Project launched to catalogue 200,000 fascinating Edinburgh artefacts

A pendant for a bizarre Victorian club that only permitted men who were 6ft tall is among the fascinating items included in an ambitious project to catalogue and relocate more than 200,000 historic artefacts stored across the city.

Museums & Galleries Edinburgh have officially launched Auld Reekie Retold, the largest collections inventory project ever undertaken in the organisation’s history.

Over the course of three years, the ambitious project will see the recording and cataloguing of the collection of over 200,000 objects which are housed in stores and venues across the Capital, in preparation for a move to a new store where those objects can be safely stored and effectively managed.

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The project will also connect objects in the collection, which has been growing steadily since the 1870s, with people and places in the city, uncovering new stories from Edinburgh and its residents.

Museums & Galleries Edinburgh have officially launched Auld Reekie Retold, the largest collections inventory project ever undertaken in the organisation’s history.

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Throughout the lifecycle of the project, the impact of colonialism and Edinburgh’s role in the transatlantic slave trade will also be highlighted, seeking to educate and bring new perspectives and hidden stories to light.

Permanent museum staff have been joined for the project by three dedicated Collections Assistants whose work focuses on matching objects with any existing records, updating the information currently held and carrying out research.

Among the interesting historic items being catalogued is a tiny round metal stamp used for impressing on to wax, with the name and Trinity address of William Flockhart.

The Six Feet Club was a Victorian society that allowed only men who were six feet tall to join.

Flockhart and his partner Duncan were surgeon apothecaries who produced a number of drugs and medicines in the 1840s.

Among the customers on their books were James Young Simpson, the inventor of anaesthetics, and Florence Nightingale.

Also included is a playbill printed on a 100,000 Deutschmark note for a play at the Lyceum Theatre entitled “Tons of Money”, staged in 1925, a time when hyper-inflation in Germany had reached a point where money was no longer worth the paper it was printed on.

While people were paying for loaves of bread with wheelbarrows of cash, in Edinburgh, the bank note was used to advertise the ironically titled play.

Another item worth a mention is a small silver pendant of the Six Feet Club from the 1830s.

One of numerous “secret” societies in Edinburgh at the time, the peculiar club was dedicated to athleticism, and to be a member you had to be a man and six foot tall.

Sir Walter Scott was made an honorary member despite not being six-foot-tall and left with a limp by a bout of childhood polio.

Once lockdown restrictions have eased, plans are in place to host a series of exhibitions around Auld Reekie Retold at the Museum of Edinburgh, the Writers’ Museum and the Museum of Childhood.

Project Manager Nico Tyack said: “From Jacobite muskets to life in tenements, Edinburgh Rock to Pride, medieval St. Giles to the Festival Fringe, we hope to spark conversations about our amazing collections and their hidden histories, gathering new insights for future generations to enjoy.”

Councillor Donald Wilson, Culture and Communities Convener, said: “I have long believed there is untapped potential in our collections and Auld Reekie Retold is allowing us to develop and gain a fuller understanding of what we have. By recording and cataloguing the collection of over 200,000 objects, it will also highlight those items that can be used for online resources and future exhibitions”.

Councillor Amy McNeese-Mechan, Culture and Communities Vice Convenor, also added: “This project will help to broaden participation with our Museums & Galleries and ensure their long-term relevance. This is the story of our city and it needs to be told. It is only by understanding how we got to where we are now that we can know where we want to go in the future.”

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