The Mystery of the Anna Margaretha

Part of the fun of running Any Old Lights comes in the detective work occasionally required, when we acquire an object of mysterious backstory. One such object is the ship’s bell we’ve just added to the site.

It came from a reputable foreign auction house, sold as an Antique Ship’s Bell (20th Century). It was the name on the bell – Anna Margaretha – and the delicate design that sold itself to us. It’s a gorgeous original brass bell, with hanging bracket – ideal for the door – and one that will surely appeal to a discerning browser sooner rather than later. Our little bell also clearly has a story. But what is that story?

Here’s where we don the deerstalker (no pipe – we’ve given up the evil weed, thank you)…

Firstly we Google “Anna Margaretha”. Not becoming sidetracked by the Arctic charter vessel Anne-Margaretha, eyes alight on a vessel of the correct spelling of the name. The fact that that vessel is currently active doesn’t really fit the plot, neither, upon further digging, does the fact that it’s a Dutch lifeboat. No lifeboat crew rolling around on a ferocious sea is going to want “ding-ding-ding!” incessantly in their ears.

So we delve further. Unfortunately, the next mention of an Anna Margaretha is from an ancient London Gazette, involving a Dutch ship captured by the British Admiralty in 1809. A far less dainty bell would have been involved there.

The plot thickens when the bell is turned around. Inscribed on the rear, in rather fainter letters, and in an entirely different script – suggesting its engraving may have occurred at a later date – is the word SKREPSKUON. Googling that comes up with two – just two – results, each requiring translation.

The first, suggesting that the word is Dutch – but hardly common, given just two results – appears to mean that skrepskuon means “busy”, but offers no more. The second provides more depth: the word is not Dutch, but Frisian *coughs*, whatever that means.

And it turns out that Frisia, according to (good old, not always entirely reliable) Wikipedia is: “Frisia or Friesland is a coastal region along the southeastern corner of the North Sea in what today is mostly a large part of the Netherlands, including modern Friesland, and smaller parts of Germany.”

The Dutch element of the Frisians speak West Frisian, so we’ll focus on them, as separate from the Germans. Wikipedia adds: “A half-million Frisians in the province of Friesland in the Netherlands speak West Frisian.” Which isn’t a great number of people in the scheme of things, one of whom, or more likely whose ancestors, engraved our bell with SKREPSKUON.

And there the trail goes cold. Very cold. Baltic, in fact. We can find no mention of a vessel from the early 20th century with the name Anna Margaretha, fitting the appearance of our bell.

So we are describing our little bell as such and the lucky buyer can perhaps don a deerstalker of their own, and delve further into The Mystery of the Anna Margaretha.

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