Sunday, 1 September 2013

New Case: Parsley, Sage, Rosemary and Mine

Ever seen a sea mine in a back garden? 

The Thing Detectives are looking for a naval mine. More specifically, before we get complaints, we're looking for a deactivated contact mine, for ornamental use.
A naval mine, near the sea bed, not a flower bed.

Our client dreams of having this prickly conversation piece in his garden - inspired by a spectacular explosion off the coast of Guernsey, in the Channel Islands.

We're looking for any spherical sea mine shells from the early 20th century. All mines considered! Can you help? Maybe with some targeted Googling? Maybe a tweet or two to antiques dealers?

An ex-mine, detonated off the coast of Guernsey (RCAF) 
The mine will take centre stage in a garden already home to a set of shark's jaws, a two tonne anchor (found by us), and the winning entry from the 2009 Guernsey bath tub race.

Remember: any donation the client makes based on information you provide will be passed on to you!

Please send your leads to or tweet directly to @thingdetectives - you may even end up in The Thing Detectives book!

We’ll update this post with is any news.

Happy searching!


Sunday, 25 August 2013

New Case: The Clapham Concertina Mystery

Have you seen this concertina?  Do you want to help a Morris dancer in peril? Can you spare a lunch hour for some Thing Detecting?

On 28th June 2013 at around 11:30PM, this English concertina was left in a taxi near Clapham Common, London. It promptly disappeared – and we’d like to find it.

The missing concertina - have you seen it?
The owner is a musician and Morris dancer, and a resourceful one at that – he’s already contacted Transport for London and posted on eBay, Gumtree, Craigslist and so forth. But TFL have given up the search for the concertina; the Police have no leads.

The Thing Detectives are his last resort. We’ve started our search in local pawn brokers and bric-a-brac shops, trying to put ourselves in the mind of an opportunist thief. As yet we’ve had no luck.

Maybe you know of somewhere else to look?  Maybe you’ve seen its shiny silver trappings peeking out from underneath a table? Or maybe… on a shelf?
The scene of the disappearance: Clapham Common, London. (Google map)

The concertina – a Wheatstone 48 key tenor with the serial number 36628 - has huge sentimental value. Its unusual box was made in  the 1960s from intricate parts crafted in the 1930s. It was last seen in a soft black gig bag with a shoulder strap.

We want to reunite our Morris dancer with his instrument, so he can continue his fine English folk tradition. The question is: can you help?

All it might take is a detour into an antiques shop on your way to pick up a sandwich, or maybe a heroic phone call to your local Cash Converters…

Please send any information to or tweet directly to @thingdetectives, or just add a comment under this post. You may end up in The Thing Detectives book!

We’ll update this post when there is any news.

Happy searching!

Friday, 11 May 2012

The two-faced Inuit statue

“It’s made of whale bone,” I was told, “Carved from vertebrae”.

Inuit drummer
The Inuit whalebone statue - drummer side
At first glance the 14-inch figure looks quite sombre: a drummer, cross-legged and hunched inside the warmth of a thick coat. The lines are smooth, but the surface of the bone is porous, giving it a cold feel to touch. Why was it carved? A toy passed between giggling children in neighbouring boats? A present? Maybe whilst you’re holding it wondering  if something with so much care poured into it could really be a trinket for tourists, you feel that the back of the statue is also carved, and spin it around: The statue  has two faces. A drummer and a dancer.

The faces themselves, along with the buttons on their coats and the drummer’s traditional qilaut drum are ivory – suggested to be from a Walrus tusk. But, wait a minute… ivory… whalebone… surely they’re protected materials? There are no descriptive markings on the statue – no “igloo tag” issued by the Canadian government, no Roman numeral or syllabics on the base. We’re told:

“the USA has a strict ban on imports of any type of whale bone unless there is a DNA test result which states the species of whale it came from.”

Inuit dancer
The Inuit whalebone statue - dancer side
So is the little statue illegal? Should it be destroyed? We’re told a lot of whalebone isn’t signed, so the only way to be sure is to find someone who recognises the statue.

A gallery in Vancouver, British Columbia told us the statue might be from the Ivujivik region, in the eastern Arctic. They have a contact in a western Arctic community of Inuvik, a town of 4,000 people which translates as “the place of man”.

“Pieces do move about, even up there,” the gallery said, but, “we have not had a lot of success in direct approaches to our Inuit contact, he never answers his email.”

Do you recognise the statue? Contact The Thing Detectives, or tweet to us @ThingDetectives.

Sunday, 1 April 2012

The Bagatelle Theory

Thing Detective Field Guide #1: Try to work out where 'the thing' might come to rest.

Most things bounce.
I don’t mean ‘when dropped from a great height’ but rather from one owner to the next. A comic printed in 1939 bounces from the press to the newsstand, then to the pocket of little Billy’s shorts in exchange for a nickel, then to a box under his bed and finally into an auction house in New York 75 years later. This is a real example and Billy’s comic, bought for 10 cents, finally sold for $523,000!

A bagatelle. A metal ball bounces between the pins.
It's a bit like pinball without the flippers.
The world of collecting things, finding things, rooting around and rummaging is quite logical. The item is either in the place you look, or it isn’t. The trick is to focus on the resting place – can you work it out from what you know?

Just as a metal ball bounces around the pins on a bagatelle in a predictable way and a river bend is the place to look for silt flecked with gold,  the passage of time often deposits comics or mahogany tables or tomato boxes in predictable places too.

Sebaskachu River in central Labrador.
Predictable silt deposits on the bends.
For the Magician’s postcard case this Bagatelle theory helped us a great deal:
There are so many ways that a flimsy piece of card could be lost or destroyed, we thought, that to make it to the present day would require safety...
Assume that a travelling magician doing a residency at a large theatre might leave some promotional material behind...
Assume that this was quite safe until the theatre closed down in the 1970s...
Where would the postcard bounce on to next after nearly 60 years in one place?
A local antiques shop!

So ask yourself “Where might my long-sought-after gold-plated wotsit end up?”

Do you know where it was made? Where it was sold? Where might it be stored? Just remember – it’s out there somewhere!

Saturday, 24 March 2012

They asked for what?! – The John Travolta mask

Cold cases; unusual items; and annoyingly incomplete stories.

#5 The John Travolta rubber mask

 John Travolta mask
Too life-like for some.
I think it looks more like nick-nack
from The man with the Golden Gun

“I am a semi-professional John Travolta impersonator,” began the email. I took my feet off the desk, sensing something wonderful was about to happen. "I would like you to find the item that would make my act complete - a rubber John Travolta mask."

We found the mask (pictured above), but hesitated - surely singing would be difficult? Was this John Travolta act simply a man strutting around the stage to 'Night Fever', or was he the real deal, prone to belting out 'Summer Lovin'" in a T-bird jacket etc.?

"That's good," came the reply, "but it looks a little too much like him. Do you have any others?"

The concept of a semi-pro John Travolta impersonator was interesting to say the least, but one that doesn't actually want to look like John Travolta? We had chills, and they were multiplyin'.

Have you ever seen a JT impersonator? Have you ever seen JT? Replies below, please.

If you have a case for The Thing Detectives, please get in touch through the usual channels.