Aquila Dodgson and the Cypriot flask

The origins of the Leeds City Museum’s ancient Cypriot collection go back to 1870, but the most recent addition was accessioned in 2004, from a rather unexpected source.

Aquila Dodgson (1829-1919) was a Methodist minister who worked in connection with the Lancashire cotton spinning trade. He had a wide range of interests; he was President of the Leeds Astronomical Society in 1907-08, which published a portrait of him with its 1907 Journal ‘in appreciation of his great services’.

Aquila Dodgson

Aquila Dodgson

He was an antiquarian and numismatist, and a long-term supporter of the Leeds Philosophical and Literary Society. He was elected honorary librarian to the Society in 1902, a position he retained until his death, and spent many of his later years compiling a catalogue of the Museum’s numismatics collection. The 101st Report of the LP&LS (1919-20) states:

For five years, day after day, members on entering the Curator’s Room would enjoy a short conversation with their courteous old friend and colleague whom they always found absorbed over his scholarly task.

However, Aquila Dodgson is best known as a keen amateur Egyptologist. He amassed a considerable collection of ancient Egyptian artefacts, though his interests also extended into more general ethnographic material. As his obituary in the Yorkshire Evening Post notes, ‘Mr. Dodgson was a great collector’. He corresponded with Sir Flinders Petrie and Amelia Edwards, founder of the Egypt Exploration Fund, of which he was an early member, and obtained objects from them, some of which are now in the Leeds City Museum. He also visited Australia, and Petrie’s excavations at El-Amarna in Egypt. He donated Egyptian artefacts to the Museum in his lifetime, and more of his collection came by bequest in 1927, including ethnographic objects from the Loyalty Islands and Solomon Islands, as well as shabtis from Egypt and Assyrian cuneiform tablets.

Part of his collection was given to E. Raymond Hepper, a chartered surveyor from Leeds, by the Dodgson family in 1951. According to his son, F. Nigel Hepper, Raymond Hepper had been fascinated by the Egyptian artefacts as a small child. Nigel Hepper states that the benefactress was Sarah Dodgson, Aquila’s wife, but census records indicate that Aquila was married to Jane Dodgson who predeceased him in 1907, and the 1911 census records him as a widower at the age of 81; it seems unlikely that he married again. However the gift came about, in 2003-04 Nigel Hepper sold two items from this collection to the British Museum, and over a hundred objects to the Leeds City Museum, which had financial support from the LP&LS and the Heritage Lottery Fund (for more information on this acquisition, see Bryan Sitch’s recent post on the ‘Ancient Worlds at Manchester Museum’ blog). As well as this significant collection of Egyptian objects, including ceramics, shabtis, amulets, necklaces, and figurines, the acquisition includes just one ancient Cypriot flask.

Aquila Dodgson's Cypriot flask © Leeds Museums and Galleries

Aquila Dodgson’s Cypriot flask
© Leeds Museums and Galleries

The flask is of ‘Black-on-Red’ ware, probably from the Cypro-Geometric or Cypro-Archaic period (900-600 BC). It is of a Phoenician shape, standing 120mm high with a flat base, globular body, and two small handles from the shoulder to the characteristic ridge halfway up the neck, which flares sharply at the rim. It has polished orange-red slip decorated with bands of black around the neck and down the handles, and small sets of concentric circles on the shoulder between the handles on each side.

Unfortunately we don’t know exactly where this flask is from, or how it came into Aquila Dodgson’s possession. His brother James travelled extensively in the Middle East in 1882, including a visit to Cyprus, and visited his family in Yorkshire on his return, so it is possible that James obtained the flask and gave it to his brother. James assembled his own Egyptian collection, now at the University of Melbourne, and Christine Elias has written a fascinating thesis on its background, including Aquila Dodgson’s activities.

It’s fair to say that this Cypriot flask is a minor item in Dodgson’s collection, and probably didn’t attract a great deal of his attention; ancient Egypt and its material culture was his true passion. However, it’s good that it has found its way back to Leeds, to the museum whose collections benefited from his hard work and expertise in the later stages of his life.

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Thomas Hollings’ collection of ancient ceramics

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I’ve previously written about Thomas Hollings’ two Cypriot jugs which are attributed to Alexander Palma di Cesnola. Since then I’ve been doing some more digging in the records, and detective work on the Leeds Museum collection, and it’s become clear that Hollings owned more ancient ceramics than had previously been thought.

A total of 20 pieces of ancient pottery can now be attributed to Hollings. The location of two is unknown, but all the rest have been identified in the Leeds City Museum collection. They include simple Greek cups and bowls in glossy black slip, and Egyptian St Menas flasks, which can be seen on display in the Ancient Worlds gallery. From my perspective, the most interesting objects are those from ancient Cyprus. These include a globular jar with a small, sharply angled handle and a pierced lug on the opposite side, possibly for string. It’s made of coarse clay, with traces of incised decoration.

Globular jar

Globular jar
© Leeds Museums and Galleries

There’s also a Black-on-Red two-handled flask with flaring rim and characteristic ridged neck, perhaps representing a seam on metal prototypes. It has a small, shallow foot and is decorated with concentric circles. This vessel is in a Phoenician style, but probably manufactured on Cyprus. It dates from the Cypro-Geometric period (c.1050-750BC).

Black-on-Red flask © Leeds Museums and Galleries

Black-on-Red flask
© Leeds Museums and Galleries

My favourite piece is this Bichrome amphora from Amathus, of the Cypro-Archaic period (750-480 BC). It’s decorated in rings of black and reddish-brown paint, with a stylised lotus flower decoration on the neck. Prior to its arrival at the Museum, it had been subject to some rather unconventional restoration – a metal candlestick holder had been used to support the internal structure when the base was repaired. This has now been removed!

Bichrome amphora © Leeds Museums and Galleries

Bichrome amphora
© Leeds Museums and Galleries

There’s also a White Painted jug, probably dating from the later end of the Middle Cypriot period (c. 1800-1650 BC). It has a high neck and cutaway spout, and a rounded base. It’s decorated with straight and wavy lines and cross-hatched panels, extending round the base of the jug, on a background of buff slip.

White Painted jug © Leeds Museums and Galleries

White Painted jug
© Leeds Museums and Galleries

Born in 1860, Thomas Edward Hollings is best known for his extensive and important collection of English pottery, which came to the Leeds City Art Gallery by gift and bequest in 1946 and 1947. His business was woollen manufacturing, managing the firm established by his father, Isaac Hollings.

Isaac Hollings and Son

Isaac Hollings and Son

This occupation evidently allowed him sufficient leisure and resources to devote to his collection, some of which can still be seen at Temple Newsam. His primary interest was Leeds pottery, supplemented by Staffordshire ware. He bought extensively at sales in Yorkshire, Staffordshire and London, and may well have acquired his ancient pieces at auction. Alternatively, it could have been a collection previously assembled by someone else; a letter of 1946 offers to the Art Gallery ‘many specimens of old Roman Glass which formerly belonged to Samuel Margerison’, which presumably Hollings had bought as a set. As I’ve previously mentioned, Hollings kept detailed records of purchase dates and prices for his huge collection of English ceramics. It would be highly out of character for him not to have kept any notes on these ancient ceramics, and such notes are high on my ‘wish list’ of documents to come across; though no luck as yet!

One interesting side-issue is that in the accession register, all Hollings’ ancient ceramics are marked ‘from the Sandwith collection’. T.B. Sandwith is not known to have assembled such a far-reaching collection, and it seems highly unlikely that this disparate group of ceramics originated with him. That said, it is certainly the case that objects from his Cypriot collection which were displayed and sold at the Yorkshire Exhibition of 1875 went into circulation around Yorkshire, and some of these could well have been bought at second- or third-hand by Mr Hollings.

The Cypriot ceramics make a valuable contribution to the Leeds Museum collection, and it’s particularly interesting to have objects linked to the notorious Cesnola brothers. We are lucky that Mr Hollings chose to collect them, and to pass them on. A newspaper cutting kept among his papers, annotated ‘1928’, states that

‘Dr. J.W.L. Glaisher… [left] his collection of china and pottery to the Fitzwilliam Museum together with £10,000 to be applied for any building which may be necessary for the housing and exhibition of the collection.’

Could it have been Dr Glaisher’s generosity that inspired Mr Hollings to gift his own collection to the Leeds Art Gallery?