Odds and quads

April 1, 2010

Joanna Southcott (1750-1814) won fame in the late 18th century for reportedly foreseeing the Napoleonic Wars and other significant events.

On her death, she left a sealed wooden box said to contain prophecies.

The box passed through various hands. In 1839, Lavinia Taylor Jones, the niece of Southcott's old employer, disguised herself in male clothing in an attempt to steal it and thereby stake a claim to the prophetess' legacy.

Yet the fate of the authentic box remains in dispute. The Panacea Society claims that it is still in the group's possession and has never been opened.

In 19, however, the box pictured here was sent to Harry Price, a celebrated conjurer, psychic researcher and collector of rare books, periodicals and other "magical literature".

When it was opened, it was found to contain items including a lottery ticket and an embroidered nightcap.

Whether or not it ever belonged to Southcott, the box forms part of the extensive collection that Price bequeathed to the University of London.

It is now held as a special collection in Senate House Library.

Send suggestions for this series on the sector's treasures, oddities and curiosities to: matthew.reisz@tsleducation.com.

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