Its 1745. The Kingdom of Hawaii has just been formed. British forces have retaken Capetown from the Dutch. Royalist riots in Paris are quelled by a young up-and-coming artillery officer named Bonaparte. The Royal Navy makes lemon juice compulsory to combat scurvy. Residents of Wold Newton in Yorkshire get a bit of a shock when a meteorite falls on their hamlet. John Keats was born. Daniel McGinnis discovers the infamous ‘Money Pit’ on oak Island, prompting over two hundred years of treasure hunting.
And Peter Ratley owns a curiosity shop in Duke’s Court, London.
Running a curiosity shop in 1790’s London must have been quite a rewarding experience. With the world changing, there was undoubtedly much that could be called ‘curious’, and it’s a pretty safe assumption that Mr Ratley did a decent enough trade.
One wonders at what Ratley’s reaction would have been on hearing of the reported buried treasure beneath a remote island in Nova Scotia, for example, or whether his eyes lit up as an eager assistant whispered in his ear rumours of a star falling from the sky in Yorkshire!
No doubt then, some things that were happening in the world were exciting. As Keats would later say, “Athing of beauty is a joy forever; its loveliness increases, it will never pass into nothingness”. Peter Ratley’s Copper Halfpenny token definitely falls into Keats’ category, although it’s design suggests that not all that passed through his shop was as thrilling as a fallen meteorite or treasure from a mysterious shaft in Canada.
The token (distributed along with many others by shopkeepers and industrialists up and down the UK as a substitute for small coinage or as political and advertising tools) depicts a ‘yawning man’ holding a picture, with another dismissing it with a wave of the hand. Perhaps not everything could be called a ‘curiosity’ after all.
(Incidentally, if anyone does ever recover from the mysterious ‘Money Pit’ whatever ‘treasure’ may lay beneath that island, we would most definitely be very interested!).