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Learning Team's Top 5 Curiosity Countdown

Rose Want, Schools Learning Officer, tells us about her favourite discoveries from the Learning Team’s end of year clean of the Hands on Base.

The end of the year means only two things for the Learning Team. One: even more cake than usual. Two: the annual Hands on Base clean up.

On the last Friday of term, the whole team got together to give the space a spruce up.

Since joining the Horniman back in September as a School’s Learning Officer, I have spent most of my time getting to grips with our learning sessions and familiarising myself with their associated objects. The Hands on Base clean gave me the chance to explore some of the 3,000-plus items in the handling collection. My colleagues managed to dig out often-overlooked favourites.

So, without further ado, here is the rundown of our top five curiosities from this years’ clean…

Number five

Some objects in the handling collection are so beautiful, they can’t go unmentioned. This frame holds 44 small samples of treated wood from all over the world.

The original use of this piece is unknown, yet it stands as a testament to the incredible diversity and beauty of natural materials.

Number four

Ever heard of a Cricket Tickler? Me neither.

It’s something like a feather duster in miniature and is part of a toolkit used to hand-rear crickets. It's meant to make unsuspecting insect buzz in surprise when tickled.

Number three

I absolutely did not expect to find an English grammer practice toy, amongst the Ancient Egyptian artefacts, Chinese drawing tools and taxidermy birds. The toy from Tamil Nadu proclaims, “Know your English tenses!” using a handy rotation system to help you perfect your passive simple tense.”

If you didn’t want to know this before, you will now. All together then, “I ate rice, you ate rice, he ate rice, she ate rice…”

Number two

I like things that make a lot of noise. The next two items will attest to that.

This Jew’s harp all the way from Borneo actually has nothing to do with Judaism or harps.

Its name comes from Jaw Harp in English, although it’s also known as a mouth harp.

These instruments are found all over the world. Usually they feature a flexible tongue made from bamboo or metal, attached to a frame. The mouth, teeth and tongue of the player change the volume and pitch to produce the most fantastic “boing” sounds you’ll hear today. Skip to around 8.55 of this TED talk to hear it for yourself.

Number one

Flying into first place is Squeaky Bird (not its official name), a beautiful little toy from India.

We were all enchanted by the sound she makes – somewhere between a squeak, a hoot and a wheeze.

The noise is produced when the tongs at the back are squeezed. This causes the bellows under her wings to fill with air, and the wind to rush through little holes in the metalwork.

Ingenious toys made from recycled materials like this are a fixture of the handling collection.

Keep your eyes peeled for them next time you visit!


So, that concludes our Top 5 Curiosity New Year Countdown. Since they have all had a nice clean – why not swing by the Hands on Base and discover your own favourites?