Curiosities of the Archive

Image of Alice in Wonderland playing cards


People can often have a set opinion of the kind of items that an organisation such as ours contain. These might be business records, maps or old books for example. Whilst it is certainly the case that Birmingham Archives and Heritage does contain these documents by the shed load, we also contain a lot of rather unusual objects that are associated with well-known Birmingham dignitaries. Here are just a few examples to illustrate the range of our holdings.

These playing cards for instance belonged to the Albrights, A local family much involved in anti-slavery campaigning whose papers are deposited with us (MS 1509). The cards were originally printed to advertise an anti-slavery meeting at the Birmingham Town Hall on 22 January  1873 but were recycled by the family who painted scenes from Alice in Wonderland on the reverse.

Below are a few more examples of the cards.  These cards can be accessed by making an appointment in our searchroom and asking to see collection reference MS 1509-5-69.

An image of the Mad Matter from Alice in WonderlandAn image of the anti-slavery advertisementAn image of the 10 of hearts playing card

Another of these curiosities is the ‘Ripley’s Believe it or Not’ Blystone rice grain. This item claiming to be ‘the world’s smallest handwritten souvenir’ consists of a single grain of rice inscribed with the Lord’s Prayer. ‘Ripley’s Believe it or Not’ began life as a cartoon in the New York Globe but soon became an umbrella franchise covering a radio series, a book series and indeed a string of museums. Indeed, Ripley first showed his museum under the name ‘Ripley’s Odditorium’ at the Chicago World’s fair of 1933 so it possible that this item was an exhibit.

An Image of a Ripley's Believe it or not card

MS 2035-D-3-4-1

The inscription is believed to have been completed by  E.S. Blystone (called ‘Bly’ on the card) of Ardara, Pennsylvania to promote the fine quality of goods produced by  Joseph Gillott. Gillott used his experience as a cutler in his native Sheffield to develop incredibly fine and flexible steel pens known as nibs when he moved to Birmingham in 1821. His papers are deposited and include a number of the aforementioned nibs under the reference number MS 2035/D/3/12. A larger version of the rice grain itself is available here. As you can see it is incredibly clear.


One response to “Curiosities of the Archive

  1. Pingback: 200 and Counting! | The Iron Room

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