Wednesday, 8 October 2014

Thirty years of collecting early Celtic art

"Glastonbury" lead spindle whorl
The decorated lead spindle whorl to the right was the first piece of early Celtic art I bought. Because it cost me only ten dollars, I thought that it must be a very common object, but I could not find an illustration or even any mention of such a thing in the literature. I did discover that there was a similar form of a lead spindle whorl at Glastonbury Lake Village but it bore no decoration at all. Some British dealer had accumulated a number of later and common lead spindle whorls and a friend had spotted it among them and bought it for me.

My wife made a couple of gesso and gelatin casts using some of her slaked plaster and did a diagram of the design, and I took some photographs and we sent two identical packages to the British and Ashmolean museums. The British Museum package ended up with a Roman specialist who did not recognize the Celtic designs at all and she said it was common. The Ashmolean forwarded the package to Martyn Jope who was excited by the find saying that he knew of no other example other than the plain type at Glastonbury.

Over the years, I have obtained more rare or unique pieces of early Celtic art, some of them very important. Because of limited funds, most of my collection consists of extremely rare examples. You would think that this sentence makes no sense because people always expect the unique and rare to be expensive, but commoner articles are much easier to research and also are susceptible to having supply and demand dictate what sort of price anything should be. Many of my pieces were bought without proper attribution and thus cost me a lot less than might be imagined. I still can't afford much of the commoner stuff!

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