Latimer treasures rescued from rubbish bin
AVID collector Jeff Sansom could not believe his eyes when shown a stash of discarded artefacts that once belonged to the late coelacanth discoverer and East London Museum curator Marjorie Courtenay-Latimer.
The historically significant items had been abandoned in Courtenay-Latimer’s empty Vincent house.
The famed naturalist died 10 years ago aged 97.
Sansom, who owns the charming Thomas River historical village between Stutterheim and Cathcart where he keeps several noteworthy collections, including a fleet of classic cars, said he was contacted by relative Anthony Wilson who owns Morways Antiques.
“He said he had something to show me and when I unpacked the boxes I could not believe it. I was so sad that some of the items had not been preserved better. For instance, some of the pottery figurines she [Courtenay-Latimer] had made herself were badly damaged.”
The boxes included Courtenay-Latimer’s honorary doctorate from Rhodes University, two gold-stamped certificates giving her freedom of the city, honorary life memberships awarded by South African museums and a beautiful handpainted life membership bestowed on her by Clarendon schools.
Possibly the most significant find, however, was an album presented to her on her 90th birthday in 1997.
Between crinkly sheets of tissue paper are letters from high-profile East Londoners as well as birthday cards and photographs of Courtenay-Latimer’s early days at the museum which she joined in 1931.
The album, which included an original sepia photograph of Courtenay-Latimer and her four sisters, had been tossed into the bin outside her Lake Street house and rescued by a neighbour.
Sansom, who describes himself as “preserver of history”, was so taken with the magnitude of the album that he has had it reproduced in almost identical format so as to protect the original. He said the collection was found abandoned in the corner of a room in Courtenay-Latimer’s otherwise empty wood and iron home a few months ago.
“The man who bought the house found all of this .... He took it to Anthony at Morways Antiques and that is how I landed up with it.
“It is my biggest historical find yet.” Sansom has blown up portraits of Courtenay-Latimer and hanged all his treasured finds from her former home in the entrance of the dining hall of his wedding venue. “She shares the space with my Nelson Mandela collection so I call it my Madiba and Marjorie room – two icons of the Eastern Cape.”
He feels Thomas River is a fitting home for the accolades bestowed on Courtenay-Latimer because she lived there as a child when her father, a station master, was stationed there. “So she has come a full circle. Marjorie has come home.” — barbarah@