British Museum Buys an Ancient Seal Matrix

British Museum Guided Tour

The British Museum in London has acquired a rare seal matrix made of walrus ivory, which belonged to an ancient Saxon individual. It failed to acquire the rare object twice earlier and was lucky on the third occasion. The seal matrix has a serpent and sword depicted on it. The seal was used to confirm that documents stayed private, and it was created in the UK before William I’s invasion. It is among the five examples thought to have remained undamaged in the onslaught of the Normans that invaded England. The museum owns two other objects such as this one.

The London-based museum purchased the object from a private collection earlier in 2019. The purchase was funded by many organizations. Although the institution purchased the item recently, it was exhibited before here. So a person from that time may have another chance to see it on a British Museum guided tour.

The first time it tried to purchase it was at a Christie’s auction held back in 1977. At that auction, the BRPF (British Rail Pension Fund) bid a greater price than the museum to get it. After that, the BRPF gave it on a long-term loan to the British Museum.

It stayed here on loan up to 1996. After the loan period, it was offered for sale at an auction where a private collection holder outbid the institute. Besides its age-associated rarity, the other thing that makes the item fascinating is the symbol of a twisted snake eating its own tail. A closer look even gives you the impression that it is a dragon having a bird’s head, not a serpent. This only goes to make the object that much fascinating to look at.

In the center is a bearded figure with an upraised weapon in the right hand.

“We’re delighted to have this incredible object join our collection. These things are extremely rare and it is an object that brings us close to a pivotal moment in history. Within a generation England would be completely transformed, and this object introduces us to one of its people,” said the British Museum curator, Lloyd de Beer.

The seal matrix has the inscription ‘SIGILLVM WULFRICI’, which means ‘seal of Wulfric’ in the Old English language. It is circular shape and four centimeters in diameter. Archaeologists identified it as a very rare 11th century Anglo-Saxon matrix.

The sword suggests that Wulfric, its prehistoric owner, was no cleric, but a secular Anglo-Saxon figure.

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