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  • Susan Elaine Jones

Witch in a bottle

(Image courtesy of Jack's Adventures in Museumland. I don't know if this is his photo, but I can't get similar quality because this was taken with flash, which isn't allowed to the general visiting public.)

To start my blog of wonderful museum objects, I thought I should start with what may possibly be my very favourite museum object in the known world. It is in the Pitt Rivers Museum in Oxford, which is tacked onto the back of the Oxford Museum of Natural History like a secret passage to Narnia.

It's a witch! In a bottle!

When did you last see a genuine witch?

The tag reads:

Silvered & stoppered bottle said to contain a witch. Obtained about 1915 from an old lady living in a village near HOVE, SUSSEX. She remarked " and they do say there be a witch in it, and if you let un out there'll be a peck o' trouble." Pres. by Miss M. A. Murray, 1926.

Can you imagine the conversation between the wily old woman and Miss M. A Murray?

"Hey, lady, wanna buy a witch in a bottle?"

"Maybe. Can I see it?"

"Ey, ere's the bottle"

"Can I open it to check there is a witch in it?"

"Oh no. There'll be a peck o' trouble if you do that"

"So you want me to buy this and just take your word that there is a witch inside?"

"Well, if you don't want it... see if you can buy a witch cheaper anywhere else..."

"How much is it?"

"Five shillings"

"Five shillings for this one penny bottle?"

"A one penny bottle with a genuine witch in it"

"Of course. What a bargain. Thank you so much."

That is what I love so much about this bottle. It isn't just the witch inside. It's the thought of how it was acquired, and serious academics no doubt discussed and debated it and put it on display.

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