The Secret Museum: Some Treasures Are Too Precious to Display...

The Secret Museum: Some Treasures Are Too Precious to Display...

by Molly Oldfield
     
 

60 unseen artifacts from the world's best museums.

In Manhattan, priceless books sit on rows of shelves under traffic-jammed streets; at the Museum of Sacred Art in Brazil, a 17th century bejeweled processional cross is squirreled away under the floor; body bags in Washington protect spacesuits covered in moon dust; and in an unvisited aircraft

Overview

60 unseen artifacts from the world's best museums.

In Manhattan, priceless books sit on rows of shelves under traffic-jammed streets; at the Museum of Sacred Art in Brazil, a 17th century bejeweled processional cross is squirreled away under the floor; body bags in Washington protect spacesuits covered in moon dust; and in an unvisited aircraft hangar sits Auguste Piccard's extraordinary invention, the balloon gondola.

In fact, a great many of the world's most precious objects are kept in secret locations, protected from public view and safe from harmful conditions. Too fragile to be handled or exposed, too likely to be stolen, or too big to display, they hide in secure darkness or locked rooms, waiting for an obsessive treasure hunter to find them.

Museum enthusiast and researcher Molly Oldfield is just that. Consumed by curiosity about what is behind the closed doors of museums' back rooms, she spent two years touring the world in search of the most extraordinary inventions, legacies and artifacts hidden from the public. She has curated the best of what she found into this remarkable collection.

The Secret Museum reveals sixty unseen artifacts whose stories touch all five continents, for example:

  • An original Gutenberg Bible printed on vellum in the Morgan Library and Museum in New York City
  • A piece of Newton's apple tree at the Royal Society in London, England
  • The artist's sketchbooks at the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam
  • Charles Dickens' favorite feline letter opener at the New York Public Library
  • Vladimir Nabokov's cabinet of butterfly genitalia at Harvard University Logbook of the Kon-Tiki expedition in Oslo, Norway
  • Livingstone and Stanley's hats at the Royal Geographical Society
  • Christmas telegram from double agent Little Fritz aka Agent Zigzag, at Bletchley Park, the top secret World War II MI6 decoding location

Delightful illustrations accompany Molly's descriptions and the lively stories of how she came to see the artifacts. Like the very best mornings spent exploring a museum, The Secret Museum is enlightening and enormously good fun.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
11/11/2013
A treasure in itself, Oldfield's book entices readers to discover a wide variety of little-known and rarely seen artifacts that lie hidden away in vaults, warehouses and archives in zoological, anthropological, scientific, historic, literary and artistic museums around the world. In her travels, she connects with experts who provide the context needed to make the treasures come alive. In her very readable, enthusiastic, and often amusing style, Oldfield describes each discovery in a way that takes it from a formal introduction to an intimate encounter. Whether it is a school exercise book that belonged to a boy king from Assyria, written in cuniform on a clay tablet, about 660 B.C; Queen Elizabeth I's slap-soled shoes; the Tell Halaf sculptures reconstructed like a 3D jigsaw puzzle from 27,000 broken pieces; Alfred Nobel's will; Anne Frank's friendship book; the Kon-Tiki Expedition logbook, or a tutu worn by ballerina Margot Fonteyn in 1946, Oldfield introduces readers to objects few people outside of researchers and curators will ever see. Because of security risks, fragility, size, pricelessness or the need for a controlled environment, unless specifically ferreted out, these treasures will remain unknowns. Oldfield's collection is an absolute must for anyone with a nose for secrets and treasures. (Nov.)
Brain Pickings.com - Maria Popova
A boundlessly fascinating inventory of sixty never-before-seen "treasures too precious to display," culled from the archives and secret storage locations of some of the world's top cultural institutions.
January Magazine - Aaron Blanton
Those who love secrets, museums or just a twisty tale of the entirely true variety will enjoy The Secret Museum.
American Reference Books Annual 2014 - Laura J. Bender
Molly Oldfield is a storyteller. She takes the reader on a journey through the hidden collections of museums around the world via a descriptive, breezy vernacular.... It is evident that this work is a product of the author's emotional, personal discovery, and yet reflects great attention to detail and fastidious research.
Protoview
Though the book is mainly designed for enjoyment, the author reveals the diversity of objects in museums, the struggle of museums in many countries with inadequate resources to protect or spark conversation about the objects in their care, and the crucial but unseen function of museums as libraries and arks for the future.
Science Books and Film - James W. Kalat
(starred review) One would assume that every library displays all of its most valuable items, right? Or at least every great item is occasionally on display, right? No, as this amazing book describes, many museums keep some of their most treasured possessions locked away and out of sight.... Researcher Molly Oldfield describes all these items joyfully and reverentially. The book has a huge number of illustrations... truly a unique and wonderful book.
Foreword Reviews
This delightfully informative art book guides us to forgotten treasures around the world.
Library Journal
11/15/2013
The Secret Museum is a collection of stories, not only of 60 strange and interesting objects but also of the museums that house them and the collectors and curators who care for them. The author (researcher & writer, BBC TV program QI [Quite Interesting]) shares her enthusiasm for rare, forgotten, nostalgic, grisly, and beautiful objects held in museums around the world, although chiefly in Britain. She has a knack for finding little-known stories, such as the history of Vladimir Nabokov's butterfly collection or exactly how fragile space suits are stored. Unfortunately, the decision was made to illustrate her text with a combination of twee sketches and multifont text boxes, with photographs of the objects in question reproduced at literally the size of postage stamps. These object photos are hard to decipher, and the other illustrations may lead adults to think the book is for younger readers. But the joy of discovering forgotten tidbits far outweighs the annoyance of the visual design. Each entry can be understood on its own, so the volume is a pleasure to dip into. VERDICT With some reservations, this is nonetheless an excellent work for any museum or library patron, younger reader or adult, who is a history buff. Recommended for readers who enjoyed Neil MacGregor's A History of the World in 100 Objects.—Jessica Spears, Monroe Coll. Lib., Bronx, NY

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9781770852570
Publisher:
Firefly Books, Limited
Publication date:
09/22/2013
Pages:
352
Product dimensions:
7.50(w) x 9.80(h) x 1.10(d)

Meet the Author

Molly Oldfield, who considers herself a museumphile, has been a writer and researcher for the landmark BBC1 program QI (Quite Interesting), presented by Stephen Fry. She writes a weekly QI column in the Saturday Telegraph and researches QI's sister Radio 4 program, The Museum of Curiosity.

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