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Occasionally someone brings an item in for valuation or sale that is so odd that it can be impossible to identify. This is either because it is so rare, no one has seen one before, or because its original purpose is now defunct.

I have seen two such items in the past week, one of which I actually handled, the other I saw in a news report. The first was a small, lozenge-shaped silver box with a finial of two birds. It was hollow and pierced to the sides and contained a stone, sealed within. The bottom of the box was ridged. What could it be? Fortunately, the owner knew. It transpired that the box once served two purposes: the first clue was in the ridged surface to the underside, which was used as an exfoliator by the ladies of the harem in the sultan’s palace; the clue to the second was the stone. As the ladies scrubbed, the stone rattled, acting as a warning to anyone about to enter that they were mid ablutions and so should not be disturbed.

The second item I saw was a real rarity: looking rather like a large metal seed, which just about fitted in the hand, it turned out to be an early form of grenade, used by crusaders, which was fund in the sea of Israel. I don’t expect to see another of those in my lifetime.