Category Archives: Object of the Month

Object of the Month – May 2012

Egyptian necklace with beads and amulets

Egyptian necklace

This necklace isn’t as old as you might think. It was made in Egypt for a tourist 100 to 200 years ago. In the 1800s Egypt became an increasingly popular tourist destination and these visitors were keen to bring back souvenirs of their trip. This could be something made as a souvenir, or a fake made to look much older than it was.

However, in this case the beads themselves are much older than the necklace.

As the beads were restrung relatively recently we cannot be certain where in Egypt they were originally found. However, we do know what all the larger beads – or amulets – stood for. These figures provided magical protection for the wearer, in this life or the afterlife.

The amulets include two eye of Horus (wadjet), Isis (recognisable by the throne on her head), four Tawerets (pregnant hippopotamus), two Anubis figures (with jackal head), two Bes figures (who protected children) and four striding men.

This fascinating necklace belonged to a professor of Egyptology at Oxford who worked in Egypt with Flinders Petrie, a famous archaeologist.

The Herbert has about 30 objects from ancient Egypt, all donated by individuals. You can see some of them on display in the History Gallery and a drawer of small objects in What’s in Store.


Object of the Month – March 2012


Anglo Saxon shield boss

Anglo-Saxon Shield Boss

Anglo-Saxon warriors are typically pictured wearing a helmet, brandishing a spear or axe and holding a shield. These iconic objects were sometimes buried with the person when he died. From archaeological remains such as these, we have a good idea what people in the past may have looked like.

This shield boss would have formed the centre of a shield and protected the warrior’s hand. It was hand beaten out of a piece of iron. It dates from between 550 and 650 AD. It was found by Jack Edwards during archaeological excavations in Baginton in the 1930s.  

We know little about Saxon Coventry. However, we believe there was a settlement at Baginton near the present day church. It is known their cremation burial ground was on the north side of the village. This settlement was no longer used by 700 AD, at around the same time that people may have built houses on or near what is now Coventry city centre.

This shield boss along with cremation pots from the cemetery can be seen in What’s in Store our accessible store in the Herbert.

Object of the Month – February 2012

Coventry Blitz – General View, 1940,  By Ernest Boye Uden (1911 to 1986)

Coventry Blitz – General View by Ernest Boye Uden (1911 to 1986)

Coventry Blitz – General View
By Ernest Boye Uden (1911 to 1986)

This watercolour painting of Coventry in the Blitz is one of the Herbert’s newest acquisitions. It found its way to us in fairly unusual circumstances. The artist’s daughter got in touch with us from Canada where she now lives, to tell us that this painting was being offered for sale on a website run by an organisation called the Canadian Anglo-Boer War Museum. She was really keen for the Herbert to purchase the work, as she felt strongly that it represents an important event in the city’s history and should be in a museum in Coventry where it could be seen and appreciated by Coventry people.

After a number of communications with the Anglo-Boer War Museum, we reached an agreement with them to buy the painting. Fortunately the sale price was not too high and we were able to use some of the funding we currently have from the Heritage Lottery Fund to purchase works of art on the themes of conflict, peace and reconciliation. This was an ideal use of this funding, as the Herbert’s focus on these themes stems from the experience of Coventry in the Blitz of 1940.

When we first heard about the painting, we didn’t know very much about the artist, but luckily his daughter was able to supply us with some biographical information. We also discovered that the Imperial War Museum has several works by him in their collection.

Ernest Boye Uden (known as Boye Uden to distinguish him from his father Ernest Uden, who was also an artist) was born in 1911 in Peckham in London. He studied at Camberwell School of Art and Goldsmiths College and by 1936 had exhibited work at the Royal Academy. When the Second World War broke out, he joined the Auxiliary Fire Service in London, and was on duty during the air raids on the East End and Docks. He was part of the contingent wetting down St Paul’s Cathedral when it was surrounded by fire.

In 1940 he became an official war artist, attached to the National Fire Service. When Coventry was bombed on the night of 14 November 1940, Uden’s division was sent to the city to support the local fire services. This painting records his view of the three spires as they entered the city. After the war Uden established himself as a successful artist, illustrator and watercolour painter. He was commissioned to produce work for a number of well-known companies, including British Gas, Daimler, Bass, Dunlop, Ferguson Tractors, ICI and the Radio Times. He died in Sudbury in Suffolk in 1986.

The painting has required some work by our conservation team to make it ready for display, including making a new mount for it and framing it. It will be on show for the first time as part of the Warwickshire Watercolours exhibition, at the Herbert between 25 February and 22 July.

Object of the Month – January 2012

Piece of Acropora Palmata Coral

Acropora palmata coral

While cataloguing the coral collection in the Herbert museum, I came across this species of Acropora coral.

Acropora are a genera of coral that contains at least 149 separate species. Acropora palmata has been the subject of recent conservation efforts as its numbers have suffered dramatically in the last 30 years. Acropora palmata is listed as critically endangered by the International Union for Conservation of Nature. This is the tier before ‘extinct in the wild’.

Acropora palmata is found in the Caribbean Sea, Florida, the Gulf of Mexico and the Bahamas. These corals primarily live in shallow waters with temperatures between 26 °C and 30 °C.

Corals rely on zooxanthellae, which are photosynthetic protozoa that embed themselves in coral tissue. The zooxanthellae receive protection from predators and in return supply the coral with approximately 90% of its energy from their photosynthetic byproducts.  These protozoa are extremely sensitive to variations in water temperature and will leave the coral tissue if long periods of temperature change occur. The result is ‘bleached’ coral as the colourful zooxanthellae leave. Global warming, the rise in sea levels and temperatures have massively affected the symbiotic relationship between corals and these protozoa.

Corals are also suffering world-wide because they are extremely susceptible to pollution, acidification of the sea and changes in ocean salinity. Human activities such as tourism and fishing also pose a threat to coral.

All these factors have affected corals on the global level, but the spread of an aggressive disease called ‘White band disease’ has hit the Acropora palmata species hard. It is estimated that 80-98% of the wild population has been wiped out in the last 30 years.

It is entirely possible that Acropora palmata could soon only be alive in cultivated aquariums.

Sam Caulfield-Kerney

University of Leicester work placement student

Acropora palmata in the wild

 Acropora palmata in the wild.

Photo by Nick Hobgood. Sourced from Wikimedia Commons.

Object of the Month – December 2011

Sampler by Mary Shipley, 1797Sampler by Mary Shipley, 1797

There are at least 60 samplers in the Herbert’s textile collection and this is a particularly beautiful example. As the Herbert has so many samplers and only a few in the galleries, we are starting a project to mount all the ones in store. This means they can be safely handled and much more easily displayed. Staff and a group of volunteers from NADFAS (National Association of Decorative & Fine Arts Societies) were trained at the end of November and have started work on the project. A special mount padded and covered with acid free material has to be made before the sampler can be positioned and attached. With each mount taking about 2 hours to prepare and stitch the sampler to it, it may be some time before the project is finished!

Samplers began in the 1400s or 1500s as a way of remembering different types of stitches or patterns. Over time they evolved into a right of passage for young girls, proving their knowledge and patience. Ones like Mary’s – with an alphabet, picture, biblical verse and the girl’s name and date – are what most people imagine when they think of a sampler.

This sampler is has particularly fine embroidery in silk threads. Unfortunately with the fine background, delicate silk and existing damage, Mary’s sampler will not be able to be mounted as part of this project but will be kept safely in store as it is one of the nicest in the collection.

Object of the Month – November 2011

Radio, about 1940

Radio, about 1940

Arthur Noakes’ radio

This radio was used by Arthur Noakes, who was a secret listener during the Second World War. Secret listeners were amateur radio enthusiasts who were recruited by the government to listen to enemy radio messages. They passed the messages on to Bletchley Park where they were decoded. Bletchley Park’s success in intercepting and decoding German messages played a key part in winning the war.

Arthur was one of a handful of secret listeners in Coventry. He was already a keen amateur radio enthusiast and a member of the Coventry Amateur Radio Society when war broke out. At first the government took away all amateur radio sets, but soon realised that they could be very useful for the war effort. An official visited Arthur at home and recruited him to work for the government. He had to sign the Official Secrets Act and was then given a radio and asked to listen to certain frequencies.


At first Arthur struggled to pick up anything and was given this radio instead. It is a National Radio HRO set, made in the USA. The British government bought thousands of these high quality receivers during the war. With this new radio Arthur was able to listen to successfully listen to enemy messages. He believed the stations he listened to were in Belgium and Holland.

Arthur continued to listen to enemy communications throughout the war and often got feedback about how important the work was. He kept his work secret even from his family and it was not until many years later that his sons found out how he had spent the war. In the last few weeks two other people have come forward to tell us that their fathers were also secret listeners.

Arthur’s certificate of war service

We would like to thank the Noakes family and Coventry Amateur Radio Society for donating this radio and for recording Arthur Noakes’ story.

Huw Jones, Keeper of Collections

Object of the month October 2011

Brimley Hill, Devon by Robert Bevan

Brimley Hill, Devon, around 1915
By Robert Bevan (1865 to 1925)

This painting by Robert Bevan was acquired by the Herbert in 1982.

In the 1890s Bevan became a friend of the French Post-Impressionist artist Paul Gauguin, whom he met in Pont Aven in Brittany. At this time, Gauguin had just returned from his first trip to the South Seas and was experimenting with a style of painting which involved the use of simplified colour and flattened clearly outlined shapes. This clearly had a powerful influence on Bevan and a radical and expressive use of strong pure colours became characteristic of his work. One critic, commenting on a painting by Bevan, described ‘a rainbow horse, drawing a crimson plough, followed by a magenta ploughman over a purple field’.

Bevan was a member of the Camden Town Group of Artists which grew out of the Fitzroy Street Group in 1911. He painted many views of London’s horse drawn cabs and cabyards. His work also featured the suburban streets of St Johns Wood and Hampstead and the rural landscapes of Sussex, Somerset and Devon.

Bevan’s first solo exhibitions, in 1905 and 1908, were poorly received and his work was strongly criticised. His contribution to British art was not widely recognized until 1965, the centenary of his birth. In that year the artist’s son published his memoir and organised a series of exhibitions. His work is now found in many museum and gallery collections, including the Tate.

This painting is on display in the Herbert’s Art Since 1900 gallery.

Object of the Month – September 2011

Stone mould

This object on display in the History Gallery is a stone mould for casting a small figure, possibly that of a saint. During the 1400s Coventry was a thriving city with many trades including metal casting.

This unique object is one part of a three-piece mould used to cast a pewter devotional figure. The figure would have been made hollow to act as a container or reliquary. It’s likely this was a souvenir of a visit perhaps by someone on pilgrimage. Pilgrims visited Coventry because the Cathedral held relics including a fragment of the true cross and the arm of St. Augustine of Hippo.

On the reverse side is part of a heraldic motif for a badge or belt fitting with crowns and quatrefoil design. This is evidence of secondary usage as the stone was expensive to quarry and carving a mould’s design must have taken a day or even two. The stone probably came from around Southam and Long Itchington about 15 miles from Coventry.

Coventry holds over 200 stone moulds from archaeological sites all over the city centre. These demonstrate a vibrant industry which supported both religious and secular visitors during the late medieval and early Tudor times. There is a selection of these interesting objects on display in the History Gallery.


Object of the Month – August 2011

This incredible object is over 200 years old. It is a picture made from small pieces of paper cut into floral patterns, a shield and letters. These have been arranged on a satin background and the whole has been framed. The caption at the bottom of the picture reads ‘this was done by Jane Hawtin, born without hands at Coventry…1769 – May 3 1780’.

It seems almost impossible to me that someone born without hands was able to produce this picture.

The writing on the picture is slightly damaged and it is not clear if Jane was 11 when she completed the work, or if it took her 11 years to make the picture. At this time young girls often made a needlework sampler as proof of their embroidery skills. You can see several on display at the Herbert. It could be that this careful work was Jane’s equivalent of a needlework sampler.

Unfortunately we don’t know anything else about Jane Hawtin or what happened to her, but this object shows she had patience and tenacity.


Object of the Month – July 2011

Little Europa Sewing Machine

This sewing machine was made by Smith and Starley of Coventry in the 1870s. By the 1850s most processes in the textile industry, including weaving, knitting and spinning, were done using machines. Only sewing still had to be done by hand, using a needle and thread. This included sewing leather and canvas as well as clothes. Richer people had their clothes made to order by seamstresses – women who worked long hours in poor conditions for very little money. Poorer people made their own clothes or wore hand-me-downs.

The first machine for sewing was invented in the late 1700s. For about 50 years various inventors worked on new and better versions. It was an American, Elias Howe, who patented the first really successful machine in 1845. Further improvements were made by Isaac Singer and Allen Wilson in the 1850s and soon sewing machines were being sold in huge numbers. As a result clothes became cheaper and more readily available and could be bought ready made in shops.

In 1861 Coventry was in an economic depression caused by the collapse of its main industry, ribbon weaving. A number of local businessmen set up a company to make sewing machines in a disused ribbon factory. James Starley and an American called SC Salisbury both moved to Coventry to work for the company. Starley had previously worked for the Newton and Wilson sewing machine company in London. Starley was a skilled inventor and he and Salisbury patented several improvements to the sewing machine.

In 1868 the company won an order from France to make 500 velocipedes, an early type of bicycle. This was the birth of the cycle industry in Britain. Starley turned his inventive mind to improving the velocipede and his work led to the development of the high ordinary bicycle, which is more popularly known as the penny farthing. The company, now called Coventry Machinists, went from strength to strength and Coventry became the centre of cycle making in Britain.

In 1871 Starley left Coventry Machinists to set up on his own making cycles. He also set up a sewing machine company with Borthwick Smith. Smith and Starley produced several models of sewing machine including the Little Europa.

The Little Europa is on display in our History Gallery, where you can also see a European sewing machine made by the Coventry Machinists Company, a velocipede and a penny farthing. Starley’s role as an inventor of sewing machines and bicycles and his importance to the city is marked by a statue of him on Greyfriars Green in Coventry.

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