British Museum blog

Collecting the Olympics

Commemorative medal of the 1908 London Olympics

Thomas Hockenhull, curator, British Museum

After seven years of anticipation, the Olympics have finally descended upon London. Apart from holding a private desire to see Jason Kenny triumphantly ride away with another cycling gold medal, I am also hoping that the proximity of the games to the British Museum will enable me to establish a unique collection of Olympic related ephemera. These objects can take the form of used tickets, volunteer passes (providing they are not required to be returned to the games organisers), badges, travel cards, vouchers and other related material that will provide a numismatic record of the Olympics as they happened.

Commemorative medal of the 1908 London Olympics.

Commemorative medal of the 1908 London Olympics.

To put this aim into context, the Modern Money collection at the British Museum comprises over 160,000 objects from about 1700 to the present. It includes coins, banknotes, cheques, credit cards, tokens, tickets, artworks and a variety of ephemera relating to the modern history of transaction. We also collect medals and badges. The collection is constantly expanding and, at the very modern end we aim to acquire at least one example of every type of object that contributes to the numismatic and financial record of the world as we know it. However, the breadth of available objects dictates that I sometimes have to prioritise what I acquire.

To help me decide what to collect I often try to imagine two hypothetical scenarios. Firstly, I consider what, in all the landfill and detritus which will contribute toward a numismatic history of the 21st Century, is least likely to survive unless it is properly housed and cared for in a museum? Secondly, I think about what themes a curator of the future, perhaps centuries hence, might wish to explore in an exhibition, and what objects will assist them to tell their story.

Applying these criteria to the London Olympics, it occurs to me that there is a huge body of evidence beyond the medals the athletes will take home, that provide a snapshot of London in 2012. Indeed, in a world that is becoming increasingly digitised, the 2012 Olympics potentially provide a last opportunity for us to collect numismatic objects like paper admission tickets and travel cards to the games. Rather like assembling a time capsule for the future, collecting these objects will ensure that there is a body of material available for future research and display.

If you think you might have an object, or groups of objects, which fit into the above categories and which you would be prepared to donate to the Department of Coins and Medals, please email: thockenhull@britishmuseum.org

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Filed under: At the Museum, Collection

4 Responses - Comments are closed.

  1. law2gap says:

    A very useful and instructive insight into museum preservation philosophy, thank you. Although I had to look up the word “numismatic”. I am aiming to use this word in a sentence at some point later today.

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  2. This would be such a fun collection! I personally love the Games,

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  3. Kwame Boateng Mensah says:

    Fascinating!!! I have never seen anything so beautiful as the medal for the 1902 games.i will surely pay a visit to the British Museum when I visit London.

    Like

  4. Julie Fry says:

    My 15 year old son and all his friends became totally obsessed by the Olympics.
    Your collection of numismatic items from the GB 2012 games would be a fantastic exhibition for
    them all to visit when they are in their 70s.

    Like

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Another brilliant photo of the Museum’s Main entrance on Great Russell Street – this time by @violenceor. The perspective gives a good sense of the huge scale of the columns. The Museum has two rows of columns at the main entrance, with each being around 14 metres tall and 1.5 metres wide. Designer Sir Robert Smirke used 44 columns along the front elevation. This design of putting columns in front of an entrance is called a ‘portico’, and was used extensively in ancient Greek and Roman buildings. #regram #repost #architecture #neoclassical #BritishMuseum The Museum looks spectacular with a blue sky overhead – especially in this great shot by @whatrajwants. You can see the beautiful gold flashes shining in the sun. This triangular area above the columns is called a ‘pediment’, and was a common feature in ancient Greek architecture. The copying of classical designs was fashionable during the late 18th and early 19th centuries, and was known as the Greek Revival. The sculptures in the pediment were designed in 1847 by Sir Richard Westmacott and installed in 1851. The pediment originally had a bright blue background, with the statues painted white. #regram #repost #architecture #neoclassical #sculpture #gold #BritishMuseum Concluding our short series of gold objects from the Museum’s collection is this group of items found in the Fishpool hoard. The hoard was buried in Nottinghamshire sometime during the War of the Roses (1455–1485), and contains some outstanding pieces of jewellery. 1,237 objects were found in this hoard in total. At the time it was deposited, its value would have been around £400, which is around £300,000 in today’s money! The variety of this collection of objects includes brilliant examples of fine craftsmanship. The turquoise ring in the centre was highly valued as it was believed that turquoise would protect the wearer from poisoning, drowning or falling off a horse.
#hoard #gold #jewellery #turquoise #treasure Continuing our exploration of the golden objects in the Museum, this amazing inlaid plaque is from 15th-century China. Lined with semi-precious stones, this piece would have formed part of a pair sewn into a robe. We can tell this belonged to an emperor of the Ming dynasty because only he would have been allowed to use items decorated with five-clawed dragons.
#Ming #gold #jewellery #China #BritishMuseum Our next trio of objects shows off some of the shimmering gold in the Museum’s collection. This stunning piece of jewellery comes from Egypt and was made around 600 BC. It was worn across the chest – this type of accessory is known as a ‘pectoral’. Popular throughout ancient Egypt, pectorals have been found from as early as 2600 BC. This example is made from gold and is inlaid with glass, showcasing the incredible level of craftsmanship in Egypt at the time, and asserting the status of the wearer. Falcons were important symbols in ancient Egypt – the god Horus took the form of a falcon.
#AncientEgypt #gold #jewellery #BritishMuseum In 1991, BMW invited South African artist Esther Mahlangu to make a work of art in their Art Car project to mark the end of apartheid. Her work, with its brightly coloured geometric shapes, draws on the traditional house-painting designs of Ndebele people in South Africa. Under apartheid the Ndebele were forced to live in ethnically defined rural reserves – their designs are an expression of cultural identity, and can be read as a form of protest against racial segregation and marginalisation.

See this incredible Art Car as part of our #SouthAfricanArt exhibition, which opens 27 October 2016. You can book your tickets now by following the link in our bio.

Esther Mahlangu (b. 1935), detail of BMW Art Car 12, 1991. © Esther Mahlangu. Photo © BMW Group Archives.
#SouthAfrica #history #art #design
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