I was going to take my time writing about her, my favorite curio. Amongst all the shrunken heads and mummies, fleas in dresses and paintings on the heads of pins in Ye Olde Curiosity Shop’s collection, the four-legged hen reigns supreme in my heart.
I wanted to explain why this dowdy little figure in her plain black box never fails to cheer me up. Though we have several two-headed calves and a sweet lamb (with two tails, no less), a two-faced kitten and freak pig in a jar, to me, none can compare to this Queen of Chickens.
Because she won! I wanted to expound at length. She was not one of those sad little creatures who died at birth. No, despite the encumbrance of two extra appendages, she survived chick-hood and went on to live an idyllic life in the sunshine of Steyning, a village just south of London. For seven years – an eternity in poultry age -- she scratched around the farm of Mr. S. Earl, no doubt laying eggs, taking dust baths, and pecking choice morsels from the barnyard grass. She is a shining symbol of overcoming adversity and a silly inspiration to us all.
But she has something to tell us, so I must post this today.
In the course of working on her display case this morning, I found an envelope. The case was sealed shut and hadn’t been opened for many years. The hen had been preserved around 1908 by famed Victorian taxidermist Walter Potter, and she became part of his Museum of Curiosities in the town of Bramber, Sussex, in England. After Mr. Potter died in 1914, his daughter and grandson took over.
The envelope was addressed to the grandson, Mr. M. Collins of Bramber Villa in Bramber, Sussex. I trotted it over to my boss and looked over her shoulder as she opened it. Would there be a footnote expanding the hen’s story? An addition to the history of the quirky and quaint Museum of Curiosities?
‘Fraid not. The envelope was devoid of correspondence. At the bottom swirled the faint residue of some plantlike stuff that we determined, from the small holes punched throughout the paper, to be some herbal insecticide popular in rural Britain. Disappointing. My boss handed the envelope back to me.
But something about the postmark and stamp caught my eye. “POST EARLY for CHRISTMAS” read the cancellation across King George VI’s profile. The date stamp said CROYDON, SURREY, 17 DEC 1948.
66 years ago, today.
So merry Christmas to you, says our Holiday Hen. Let this be our season’s greeting as well. When challenges pop up to thwart you in the new year to come, think of the lowly four-legged hen and keep on clucking. Cluck on, friends, cluck on.
Peg Boettcher has been wrangling curios and working for Ye Olde Curiosity Shop since 2004.
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