ONE of the perks of being a museum curator is seeing and handling a wonderful collection of things from the past – items that have become precious by the very fact of their survival.

Most of these have little intrinsic value but they all have some sort of story to tell, often evoking a rewarding glimpse of the past lives of ordinary people.

Within the Wallingford Museum collection there are many such ‘treasures with tales’ so I’ve chosen two to share with you.

The first is a tiny object, about 1cm high, discovered in 2015 during an excavation in the back yard of Wallingford Museum.

At first glance it seemed to be a tiny carving of a cat but once cleaned up it was clearly a game piece, highly-decorated with ring and dot designs.

There turned out to be quite a story behind it.

This tiny carved object was actually a Medieval Arabic chess piece and the two ‘ears’ represented not a cat, but elephant tusks!

When chess was introduced to Europe the ‘elephant’ became known as a ‘bishop’ because the two tusks reminded people of a bishop’s pointed mitre.

Only about 50 such chess pieces have been found in England, but ours is unique in being about half the size of all the others.

It was made from the tip of an antler in the 12th or 13th century.

Why was it here? Probably because the Priory of Holy Trinity once stood behind the present museum building.

Chess sets like this belonged only to the rich – perhaps a traveller staying at the Priory brought his set with him.

One can imagine a game being played in the warmth of the medieval brick fireplace we excavated nearby.

What frustration there must have been to lose a single piece like this!

The second ‘treasure’ is a Christmas card sent in 1917 by a soldier fighting in the First World War.

It has been carefully crafted from a can of corned beef – a staple diet of soldiers in the trenches.

This unusual form of greeting was part of a collection preserved from the first Wallingford Museum in the 1920s.

Sadly nothing is known about the man who sent the card or the person who received and treasured it, but it is one of the most poignant objects in the museum.

We can only hope the soldier eventually returned home.

Most of us keep treasured items – not because they are ‘valuable’ but because they have a special significance.

With that in mind, Wallingford Museum would like to ask you to share some of your ‘Treasures with Tales’ to create a very special exhibition for 2018.

We’d first like you to send a photo of your item and a brief ‘tale’ to accompany it.

We will then select some for the exhibition and also display a file of details of everything which was sent in.

We’re hoping for a great response, so please email your details to: or post your photo and tale to ‘Treasures’, Judy Dewey, Wallingford Museum, 52 High Street, Wallingford OX10 0DB.

We are very much looking forward to discovering all your treasures and the tales that go with them.