26 Treasures

By John Simmons

An illustrated anthology in which 26 writers respond to 26 treasures in 4 museums, using only 62 words

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120% funded
297 supporters

Publication date: September 2012

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Imagine you’re in a museum. You might spot a gargantuan four-poster bed that was a 16th century pub tourist attraction or a threadbare sackcloth robe worn in church by a 17th century adulteress.

Yet despite their rarity, we often fail to engage with these extraordinary objects. We simply nod and move on.

But it doesn’t have to be that way. Through its 26 Treasures project, writers’ collective 26 is exploring how to create emotional connections between objects and individuals.

In 2010, London’s Victoria & Albert museum chose 26 objects from its British Galleries and randomly assigned them to 26 writers. Each person wrote exactly 62 words – 26 in reflection – in response to the object.

The results were beautiful, surprising, lyrical, sometimes comical. Andrew Motion wrote about a bust of Homer, a 17th century Chinese porcelain figure reminded a writer of a pub landlord in Inverness, while the wedding suit of James 11 inspired 62 words about “a suit as full of scratches as a rose-garden”.

In 2011 we took the idea to the National Library of Wales, the Ulster Museum and the National Museum of Scotland, where writers were let loose on objects as disparate as a mediaeval illuminated book, a beggar’s badge and a 16th century Scottish guillotine.

Now we need your help. We want to produce an anthology containing the results – including writing by Lucy Caldwell, Gillian Clarke, Alexander McCall Smith, Paul Muldoon, Bernard McLaverty and Maura Dooley.

It’s a fascinating insight into 21st century writers' perspectives on British cultural history. So please help us publish this beautiful collection of visual and verbal curiosities.


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64 pledges


ebook edition

Buy now
$40  + shipping
77 pledges


1st edition hardback copy of the book signed by at least four of the authors, & a copy of the ebook.

  • John Simmons avatar

    John Simmons

    John Simmons is a writer and co-founder of the writers’ organisation 26. John has written many books on creative writing for business (yes, it is possible). The most recent is Room 121, co-written with Jamie Jauncey, another contributor to 26 Treasures. Before that were We, Me, Them & It, The Invisible Grail, Dark Angels and 26 Ways of Looking at a BlackBerry. The Dark Angels writing courses – run with Stuart Delves and Jamie Jauncey – have become legendary.

    John’s first novel The Angel of the Stories was published in 2011. He’s been a writer-in-residence at Unilever and King’s Cross tube station, and was awarded an Honorary Fellowship by University College, Falmouth this year. John invented the sestude and has contributed two to this collection, based on objects from the V&A and the National Library of Wales. He’s a director of The Writer.

    In 2003, with six other writers, John founded 26, a not-for-profit group that champions the cause of better writing in all areas of life www.26.org.uk . This has grown into a thriving membership organisation that holds events and carries out interesting writing projects (such as 26 Treasures) with different partners.

    26 Treasures started as a speculative idea. It’s spread surprisingly beyond the expectations of its originators. It seems that all writers and readers treasure connections with the past through objects – personal ones and those displayed in museums. There have been more than a hundred writers involved in this collection, including many of the best-known literary authors in England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland: Andrew Motion (former poet laureate), Paul Muldoon, Bernard MacLaverty, Alexander McCall Smith, Gillian Clarke (Welsh laureate). You will also find many authors on the rise such as Lucy Caldwell, Laura Forman, Sara Sheridan, Elise Valmorbida, captured at a crucial time by the charm of a new, challenging literary form. This will be the world’s first-ever collection of sestudes.

  • The Gough Looking-Glass

    The notes suggest it’s all about this frame;
    Plague, Restoration, London frosts or flame,
    gesso, paint, glaze, specks of gilt and varnish,
    silver leaf that turns each day to tarnish.

    I think within is where the spirit dwells.
    Whose face dipped in this pool to glimpse herself?
    What shadow slipped through that straight gate as cloud?
    Memento mori, hour glass, Turin shroud.

    Writer Maura Dooley,
    Treasure Mirror,

  • John Simmons has written 3 private updates. You can pledge to get access to them all.

    5th March 2012 Thank you

    Thanks for all our hundreds of subscribers. 26 Treasures reached 100% funding this morning. Delighted that the book will be published and looking forward to holding a copy. We'll work as fast as we can to get the book into subscribers' hands.

    28th February 2012 Today

    Only 39 supporters needed today (morning of 28th February). The book will now definitely happen so the editorial team is finalising everything needed for the book. Sara Sheridan has written her Scottish. Rob Self-Pierson has written the V&A intro. Gillian Colhoun will do the same for Northern Ireland, and Anita Holford/Sally Baker for Wales (inc bilingual versions in Welsh). We're collecting all the…

    10th January 2012 Sax

    Went up to Edinburgh last week and saw 26 Treasures at National Museum of Scotland. The exhibition will come down after Burns Night. After that your best chance of seeing the 26 Scottish pieces is going to be in this book. So don't miss that chance, and don't let friends miss it.

    Loved the story of Aimee Chalmers, one of the writers, performing for 26 minutes with a jazz sax accompaniment. They're…

    7th December 2011 By candlelight

    I have to admit I wasn’t that keen on my candle stand at the V&A. There were other objects that appealed much more to me: the drinking flask, the bust of Homer, the Elizabethan miniature. These appealed more immediately to a sense of humour or romance, there was a more obvious aesthetic attraction.


    The candle stand looked undistinguished in the photograph. Not my taste either, a feeling reinforced…

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  • Caroline Collins
    Caroline Collins asked:

    Has the book got photos of the items as well as the text?

    Unbound replied:

    Hi Caroline, Yes it does - it's a full colour book with images. The book even won in the Literature category for the 2013 British Book Design awards, so is really rather beautiful. I hope this helps. Best wishes, Caitlin - Community & Events Manager