Introduced by Clare Walters
Masquerade is a highly detailed picture book of visual and verbal riddles that, in 1979, gave rise to a thrilling treasure hunt that gripped the nation.
The riddles were clues that, if solved correctly, could lead the reader to a jewelled golden hare, encased in a ceramic casket and buried somewhere in Britain. The first person to find the jewel could keep it.
The hare – said to be worth around £5,000 at the time – was crafted by Williams himself. It was made out of 18-carat gold and adorned with precious stones (ruby, moonstone, citrines, turquoise, and mother of pearl).
Nearly a million people bought the book. In 1982, the hare was discovered in Ampthill, Bedfordshire. But controversy surrounded the finder (who used a pseudonym) as it later emerged he had discovered the place where the treasure was buried via Williams’ former girlfriend, rather than solving the visual riddle. In the end two physics teachers from Manchester were credited with having solved the clues correctly.
Sotheby’s auction catalogue, 1988
The golden hare reappeared in 1988, at the auction house Sotheby’s, when it was sold to an anonymous buyer for £31,900, and after which it again disappeared from view. In 2009, a BBC Four documentary The Man Behind the Masquerade revisited the story and traced the owner of the hare, who lives in Egypt. As a result, the hare went on display at the V&A Museum between March and August 2012 and Williams was briefly reunited with his elusive treasure.
Kit Williams created three other books – including another, untitled, puzzle book in 1984, many paintings, and three public clocks in Cheltenham, Telford and Milton Keynes. He was also involved in designing the Dragonfly Maze in Bourton-on-the-Water.
I bought Masquerade in Rose’s Books in Hay-on-Wye on Saturday 21 January 2017.
Clare Walters is a journalist and writer of children’s picture books.