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Monday 31 March - Saturday 12 July 2014
This exhibition presents a variety of unusual items never shown before, carefully selected by the Museum’s Curator to illustrate the sheer scope and diversity of the Bank’s collections, amassed during its long history and mainly acquired in the course of its business. The Museum permanent galleries display some of the most significant items to illustrate the history of the Bank as a prominent financial institution since its foundation in 1694 to the present day. The “curiosities” in this exhibition reveal new and fascinating stories about the lives of staff, customers and personalities connected to the Bank over more than three centuries, offering a unique opportunity for a historical look behind the scenes of Threaneedle Street.
Among the previously unseen items is a battered leather trunk, whose enigmatic description in the Museum’s 1936 catalogue ledger reads ‘Camel pack for carrying gold over deserts’. Over the years, this humble-looking object has been the subject of much speculation, which has grown into an association with a legendary name: could this really be Lawrence of Arabia’s saddle bag, lent to him by the Bank for the transportation of gold during his wartime desert campaigns? Although the connection to this particular object remains unproven, private letters and other documents form the Bank’s Archive hint at a relationship between Lawrence and the Bank.
Another unseen item is a mahogany secret ballot box designed by the great Georgian architect Sir John Soane, Architect and Surveyor to the Bank from 1788 to 1833. Designed in the form of a miniature ancient Greek temple with palm tree roof design, it was used during the 1800s by the Bank’s Court of Directors to cast votes at the end of countless important meetings. The ballot box enabled a voter to cast their ballot by reaching inside and dropping a small wooden ball to the left side for ‘yes’ or right for ‘no’.
Also on display is a set of high-value notes signed by distinguished visitors to the Bank over 200 years, including Prince Frederick of Prussia, George Elliot, Nelson Mandela and HM the Queen. Also featured are ‘the Choshu Five’ – a group of future statesmen from Japan, who travelled secretly to the west in 1863, when such a journey was illegal, before returning as some of the most important modernising figures in Japan’s history.
Other remarkable objects on display include magnificent oil paintings, a series of beautifully preserved Roman and mediaeval ceramics discovered in the 1920s during the demolition of Soane’s original Bank building, and the centrepiece of the exhibition, an 18th-century carved wooden figure of the Bank’s emblem Britannia.
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