Food Glorious Food

I was reading a widely reported study the other week.

The jist was this: eating around a table with other people is one of the best things you can do to improve your mental health.

It’s such a simple thing. 

When I think back to the happiest moments in my life, many were spent around a table in good company. 

But Paul, you may ask, what does this have to do with collecting?

Well, the idea of eating together is not a new thing.

And some of the most intriguing artefacts I’ve seen over the years have been connected with this most basic function of living.

What fascinates me about the following items is the way they offer a direct and intimate connection to the lives of those who came before us.

WW1 chocolate 

This week a box of WW1 Cadbury chocolate bars was offered at auction for £2,000 ($2,670). I’ve seen a few of these boxes before – but never one with all of the bars inside.

WW1 Chocolate Cadbury

These chocolates survived the first world war intact (Image: BBC)

You can divide historical artefacts up into three (very) broad categories. Soaring works of art that astonish you with their sophistication...

Items that are connected with decisive moments...

And then you’ve got the everyday stuff. Perfectly mundane at first glance, but fascinating once you learn its history.

And there’s nothing more everyday than food.

Just think, this box of chocolates was delivered to a British soldier (Corporal Richard Bullimore of the Leicestershire Regiment) in the trenches on Christmas 1914.

He was brought home in 1916, with terrible shrapnel wounds.

All through those terrible years....

The grinding misery of life on the front line...

Bullimore left those chocolates untouched.

I honestly can’t think of a situation I’d want a chocolate bar more, than after arriving safely back in my trench following the Battle of the Somme.

Antarctic biscuits 

Back in 1999, a biscuit Captain Robert Scott brought on his ill-fated expedition to the Antarctic sold for a whopping £4,000 ($5,341).

It made up part of the crew's last meal. 

Captain Scott Terra Nova

Scott's South Pole party perished during the Terra Nova expedition (1910-1913) (Image: Wikimedia Commons)

We think of food as being perishable. Its shelf life is measured in days.

This biscuit certainly wasn’t intended to survive for much longer than the journey it was made for.

But it did.

And so it connects us vividly with that moment.

You can picture Scott’s shivering, frostbitten crew sat around a primus stove, eating the last of their rations.  

I think it’s probably fair to say that while it has survived, it probably wouldn’t taste all that great today.  

Same with this piece of hard tack that was carried on the HMS Defence during the Battle of Traflagar.

Trafalgar biscuit Dix

Hardtack was easy to store and was commonly eaten by sailors at sea (Image: Dix Noonan Webb)

As far as a human connection goes, it really doesn’t get much better.

This simple ship’s biscuit, perhaps shoved into a pocket by a nervous sailor as the French fleet hove into view, serves to remind us of history’s human side.

We’re thinking on a scale of breakfast, lunch and dinner rather than years, decades or centuries. 

World's oldest wine 

The last piece I’d like to show you has never appeared at auction.

And I can say with certainty it never will.

The Speyer wine bottle was found in a Roman tomb in southern Germany.

Speyer Wine Roman

Rather you than me... (Image: Wikimedia Commons)

It’s just under 1,700 years old (dating to AD 325-350), made from glass and is somehow still filled with wine – or rather, something that used to be wine.

It’s survived all this time because it’s sealed with olive oil and wax. We don’t know of any other Roman wine bottle to have survived. No one has ever removed the plug out of fear of what would happen to the contents.

In many ways wine is a living thing.

This bottle may well have been laid down during the reign of the first Christian emperor Constantine I (AD 306-337).

That’s right; this bottle is as old as western Christianity.

Over the millennia it has lain there.

And it’s as thrilling an object to us as it was mundane to the people who left it there.

I’ll raise a glass to that. 

Thanks for reading,



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