London's best museum exhibits

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Discover the best exhibits in London museums, as selected by the capital's top curators

From sabre tooth to cutting edge, London is the greatest city in the world for museums. Explore a world of wonder as some of the capital’s curators pick their favourite exhibits. As told to Johanna Kamradt.

The V&A: Casablanca sideboard

Ettore Sottsass’s Casablanca sideboard is incredibly famous for design historians. What struck me when I first saw it in real life was its perfection and the fine craftsmanship. It has a huge amount of power, force, drama. It’s sheathed in plastic laminate and although it looks like it’s mass produced, it’s all handmade. Glenn Adamson, head of graduate studies at the V&A.

The Casablanca sideboard will be displayed in the V&A’s ‘Postmodernism: Style and Subversion 1970-1990’ exhibition from Sept 24.

See V&A venue details

Imperial War Museum: 'Little Manfred' toy dog

We got Little Manfred after the anniversary of VE Day in 2005, as a donation. The wooden Dachshund was made out of cast-off apple boxes by a German prisoner of war. It was a real treasure to get. We don’t know who made this dog, but it was one of the 137,000 Germans helping to reconstruct Britain, trying to integrate into society in abnormal circumstances. Terry Charman, senior historian at the Imperial War Museum.

Little Manfred features in the Children’s Literature Festival at the Imperial War Museum, Aug 13-21.

See Imperial War Museum venue details

London Transport Museum: RYNO motorbike

The RYNO (which stands for ‘Rip You a New One’, named by the designer’s 13-year-old daughter) is a gyroscopic one-wheeled motorbike. It’s not a car, it’s not a bicycle, but in between. I could imagine the RYNO, in a more developed stage, taking over from the Boris Bikes one day. Sam Mullins, director of the London Transport Museum.

The RYNO is now on display in the ‘Sense and the City’ exhibition at the London Transport Museum.

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British Museum: Water container, New South Wales

I greatly admire this beautifully elegant and simple water container from northern New South Wales, Australia, collected around 1850. It is made of a single piece of palm spathe (the strong leaf-like covering protecting a flower cluster), folded and bound together. I find it special because it is the only one I know of to retain its shape, un-crumpled by history. Lissant Bolton, Section Head, Oceania, Oceanic (Pacific and Australian) collections, British Museum.

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Churchill War Rooms: Convoy Map

This room was the nerve centre of Churchill’s secret underground Cabinet War Rooms, and the map was covered in pins plotting the hazardous journeys of the Allied naval convoys carrying men, food and weapons around the world. The pins were removed at the end of the war but they’ve left thousands of tiny holes behind, each one hinting at a tremendously dangerous voyage. Cressida Finch, Exhibitions Manager, Churchill War Rooms.

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The Cinema Museum: Felix the Cat

'Felix the Cat' was an animated cartoon series from 1919 to 1930 that was incredibly imaginative and often surreal. I first saw Felix as a child and was entranced by this delightful cheeky and naughty cat who had marvellous adventures. This small toy from the time he was at the height of his popularity in 1925 is just a very special rare object that somehow captures all the elements that I like about him. Martin Humphries, Director, The Cinema Museum.

See The Cinema Museum venue details

The Fan Museum: Gunsen fan

Dating from the later half of the nineteenth century, Gunsen fans (or war fans) were used by Generals, Samurai and Court Officers as military signaling devices. Whilst primarily used to command troops on the battlefield, Gunsen fans could be used to parry blows from swords and flying darts. I am drawn to the simplicity of the design; there is something undeniably arresting – even hypnotic – about a burnished gold leaf sun against the deep red. Jacob Moss, Deputy Curator, The Fan Museum.

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Geffrye Museum: Coffee table

I remember the 1960s room as a visitor, before I started working at the Geffrye, and I think this coffee table is one of the most striking pieces in there. It’s Danish, designed by Fritz Hansen, and was made in 1958. The table was donated by the person who originally owned it; knowing its history makes it even more interesting. Alexandra Goddard, Assistant Keeper, Interpretation and Exhibitions, Geffrye Museum.

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Grant Museum of Zoology: Platypus

The taxidermy platypus in the Grant Museum is fantastically lifelike. Platypuses are an evolutionary biologists dream – they have a characteristics that haven't changed since mammals evolved from reptiles over 200 million years ago (laying eggs and walking like a lizard) but then they also have some of the most advanced features for any mammal – they can detect electricity. Jack Ashby, Acting Manager and Learning and Access Manager, Grant Museum of Zoology.

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Museum of London: 1910 Holloway Prisoners banner

For me, this banner is one of the most emotively powerful objects in the Museum’s Suffragette collections. First carried by released prisoners in the From Prison to Citizenship procession in 1910 it is composed of eighty pieces of linen embroidered with the signatures of the eighty Suffragette hunger strikers who, by 1910, had 'faced death without flinching'. If anyone doubts the emotive power of the object I challenge him or her to stand before this highly inspirational banner. Beverley Cook, Social and Working History Curator, Museum of London.

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Natural History Museum: Anglerfish

Anglerfish Anglerfish - © Natural History Museum

The anglerfish is such a bizarre animal in so many ways, not least its monstrous appearance. Specimens of females with males attached are rare in museum collections so this makes the one on display in Sexual Nature very special. This one has tentacles protruding from its chin, a huge mouth equipped with numerous fangs, little piggy eyes and flabby wrinkled pink skin. James Maclaine, Curator of Zoology/Reptile/Amphibia/Fish, Natural History Museum.

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Science Museum: Apollo 10 Command Module

This is ‘Charlie Brown’ or the Apollo 10 command module. It looks all wrong: strange shape – a cone; funny colour – like it’s been dunked in cold tea … and what is it made of: wood? And yet… it is a space ship. For real. It has been into space and visited another world. It was home to three human beings – speeding them, directing them, protecting them as they explored the cosmos. Doug Millard, Senior Curator, ICT & Space Technology, Science Museum.

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