Masquerade

Masquerade by Kit Williams (Jonathan Cape, 1979)

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.

masquerade_-_isaac_newton_painting_kit_williams_1979

masquerade5.jpg

masquerade2

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.

masquerade4.jpg

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.

masquerade8

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.

stack-of-paper-png-stack_of_books-1331px

Clare Walters is a journalist and writer of children’s picture books.

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s