The weird and wonderful objects you can explore in museum collections online

Published 9 November 2020

From escape equipment hidden in a hairbrush to a lucky golden llama, these fascinating objects are just some of the unusual items you can expect to find in museum collections online.

Thanks to modern technology, entire museum collections are only a click away, with a range of fascinating objects and artefacts you can browse from the comfort of your own home. We dive into the British Museum’s epic Inca collection, the gadgets that defined the Second World War at Imperial War Museums and the story behind the V&A’s naughtiest piece of furniture.

Learn more about ancient cultures, 200-year-old mysteries and ingenious escape equipment in our list of unusual objects you can check out now.


Miniature llama figurine at British Museum

This cheerful 14th-15th century golden llama is part of the British Museum’s extensive Inca collection, available to peruse online. Originally, miniature figurines such as this one would have been given as gifts to accompany high-altitude human sacrifice in Peru. Llamas were and still are today a vital source of meat and wool for altiplano communities, also thought to bring good fortune for the replenishing of the altiplano grass. This llama now lives in London, so we’re hoping its good fortune can extend to the grass in the city’s parks. Perhaps he can bring good luck to the museum’s neighbouring greenspace in Russell Square.


The Great Bed of Ware at V&A

One of the V&A’s greatest treasures, this spectacular bed is a whopping three metres wide (and then some), accommodating four couples with room to spare! As you can imagine, the bed has a fairly raunchy reputation and you can even see the initials of its former occupants carved into the wood of the headboard. The most expensive piece of furniture ever acquired by the museum, the bed has been both sneered at and celebrated throughout history, making an appearance in famous creative works such as Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night (1601) and Ben Jonson’s Renaissance comedy, Epicoene (1609). Learn more about this saucy piece of furniture and explore the V&A’s extensive collections online.


Second World War ‘escape’ hairbrush at Imperial War Museums

This is no ordinary beauty tool… Used during the Second World War, this dinky hairbrush conceals a silk map, compass and double-edged saw in its hollow handle. Apparently dreamt up by MI9, the hairbrush was the perfect choice for escape equipment as a natural item a prisoner might carry. Lovingly handmade, the gadgets were fiddly to open meaning it was unlikely they could be used in the wrong hands, but unfortunately they were complicated and time-consuming to make, meaning there weren’t many available. If gadgets, secrets and spies are your thing, the extensive collection of war objects at Imperial War Museums is worth a look online.


The mysterious Lilliputian coffins at National Museums Scotland

Found concealed in a small cave in the rock at Arthur’s Seat in Edinburgh by a group of school children, eight miniature coffins and figurines have baffled experts and historians since their discovering in 1836. Almost 200 years after their unearthing, there is still no concrete explanation for who placed them there and why, though many theories have been put forward – from witchcraft and mandrakes to remembering sailors lost at sea. Treasured objects in the museum’s collection, the mystery surrounding these tiny coffins has made them a sought-after tourist attraction and you can find out more about the most recent theory through National Museums Scotland’s digital collections.

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