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6 September 2013

Farewell from Hoard Conservator Cymbeline Storey

After 2.5 years working as Conservator for the Staffordshire Hoard I will be leaving Birmingham Museum at the end of August. So much has happened over the past few years, so I’d like to take this final opportunity to look back at my time on the project and indulge in a little nostalgia.

The first time I saw the hoard was in 2010 at the British Museum (Figure 1), where I was working as an intern in the ceramics, glass and metals conservation department. I had the opportunity to help pack up the hoard for transportation to Birmingham Museum when the Treasure process at the BM had been completed. As I went through hundreds of bags of beautiful fragments I thought whoever gets to conserve this is so lucky! Well, luckily enough it turned out to be me!

The hoard being examined at the British Museum

Figure 1. The hoard being examined at the British Museum. Source: finds.org.uk/news/stories/article/id/209

When I started at BMAG in early 2011 very few objects had been conserved. In my first week we (the conservation team) opened all the boxes to get acquainted with the hoard. Some objects were immediately observable but many more were covered with thick deposits of soil that obscured much of the surface, giving little away as to what lay below. At that very early stage the hoard seemed a perplexing jumble of fragments, and it was exciting to consider what would be uncovered as conservation progressed.

The first object I conserved was K677, part of a gold and cloisonné garnet strip with two gold panels decorated with filigree snakes (Figure 2). Not a bad start!

Object K677 before conservation

Figure 2a. K677 before conservation.

Object K677 after conservation

Figure 2b. K677 after conservation.

Since the beginning of this project I have been impressed with the quality of the craftsmanship, down to the finely patterned gold foils underneath the garnets. K677 was also my introduction to cleaning objects using a thorn – a tool that I have found works beautifully on small objects with dense surface decoration such as fine filigree.

The more hoard objects the conservation team conserved the more that connections between objects became evident. We started to bring together fragments of objects that had been broken into many pieces and notice similarities between different objects in terms of style and manufacture.

Over the course of the project I developed an interest in the silver objects in the hoard, some of which have niello inlay, and I undertook a project to document the niello-inlaid objects.

Cym with Anglo-Saxon warriors

Figure 3. Cym with Anglo-Saxon warriors.

During my time I have often been asked ‘What’s your favourite hoard object?’ It would be impossible to choose just one, so I have selected a handful of objects that I found memorable.

One of my favourite pommel caps has to be K711, a silver gilt pommel cap with a human figure on the front and tusked boars on the back (Figure 4).

Object K711 with human face on the front

Figure 4a. K711, front.

Object K711 with tusked boars on the back

Figure 4b. K711, back.

Another beautiful pommel cap is K294, which is silver gilt with garnet and filigree decoration (Figure 5). Pommels of this shape are rare in the hoard. There are also some deep triangular indentations scattered irregularly around the perimeter of the front face.

Object K294

Figure 5. K294.

There are also many beautiful objects in the hoard with cloisonné garnet decoration, but I quite like K377, one of a number of sword pyramids in the hoard.

Object K377 a gold sword pyramid with garnet and blue glass inlay

Figure 6. K377, a gold sword pyramid with garnet and blue glass inlay.

I wish to thank my colleagues for their hard work over the past few years as well as their passion for these unique treasures. I have had the chance to meet many talented people over the course of this project, including our student and professional conservation interns, replica makers, jewellers, designers, scientists, curators and fierce-looking Anglo-Saxon re-enactors (Figure 3). I have also met a few hundred interested members of the public on our monthly conservation studio tours. Through talking with so many of you it has become clear that the hoard is a source of pride for the people of the Midlands, and I have enjoyed playing a part in preserving the hoard for future generations.

Thank you and goodbye!

Cymbeline Storey
Staffordshire Hoard Conservator
Birmingham Museum & Art Gallery