No one these days really knows what a collar stud is, let alone wears one but King George V certainly did and he is said to have kept his in a rather special place.
The county of Cornwall is not really known for its treasure troves, we live in hope of a discovery like Sutton Hoo to put the our long-forgotten kings back on the map of history. But as yet nothing quite so magnificent has come to light. The county does however boast large deposits of precious minerals of all kinds, not least tin, and in certain areas in small amounts gold can be found.
I am not a person who gets excited by the razzmatazz and bling for very long. As you might have guessed it is more likely to be the small things that really bring the past to life for me. However the Royal Cornwall Museum in Truro does have one display which I love. They call it the Gold Cabinet and inside are some of the real treasures of Cornwall.
Peer through the glass and you will find 4000 year old gold necklaces and 3000 year old armrings. I try and imagine who worn such wonderful things. In pride of place is an early Bronze Age gold cup known as the Rillaton Cup which was found inside an ancient burial mound (a barrow) on Bodmin Moor. And it is this cup that King George V used to store his collar studs in his dressing room in Buckingham Palace.
The Rillaton cup is extremely rare. It is one of only 7 similar vessels found in Europe and is by far the best preserved, thanks to who ever buried it. Luckily for us they stowed it inside a ceramic bowl which protected the soft gold. This beautiful cup is skilfully constructed from one solid sheet of hammered gold and decorated with horizontal concentric corrugations. The elegant etched handle is attached by rivets and with my nose pressed against the display cabinet’s glass I silently wish I could pick it up to feel its weight in my hands.
So what about it’s strange provenance? Well the cup was very nearly lost. It was dug up from a stone burial cist inside a barrow by workmen in 1837. A number of beads and a small metal dagger were also found but because the area of Bodmin Moor where it was uncovered belonged to The Duchy of Cornwall everything was presented to King William IV. After his death the artefacts passed to Queen Victoria and then to George V who had the cup on his dressing table. The cup’s value and importance had been completely forgotten.
Fortunately when Edward VIII inherited it Queen Mary apparently realised what it really was and decided to give it to the British Museum for public display.
And perhaps now is the right time to admit that the pictures I have here are of the copy of the real cup which is all the museum in Truro has of this county’s most rare and magical ancient find. The real thing has never come home to Cornwall. And what a great pity that is!
There is one more little thing to relate about this 2000 year old treasure.
Before it was discovered there was a local legend that a golden cup was hidden in the exact burial mound where it was found. A coincidence no doubt but wouldn’t it be amazing to think that an ancient memory could have been passed down a couple of hundred generations?!