Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Magical Mystery Tour?

From the desk of Sean Rodman, Strategic Partnerships Manager at the Royal BC Museum

There's a little mystery linked to John Lennon and his Rolls Royce. Maybe you can help solve it. We've posted before about the amazing Rolls Royce that's currently sitting in the lobby of the Royal BC Museum. We know quite a lot about this automobile. But there is something that we don't know…

First, some interesting facts:
  • the Rolls Royce Phantom V was purchased by John in 1965. It was painted "Valentine's Black" - a flat, matte paint job. But the inside of the car was altered significantly. A bed was installed, as well as a record player, TV, and other rock star trimmings.

  • John travelled to Spain to film "How I Won the War" and brought his car and driver with him. While there, the car suffered from damage to its paint job from abrasive desert sands.

  • Returning to England, he had the car repainted in 1967 with a bright yellow base and illustrations typical of Romany Gypsy style. This was inspired, in part, by a Gypsy caravan that he had recently purchased for his son, Julian, as a playhouse. Here's a great archival video of the Rolls Royce shortly after delivery in its new colours.

And now for the mystery. On the roof of the Rolls Royce is a symbol. Some sources state that this is John's astrological sign: Libra. But the actual marking doesn't really resemble the traditional astrological symbol for Libra. Here it is:

So what is it? Let us know what you think. By the way, we're also on the hunt for his 1967 portable, black-and-white Sony television, or the same model. The original disappeared before we acquired the Rolls Royce. Do you happen to know where we could find it?

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Clouds of War

From the desk of Ann ten Cate, Reference Archivist at the Royal B.C. Museum

Sometimes opening a box at the Archives leads to a little gem of a document – and makes the the hair on your neck stand up. Last week, after having recently seen the film “The King’s Speech”, I happened to come across a letter written by Winston Churchill just before the First World War. The film ends in 1939, just before the Second World War and features a cigar-chomping Churchill, appointed for a second time as Lord of the Admiralty, prognosticating about the coming war with Hitler.

The item in our collection was written by a much younger Churchill during his first stint as Lord of the Admiralty in 1911, and was sent to Richard McBride, the Premier of British Columbia, at Christmas time. We only have a copy of the letter, as the original was kept by the McBride family, but the content and prose are so characteristic that I could easily picture Churchill at his desk at Blenheim dashing off this thank-you note. Churchill (1874 – 1965) was one of the world’s great orators and writers, and was awarded the Nobel prize for literature in 1953. I think you’ll agree that this unpublished letter shows both his amazing prescience and his wonderful ability with words.

Here’s the full transcript of the letter, from accession 90-0009:

Blenheim, 26 Dec 1911

My dear Mr. McBride,

I have received from your Agent-General an intimation of the arrival of a grizzly bear skin which you have with so much kindness sent me as a personal gift. I am very grateful to you for it, and if I may say so, still more for the friendship of which it is a token, which I highly value.

You will I know have been pleased to see my transfer to the Admiralty. I was delighted. There have been times when it would not specially have appealed to me: but now it absorbs my waking thoughts. The years which lie immediately before us are serious and critical, and it is only by the strength of our Fleet – which thank God was never so powerful, that the peaceful and free development of the component parts of the British Empire will be secured.

I have been most interested in the results of the Canadian elections, and their effect on Canadian Naval policy. I shall be ready to help the new ministry in any way in my power, with a full understanding of some, at least, of the difficulties and limitations of their position. I hope you will tell your friends so. They can consult the Admiralty in perfect confidence that we will do all in our power to make their naval policy a brilliant success: and we will not be hidebound or shrink from new departures provided that whatever moneys they think fit to employ shall be well spent according to the true principles by which sea power is maintained.

I shall not lose hope yet that I may be able to see your beautiful Columbia before another Christmas has passed away.

Meanwhile, accept my most sincere good wishes for you and yours in the year 1912. Yours sincerely,

Winston S. Churchill

For more Churchillian quotes, check out

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Artifact or Artifiction

From the desk of Kim Gough, Program Developer, Royal BC Museum

One of the most popular features on our Facebook site is the online version of our signature fundraising event “Artifact or Artifiction”. In our online Facebook version we post an image and a statement and ask folks if it is true or false. I propose we try another version of the game. Below I have posted a picture of an artifact, but instead of me posting a statement that may be true or false; I want you, gentle reader, to provide the statement. You don’t have to be accurate; in fact it’s more fun if you aren’t! Have fun and let the creative juices flow.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

The Museum is Out There

From the desk of Kelly Sendall, Manager of Natural History at the Royal BC Museum
After leading many tours of various groups through our natural history collections over the years, I have come to realize that most of what I talk about is usually surprising news to at least half the group.

One important aspect of the work we do in natural history collections is the loaning of specimens to other museums or universities. Although you might think it’s for display purposes, it’s usually for research. That branch of research is called taxonomy or systematics, and can be thought of as the ongoing argument in journals over the evolutionary history of species and their relationships to one another. But it’s also the place for official descriptions or re-descriptions of new species or revisions of more general groups such as genera, families, orders and so on up the hierarchy.

Loaning specimens are a significant part of the process and we are very much involved. Here is the link to a file (GoogleEarthLoanMap) that can be used on Google Earth to see our loans activity over the last 10 years or so. Over 400 loans to museums and other institutions worldwide!

We are also working on a static map of the world showing our loans activity for the entrance area of the Behind the Scenes exhibition.

There are a wide variety of plants and animals loaned out for this purpose for six-month or one-year terms. Spiders, worms, grasses, fossils, fish, voles, bats or gnats…we’ve probably loaned some to another museum. When the loan is returned it sometimes comes with better identifications for the specimens. This is a very valuable improvement to our collections and is a common co-operation among natural history collections. Experts in different groups of organisms such as sea stars or bats may be spread all over the globe, so this type of interaction is crucial to our scientific community.

In mid-January I approved a loan of 30 flies from the family Anthomyzidae (small group of tiny flies) to a researcher at the Great Lakes Forestry Centre in Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario. We don’t have a staff member that is an expert on this family, so cannot identify these flies to species. When this researcher learned they were here he was pretty excited. Without this type of co-operation the flies would have sat in the collection – unknown, unrecognized and waiting.