Treasures of Tutankhamun exhibit toured the US in the ’70s, and shared ancient Egypt with millions

King Tut mask - touring exhibit 1970s

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The Tut tour: Treasures of Tutankhamun (1977)

By June Smith, Orlando Sentinel-Sun (Florida) March 27, 1977

It’s some roadshow, they say, the one bound for Chicago after a four-month run in Washington. It’s eternity wrapped in Plexiglas: infinity with explanatory tape decks; a golden age of the ages, with a gift shop.

Tut and his treasures - Orlando Florida 1977

It’s called the Treasures of Tutankhamun, an exhibit of trappings deemed fit to furnish the immortality of an Egyptian boy king who died in 1325 B.C.

It’s also called just “Tut” (as Tutankhamun is generally known, since few can pronounce his name — but known, unto 1977 AD).

It’s 55 of the 5,000 masterpieces that were merely the best of the necessities (including just-in-case magic) of the good life when King Tut was laid to rest with his death-defying dreams.

And now those treasures, wrought for the privacy of a private afterlife, are on the move on a six-city tour of two years (travel plans shrouded in secrecy, naturally, for security reasons) in instant-everything America.

It took some non-instant doing, arranging the loan of this exhibit 20 months of negotiations between the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Egyptian Organization of Antiquities; a grant front the National Endowment of the Humanities, matching grants.

MORE: See Steve Martin perform “King Tut” on SNL (1978)

King Tutankhamun exhibit items 1970s - King Tut tour (3)

But there’s no show like eternity, or the dream thereof. Forever draws a full house. It was like a gold rush, they say of the exhibit at the National Gallery of Art.

Day after day, they showed up by the thousands, butchers and bakers and candlestick makers and the stars of our times: President Carter, Elizabeth Taylor, Randolph Hearst.

And, day after day, crowds of non-VIPs gathered before dawn, hoping to beat the crush of the rush to Tut. A couple of times, they say, people camped out at night, to be among the first at the gallery doors at 10am.

King Tutankhamun exhibit items 1970s - King Tut tour (1)

Rain or shine or snow, they waited — as long as seven hours — for a walk, free, through a moment of 1325 BC, forever frozen in gold and alabaster and ivory and ebony… and wood after 3,000 years?

Thousands just gave up. But 830,340 made it, to marvel at the treasures enthroned in Plexiglas cases: Tut’s golden death mask (ah, that mask, they say); the gilded wood statue of the goddess Selket; ivory headrests.

And, looking, they listened to the 20th-century tapes; they studied you-are-there photomurals, charts; in rooms simulating the chambers of Tut’s tomb, they relived its discovery, the dazzling archeological coup of November 1922.

Vintage 70s Treasures of Tutankhamun book
“The Treasures of Tutankhamun” book by I. E. S. Edwards (1973)

Treasures of Tutankhamun

The exhibit you’ve been waiting for since 1325 BC

The elegant solid gold funerary mask of the boy-king Tutankhamun. One of fifty-five treasures on display from King Tut’s fabled hoard.

Treasures of Tutankhamun exhibit (1977)

Some cities on Tut tour: National Gallery of Art – New Orleans Museum of Art – Seattle Art Museum – Field Museum – Los Angeles County Museum of Art – Metropolitan Museum of Art

ALSO SEE: When King’s Tut’s tomb was first opened, how the world reacted to the wonders inside (1923)

Ancient Egyptian silver pomegranate vase

King Tutankhamun exhibit items 1970s - King Tut tour (4)

King Tutankhamun exhibit items 1970s - King Tut tour (2)

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Comments on this story

2 Responses

  1. Nobody would tell you the truth. It was all fake. By law, no treasures are allowed out of Egypt. It was a “display” There was careful wording of the advertisements, so they never actually stated that what you were seeing was real. It demonstrated what the art looked like, but it was not the real thing. There are very few Egyptian relics outside the country. Only relics removed in the early 1900s are authentic. Most of those relics were poorly made, typically cracked or broken with pieces missing. They put it behind glass to make you think it was real. There is a King Tut display near my home. Everything is behind glass. Even the security cameras were fake. We did the narration and installed the sound system. We knew the owner. He told us it was all fake except for one piece.

  2. I own a souvenir canvas bag from this exhibition that someone placed in the garbage and I retrieved it. I keep my guitar song sheets and books in it.

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