RAMM cares for wonderful and diverse collections consisting of over one million individual objects and specimens from all over the globe. Star Objects shines a light on some of RAMM’s most iconic and famous objects in the collection. From an extraordinary hoard of Roman coins discovered in East Devon, to our famous giraffe named Gerald. Delve into Exeter’s astonishing history and discover the remarkable stories that lie behind some of RAMM’s treasured collections.
Featuring a series of videos, RAMM staff and volunteers tell us why they love each of the sixteen objects, and hear the fascinating stories that make these items so special. You can explore RAMM’s star objects by expanding the sections below.
Joey the Stanley crane was born in South Africa and brought to the UK in 1914. He lived happily at Kew Gardens for many years where his personality gained him a lot of attention from the public and the press. Find out more about Joey here.
This helmet was discovered in 1870 on the shore of the Euripus Strait in Greece. It would have belonged to a ‘hoplite’, an armoured soldier who fought on foot with a long spear. It is a beautiful example of a Corinthian style helmet, with nose protector and eye openings; its punched decoration can be seen around the rim.
Because of its place of discovery, it is possible that this helmet, which dates from the early part of the 5th century BC, could have come from the great battle of Marathon, which was fought in 490BC. Hoplites were required to supply their own armour, which was very costly, therefore this would not have been relinquished easily. The artefact belonged to Lieutenant Colonel Montague who collected over 800 classical archaeological objects, which he bequeathed to the museum on his death.
This commemorative totem pole’s name is Ilchinik, in honour of a very powerful and successful whaler. It is made of red cedar wood. It stands in the gallery at 5 metres tall. The pole celebrates the historic connections between the Captain Cook artefacts donated to RAMM and the Nuu-chah-nulth of Vancouver Island.
Made in Japan some time after 1500, this Samurai armour (tosei gosuku) is a decorative version, unlikely to have seen active service. The suit is made of lacquered metal plates laced with gold-coloured silk braid. It’s intricate design is complete with lots of ornate lacing, paint, plating, braids, and knots of many differently coloured materials.
The helmet (kabuto) is in the hoshi-bachi style with an agemaki knot at the back. The neck guard (shikoro) attached to the helmet’s rim is decorated with blue kebiki and blue/white lacing (mimiito). The helmet does not belong to the suit, but items acquired as spoils of war were often reworked to form a composite suit.
The lacquered face mask (menpo) covers the lower half of the face. It is decorated with grooves and a faint painted moustache. Horse hair and bear fur were later used. The inside of the mask was often lacquered red to give an angry glow. It is not clear how much of this was visible when the mask was worn.
The throat guard (yodare-kake) hangs from the face mask. The two plates are held together with gold flat kebiki lacing. The decorative red cross knots on the edge are called hishinui. The neck and throat guard (nodowa) sits underneath the throat guard and lies on top of the cuirass. The nodowa was originally used with just a face mask. It is not needed when the throat guard is worn, but its use was later misunderstood and they were worn together.
The cuirass (do) is made of lacquered metal plates, which are laced together with gold braid. It opens at the right and has a large decorative knot at the back (agemaki), sometimes called a dragonfly knot. Lacing is mainly horizontal (kebiki) with some red cross knots (hishinui) at the back.
Made in Tahiti, the Tahitian chief mourner’s costume is a spectacular collection of clothing, its purpose was to mourn aristocratic or high status individuals. It’s a very intricate costume, made out of lots of material. A tremendous amount of hard work went into the making of this costume, including cutting the wood without the use of iron and cutting the pearl shell into tiny rectangles,
The full design involves a cape and tunic, a breastplate, an ope arrangement, headdress, clappers, and a face mask.
The outfit was acquired by 1st Lieutenant Francis Godolphin Bond on the HMS Providence, which arrived in Matavai Bay, Tahiti, on 9 April 1792. Bond donated this costume to the Devon and Exeter Institution in 1815, of which he was a proprietor. The Devon & Exeter Institution presented this costume to the Albert Memorial Museum in 1872.
A Tahitian chief possessed great social status but also charged with great spiritual power called mana. Upon the death of a chief their body was treated accordingly and mounted on biers shrouded in fine white barkcloth. Relatives would gather around the bier and mourn. A senior relative would appear in a mourner’s costume (heva tupapa’u) to lead a spectacular procession, accompanied by family members with their skins blackened with soot. Pearl-shell clappers would warn people as the procession approached to withdraw or conceal themselves. Otherwise they could face being attacked or injured with a sword edged with shark teeth.
It has a long brown cape and tunic of bark cloth, a breastplate of hardwood, pearl shells, feathers, and coconut fibre; an ope arrangement and headdress of bark fibre and leaves, shell clappers of pearl shell and bark cloth, and a face mask of pearl shells, coconut fibre, feathers of a frigate bird and turtle shell.
Charlotte Treadwin was an internationally important designer and lace maker. Her lace collection was one of the first collections to come to RAMM in the 1860’s. Lace-making was a really important industry in East Devon and helped many families to earn a living. Read more about Charlotte Treadwin’s lace collection in a research blog.
Eshu is a Yoruban deity. In a protective role, Eshu stood in the palace gateway in both male and female forms. Only the male form is now at RAMM. Oba Ogunbona, a senior chief of Abeokuta, reportedly ‘presented’ the figure to Rev. Henry Townsend.
Meteors are lumps of rock that hurtle through space after breaking off from planets or moons. During this process, they usually splinter into fragments and fall to planets and moons, these are called meteorites. The largest lumps eventually reach the Earth’s surface.
Some meteorites contain tiny glassy spheres, called chondrules. These may have been created by the sun’s heat which would melt dust and small pieces of debris. This was a common occurrence while our solar system was still in its earliest stages of formation. The rock often starts to melt on the outside during its journey through the earth’s atmosphere. Most meteorites have a thin black coating or fusion crust.
Gerald the giraffe is one of RAMM’s most iconic specimens and would have been an outstanding animal when alive. This adult male giraffe has been an extremely popular exhibit at the Museum since 1920. In 1901 he encountered big game hunter Charles Victor Alexander Peel at Moshi, Tanzania, close to the snow-capped Mount Kilimanjaro in what were German Territories. Gerald’s display at the museum has proven to be a popular one, elevating him to mascot status for the RAMM.
Of giraffes, Peel notes that ‘Their skins are immensely thick and heavy, and in consequence they are very difficult to dry, cure and carry’. He found that they could be closely approached in thick bush as they were ‘continually looking over and beyond one’. Gerald was skinned, dried and cured on site. Judging from how sections of the skin have been sewn together he was cut into manageable portions for the porters to carry. The skin was shipped as freight to London where it was mounted by the famous taxidermy firm, Rowland Ward Ltd. Gerald was previously known as George, as an affectionate tribute to King George V. However, he was renamed Gerald by a former museum director. Gerald is one of the few specimens that remained at RAMM during the redevelopment, spending many months in a crate, before being moved out of the window on Upper Paul Street and then being craned into the museum through the roof from Northernhay Gardens. Hooves to horns (known as ossicones) he is 5.05m and hooves to the top of his head he is 4.94m tall. Gerald was previously identified as Giraffa camelopardalis tippelskirchi but a DNA study published in September 2016 has established that giraffes now belong to four distinct species rather than one with many subspecies. Gerald’s new scientific name is Giraffa tippelskirchi.
Barbara Hepworth made this bronze cast sculpture in 1966. Her interest in pierced forms began in the 1930s when she was an advocate of direct carving against modelling. However by the late 1950s she had also turned to bronze casting. It is likely that Zennor inspired the name of the piece. Zennor is a hamlet, close to her home in St. Ives, Cornwall.
Barbara Hepworth was born in 1903 and died in 1975, a leading figure in Modernism and in the St Ives group of artists. Of ovular form, almost pebble-shaped, the sculpture is smooth and dark in colour. The inside is pierced, revealing an abstract-shaped hole in the centre, and features a patina. Hepworth’s interest in pierced forms and abstract shapes began in her marble carving work of the 1930s, when she fell in love with British Modernist painter Ben Nicholson. Visits abroad together enabled them to be inspired by artists such as Mondrian, Picasso and Gabo, who were also experimenting with cubism and geometric forms in their art. This influence is clear in this particular work. At the outbreak of war in 1939, Hepworth and Nicholson settled in St Ives, Cornwall, with their three children. Here, her work developed alongside other Modernist artists who had also sought refuge in Cornwall during the war, and she experimented with other materials. Bronze casting featured heavily in her work from the 1950s. Titled ‘Zennor’, the present piece was likely inspired by the village of the same name, a few miles from her home.
Francis Danby painted this seemingly tranquil scene in 1855 but in the distance, behind the becalmed sailing ship, is a puff of smoke from a steam train – a transport revolution is underway.
Danby was interested in the special effects of nature and the poetic moods of landscape. The central tower was a pumping station on Brunel’s atmospheric railway – a short lived project which propelled trains by atmospheric pressure rather than steam power. Born in Ireland in 1793, Danby practiced drawing at the Royal Dublin Society’s schools. He was successful in his career as a painter, some of which was spent as a member of the Bristol School of Artists, leading him to become an Associate Member of the Royal Academy. In his later years, Danby moved to Exmouth where he died in 1861.
Caleb Hedgeland built this model between 1817 and 1824 to record the city as it was during the late 1700s. It is one of the earliest surviving models of any town in Britain.
The Hedgeland model of Exeter was constructed between 1817 and 1824, Hedgeland began construction of the model when he was a child. It is very detailed and is the only record of many buildings and streets which were later demolished. It is one of the earliest surviving models of any town in Britain. The entire model is made mostly of wood except for the towers of the cathedral which are reported to be made of lead. This object is on display at RAMM in the Making History gallery.
Discovered in pieces during building works in 1899 and reconstructed by a conservator at the British museum. The Exeter puzzle jug is one of the most extraordinary pieces of medieval ceramics to ever be discovered in northern Europe.
The design shows two bishops at the top, young ladies and musicians. The scene points fun at the morals of the medieval clergy. It was discovered in pieces during building works in 1899 at the junction of Bear Street and South Street in Exeter. It was reconstructed by a conservator at the British Museum in the 1930s. This object is on display at RAMM in the Making History gallery.
The Seaton Down coin hoard consists of approximately 22,888 coins. The vast majority are 4th century nummi associated with Constantine I, his family and other sub-emperors of the time. A few examples of earlier radiates were found with the hoard but these must have been in accidental circulation at the time.
The coins were found with 3 iron ingots and excavations recovered a few associated finds that may be associated with a leather sack that once contained the coins. The hoard was found by metal-detectorist Laurence Egerton who was detecting on land belonging to Clinton Devon Estates near Seaton. This object is on display at RAMM in the Making History gallery.
In 1867, quarrymen near Kingsteignton discovered this incredibly rare Iron Age figure. Radiocarbon dating found the figure to be 2,400 years old. The object only survived due to the wet conditions and the clay it was found in.
Rynchosaurs were lizard-like animals that lived around 250 million years ago in a period known as the Triassic. Devon’s red sandstone cliffs contain their fossilised remains. Chiefly among these fossils, archaeologists found the skull fragment at Peak Hill near Sidmouth.