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Ship wrecked cloth seals on display at Tiverton Museum

Tiverton Museum has recently acquired 4 rare lead cloth seals which are now on display in the museum’s Wool Trade Gallery. They join the museum’s existing collection of 25 seals featuring a range of local merchants’ names and marks.From the late seventeenth century through most of the eighteenth century, there was a large export trade in serges from Tiverton through Topsham to Rotterdam or Amsterdam. The seals were attached to bolts of cloth and often discarded when all the lengths of cloth were sold. The seals are not often found in this country, but usually at market sites on the continent (especially in the Netherlands and in Germany) where Tiverton's cloth was sold.

Pippa Griffith, Director of Tiverton Museum says ‘These four seals are totally unique due to the conditions in which they were found. They were found by a metal detectorist on a beach amongst sand that was dredged from the sea bed in the Netherlands. It is quite possible that all four seals came from the ship wreck of the Anna Emerentia which sank in November 1775.The four seals represent merchants Benjamin Dickinson and Martin Dunsford. The port records show that Benjamin Dickinson loaded 185 bales of cloth on this ship, and Martin Dunsford loaded 11 bales. The fourth seal is difficult to read, but may contain a fictitious name (merchants sometimes put fictitious names on their seals, perhaps on cloth of lesser quality), and may have been dispatched by George Lewis who had 35 bales on the same ship. Benjamin Dickinson inherited Oliver Peard's business and was trading mainly between 1770 and 1790. He rebuilt his mansion was on Fore Street where Boots the Chemist is today. The Dunsford family had property on Bampton Street in the Eighteenth Century. Martin Dunsford Jnr (1744-1807) published a history of Tiverton in 1790.’

‘The fact that these seals may come from an identifiable shipwreck makes them extremely unusual as we can accurately date them. Cloth wasn’t transported over the winter and we don’t know of any other ship wreck that contained Tiverton cloth. The other seals that we have in the collection have also been found by metal detectorists in the Netherlands, but not in contexts which can be accurately dated. The museum is very grateful to Mr Reinders, the metal detectorist, who found the seals and who donated them to the museum.’

The seals about to be put on display by musuem Director, Pippa Griffith

 


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