Wednesday 25 December 2013



Here we are again.  It's the History Girls' third Christmas, and if you are stuck for something to read, you could do worse than to work your way backwards through the hundreds of posts there have been so far.
Today, I'm giving you all a Christmas cracker.

Here's what's inside:
Instead of a silly paper hat, you're getting a crown.

This is the ancient crown of Polish royalty, known as the Crown of Boleslaw the Brave.  More than a thousand years ago, he was given it by Otto III, the Holy Roman Emperor.  Actually, this is a replica - one of many.  Several replacements had to be made in the first seven hundred years of its existence. Polish royalty being a pretty precarious thing, the crown jewels have been hidden, stolen, and taken into exile over the centuries.  In the 18th century Boleslaw's crown was melted down by the Prussians to make gold coins, some of which were used in the most recent reconstruction, early this century.
Of course, there's no one to wear the crown today, and it's held in a museum in Krakow.  Here's a picture of it atop King Stanislaus II August in the 1700s, shortly before the Prussian army arrived.

Most crackers come with a little present - maybe a something useful like a keyring or a miniature screwdriver.  You get one of my favourite objects from the Victoria and Albert Museum.  It's a lock made in around 1680 by the master craftsman John Wilkes.

© Victoria and Albert Museum, London
It has the most intricate mechanism for locking and unlocking.  The keyhole is hidden behind the man's right leg and, best of all, the dial records how many times the lock has been opened.

You can see a video of the lock in operation on the V&A site at /

 I did think of giving you a really old joke in your cracker.  Instead, you're getting a very old film.  I've been researching the film company founded by the great inventor Thomas Edison (for my new book, Montmorency Returns, available on Kindle and as a real book very soon). In 1910, Edison issued a version of Dickens's A Christmas Carol with what were then amazing special effects.  Here are some frozen frames:

You can watch the whole thing (it's only about ten minutes long) at
And then you can return to your own family, and your own Christmas, a better person for having seen it.
As Tiny Tim would say,  "God bless us, every one."


Sue Bursztynski said...

Thanks, Eleanor! This is definitely a Christmas cracker I'd be happy to have! :)

Petrea Burchard said...

Thank you for the presents, Eleanor. I can't decide which I like best, the film or the crown!

Penny Dolan said...

Thank you so much for this cracker, Eleanor. I'll ignore the crown - it looks as troublesome and unflattering as the paper versions - and I am not sure where to put that fascinating lock, other than to admire the bold defender and that cunning little counter device. I did enjoy that treasure of a film, especially Scrooge's reactions, half-dancing along with the long-ago party. What a pleasure to find here on HG on a Boxing Day morning. Good wishes for the book, too!

Joan Lennon said...

Love that lock! Thanks, Eleanor

Leslie Wilson said...

Fun! Thanks, Eleanor