never been used, and that are sometimes in quite inappropriate storage," said Subharda Das.

Das was the unfortunate charged with reviewing the entire sprawling collection, four major museums including the internationally renowned 80,000-artefact Petrie archaeology and the 62,000-specimen Grant zoology collections, and a score more departmental museums, by visiting every store and turning out every cupboard. "We would never contemplate thoughtless wholesale disposal, but this exhibition is asking whether we should be embarking on thoughtful disposal, and if so of what?"


comments powered by Disqus

Subscribe to our mailing list