Cabinets of Curiosity 1: egg-shaped
It’s an ostrich egg mounted on an elaborate silver and gilt stand. It dates to the Victorian period.
The ostrich is a large flightless bird that lives in Africa.
Ostriches are taller than people. The largest are 2.8m high and they can run at 70km an hour.
Ostriches were exotic creatures to Europeans, who heard stories about them from sailors and explorers returning from Africa.
They were famed for their giant eggs and huge soft feathers. In Victorian times ostrich feathers were used to decorate ladies’ hats and dresses, and to make feather boas. Black ostrich feathers were worn by horses at funerals.
Wealthy people collected and showed off these exotic eggs, which were often engraved or painted, and mounted on elaborate stands.
Decorated ostrich eggs have been traded as luxury items to Western Europe for over 2000 years with evidence dating back to the Iron Age.
Ostrich eggs are the largest in the world. Eating one is the equivalent of eating 24 hens’ eggs!
It wasn’t just ostrich eggs that were decorated.
Eggs from the Australian emu, the second largest bird in the world, underwent similar treatment.
This one has gilded bird feet, a miniature emu perched on top, and a hinged lid so you can keep valuables inside.
This emu egg has been engraved with a picture of a Victorian lady on one side and a rose tree on the other. Perhaps it was a gift for a sweetheart?