Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Antiquing Trip to England: Day One, London

Our day in London was a mad rush; we had just a few hours to ourselves to see as much as we could, before the tour officially started with a group dinner that evening. Since the tour itself was devoted to antiquing, we decided to focus on sights in London instead of shopping.

We started out at the British Museum. Wow. We could have spent our entire vacation inside the Museum, I think, and still not have seen everything. As it was, I studied the floor plans and carefully plotted our visit on a guide map beforehand, and we limited ourselves to 2 hours here (not counting gift shop time. There was some shopping, of course!)

First we toured the Egyptian Statuary room.
I particularly liked this red granite sarcophagus lid.
The face was somehow different from most other ancient Egyptian sculpture I'd seen, sort of comical and friendly.
He had an amusingly big nose and sticky-outy ears:

Next were two of my favorite pieces in the Museum: giant winged lion statues from ancient Assyria. These guarded the doorways of a royal palace built in 710 BC, and were believed to be imbued with magical powers. They were gigantic: you can get an idea of the scale from the protective lucite screen that surrounds them to a height where hands can't reach. (These were so cool, I bought a miniature version in the gift shop.)

Next to the lion statues was a very interesting photograph taken during their excavation in the 1850s, showing them in situ:

Another interesting piece related to the lions (and one related to toys as well) was this rough gameboard, scratched into the surrounding stone gateway by bored sentries. It was incredible to look at this game and imagine people playing it almost 3,000 years ago.

This placard described how the game was played,
and how similar versions have been found on other
ancient structures:

My very favorite pieces in the Museum, though, were the famed Lewis Chessmen. These iconic toys were discovered under  mysterious circumstances in a sandbank on the Isle of Lewis, just off the Scottish coast, in 1831. Carved from walrus ivory in the 12th century, probably in Norway, the pieces depict kings, queens, bishops, knights, and rooks with intriguing expressions.  The little characters are very captivating figures.

The queens are some of the most intriguing pieces. Holding hands to their faces, they appear anxious, fretful, perhaps worried about the outcome of the game:

Our visit to the British Museum ended with a tea break in the cafe, complete with our first scones, along with cream and jam. (I became addicted to these by the end of the tour.)

After the Museum, our next destination was Hamley's Toy Store, a 5 story wonderland founded way back in 1760, making it 250 years old!!! On the way, though, we were distracted by this lovely old umbrella shop, established, as the sign says, in 1830. We were told people come from all over the world to purchase umbrellas there. It was an appropriate detour, as it was raining at this point...

A major delay was caused by this kitschy souvenir shop, where I had to load up on snowglobes:

All along our walk through London, we spotted fascinating architecture and amazing old buildings. My favorites were those I have now christened "Squished Houses," impossibly narrow structures that seem to fill in every available space. For a sense of proportion, the lady on the sidewalk gives an idea of just how tiny this particular Squished House is:

Finally we made it to Hamley's:

The teddy bear shop sign hanging from the ceiling sent me nearly into hysterics. I had to be reminded that our tour had actually not started yet, and cautioned to not spend all my money here.

And so my purchases were pretty modest, considering I was in "the finest toystore in the world!" I chose a little Paddington complete with his suitcase and wellington boots. I also got a little wooden London playset: it has a tiny Tower of London, Westminster Abbey, Buckingham Palace, No. 10 Downing Street, London Eye, and Big Ben inside, plus some double decker buses, phone booths, and post boxes. As the package says, it's "London in a your very own London!" Cool.

If money (and luggage space) had been no concern, I would have gotten this: a jaw-droppingly beautiful handmade rocking horse, from an old and esteemed line of British toymakers. Price? $3,000. Not counting shipping.

Coming up next: Day 2, the beautiful riverside town of Henley-on-Thames, featuring my first British antique store (in a building dating from the 1500s!), a specialist teddy bear boutique, and an old dollhouse found in a charity shop...


  1. Wow Tracy...I'm so jealous. Sounds like a wonderful start to your trip. Looking forward to you sharing the rest of your trip with us! And seeing ALL your treasures!

  2. Hi Lynn! Looking forward to seeing you at the antique show this weekend, hopefully!