Behind the scenes;Scottish Heritage

24th April 1998 at 01:00
There is a slight chill in the air and the long rows of cabinets might almost be fridges. But when Wendy Turner, the Museum of Scotland registrar, opens one of the doors, it is full of treasure. The real thing, like a pirate hoard: gold cups, silver plates, goblets - the works.

Turner pulls on a pair of white cotton gloves. "I don't exactly add up what everything's worth, but this is the one I have nightmares about." She extracts a small, round phial with a Latin engraving and two spouts at the top. It nestles in her gloved hand. "It is a 17th century object. It is gold. It's the Coronation Ampulla, used to annoint the monarch."

Turner is in charge of a roomful of history. Here is stored the bulk of the exhibits to be displayed in the new museum. They range from the sublime to the ridiculous. On a shelf lies the collar belonging to "Charlie, the last railway horse". Underneath is a grotesque snuff container made out of an entire curly-haired ram's head. Carved chairs and cradles stand bleary under bubblewrap; creels and kists brush elbows with picks and shovels and a perfectly ordinary lavatory. Turner opens another cupboard to reveal ornamental pottery worthy of anyone's ancient auntie.

"It is a never-ending task just keeping track of the objects," says Turner. "Everything is clocked in and out." There are 3,500 objects here, but the museum as a whole has around 3 million. Turner is in the process of documenting them on a database.

Installation of the Museum of Scotland's objects begins on May 5. "I'm getting quite possessive," admits Turner. "It's so nice to be able to open a cupboard and get an object out."

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