Bronze Age resources

While working on the Kent Collection catalogue, I noticed that various entries for bronze implements were accompanied by the cryptic phrase ‘Britt. Ass. Card Cat.’. Since I’m always looking for more information on the provenance of ancient Cypriot collections, I decided to try to track this reference down. This proved refreshingly straightforward, and led me down an interesting route with some familiar faces along the way.

Kent catalogue entry 171

Entry 171 from the Kent Collection catalogue ©Harrogate Museums and Arts, Harrogate Borough Council

The ‘Britt. Ass. Card Cat.’ turns out to be the British Association Bronze Implements Card Catalogue, a truly remarkable initiative begun in 1920 under the auspices of the British Association for the Advancement of Science. The aim was to produce a card catalogue of “all the metal objects of the Bronze Age in the museums and collections in the British Isles”, in order to facilitate comparative research. One of the original movers in this enterprise was John Linton Myres, the ‘father of Cypriot archaeology’, excavator of Amathus in Cyprus and cataloguer of the Cesnola Collection at the Metropolitan Museum, New York. The work seems to have progressed on a voluntary basis, with museums, institutions, and private collectors providing basic information – and detailed drawings – of their Bronze Age implements, to be neatly recorded on index cards, filed, and made available for use.

Making information available is of course a different proposition these days, and I was hopeful that this Catalogue might have been digitised in a searchable format. It’s not quite there yet, but is well on the way to being so. In a fascinating project, part of the MicroPasts collaboration between the British Museum and UCL, the transcription of the cards is being crowd-sourced, with anyone with an interest invited to contribute to the task of translating the content of the cards into a digital format. As Neil Wilkin et al. point out in a very informative article on the project, this partnership with interested people from a variety of backgrounds fits well with the original compilation of the Catalogue, which relied on the contribution of time and knowledge from the owners of the objects, whoever they might be.

As far as I can tell, the fully functional, searchable database isn’t quite there yet, although the underpinning data is well on its way. However, vitally for my purposes, a key step of the project is to scan the original cards and make them available for transcription. This led me to Flickr and a wonderful treasure trove of original cards. These are arranged by the drawers in which the cards were stored; it didn’t take long to conclude that ‘Foreign Weapons’ might be a good place to look for a sword from Cyprus; and since the cards are ordered alphabetically by country, it was a mere matter of scrolling past Austria and China to arrive at Cyprus. It didn’t take long at all to find records relating to the Kent collection.

Kent 171 dagger

Index card for Kent Collection dagger

There are a number of helpful things about this record, beyond the satisfaction of having tracked it down. It’s not clear whether the object is still extant in the collection which survives today, but having a detailed technical drawing, as well as a written description, can only help to identify it. Most useful, from my perspective, is the information that it came from the collection of Cleanthes Pierides; as the entry above shows, this information is not recorded in the Kent catalogue, and so would have been irretrievably lost if not for this record. Cleanthes Pierides was a merchant and dealer in ancient Cypriot objects, and I’m trying to find out more about his activities and how objects made their way through his hands from ancient Cypriot tombs to collectors, including the Kents; this information provides a further piece of the jigsaw.

While looking through the other objects from Cyprus, I was pleased to come across a record relating to John Holmes, an influential collector and lecturer on Cypriot antiquity in Leeds from the 1860s onwards.

Holmes dagger cat no 235

Index card for Holmes Collection dagger

In this case, the card and the information we already have are mutually informative. Holmes complained bitterly that his collection was neglected after he sold it to Leeds City Council in 1882, so it’s interesting that someone at the Art Gallery was sufficiently concerned to log the bronze implements with the British Association. The catalogue number 235 allows us to link this spear to the following entry in Holmes’ catalogue:

Holmes cat 235

Holmes catalogue entry 235 © Leeds Museums and Galleries

This is not the most legible of entries, but the reference to ‘self’ makes it clear that Holmes himself obtained this spear on his visit to Cyprus in 1873, which potentially provides a lead about its area of origin.

Needless to say, I’m hugely impressed by the MicroPasts project and grateful for its contribution to my research. I’ll be watching with interest to see what forms the data takes in future; I will certainly be visiting again when it’s available in searchable format, to see whether I can track down more objects associated with the collections I’m exploring. However, there’s something about the original cards which has value over and above the data they contain; beyond the emotional charge of research artefacts from nearly a century ago, there’s also information such as the title of the Kent card pictured above. The original intention to describe the object as ‘Sword (short)’ has been changed to ‘Dagger’, and this reflects the hedging description in the Kent catalogue of ‘Short sword or dagger’. This tells us something about developing approaches to classifying Bronze Age objects, and I’m not sure how the cancelled information would be reflected in a transcribed card. In an ideal world, the images of the original cards would be available alongside the searchable transcribed information, and I hope this may be the case as the project progresses.


Ancient Cyprus at Museums Sheffield

Last week I had a hugely enjoyable morning investigating the treasure trove that is the Museums Sheffield store. Lucy Creighton, Curatorial Assistant in Archaeology, kindly hosted my visit and let me look through the ancient Cypriot collection and associated records.

It’s a stunning collection, with the majority of objects collected by the Rev. J. DeBaere, R.C. Chaplain at Limassol on Cyprus; not a name I was previously familiar with. Nearly two hundred of his objects survive in the Sheffield store, including this beautiful White Painted oenochoe decorated with eyes and stylised birds.

White Painted oenochoe with birds © Museums Sheffield

White Painted oenochoe with birds
© Museums Sheffield

For me, the most exciting objects in the Sheffield collection are the 31 pieces previously belonging to T.B. Sandwith. These came to the museum in 1897, purchased from a Sheffield saleroom. Was this the shop from which John Holmes bought some of Sandwith’s collection in 1869?

The records helpfully list the purchase price for each object, giving some idea of the market value of Cypriot antiquities at the end of the 19th century. These range from one shilling for lamps and small circular dishes, to 13/6 for a 9″ tall vase. This helps to put the Leeds Philosophical and Literary Society’s purchase from the 1875 Yorkshire Exhibition into context. They spent a total of £14.0.0 on Sandwith’s antiquities, but we don’t have a list of what they bought; given the Sheffield acquisition was almost 30 years later, there is certainly the potential for it to have been quite an extensive purchase. A Bichrome spouted jug with basket handle, very similar to one in the Leeds collection known to have belonged to Sandwith, was sold for the sum of five shillings.

Bichrome spouted jug © Museums Sheffield

Bichrome spouted jug
© Museums Sheffield

Bichrome spouted jug © Leeds Museums and Galleries

Bichrome spouted jug
© Leeds Museums and Galleries

One of my favourite pieces is this lamp showing a very small Cupid or a very large hare, apparently a common pairing.

Lamp showing Cupid and hare © Museums Sheffield

Lamp showing Cupid and hare
© Museums Sheffield

I also love the tail on this ‘eye’ jug; similar in shape to the Hollings/Cesnola pieces, but whereas their tails are neat and discreet, this is much more extravagant, looping boldly over the bands of decoration and finishing on the shoulder with a tassel.

Bichrome jug with tail © Museums Sheffield

Bichrome jug with tail
© Museums Sheffield

Bichrome jug with tail © Museums Sheffield

Bichrome jug with tail
© Museums Sheffield

Sheffield is fortunate to have this wonderful collection of Cypriot antiquities. It was great to have a look through these fascinating objects, which are not currently on display, and to come into contact with some more of T.B. Sandwith’s collection. There is more ancient Cypriot art in Yorkshire than you might think!

Thomas Hollings’ collection of ancient ceramics


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?

Finding the links: Mr T. E. Hollings and A. P. di Cesnola

One of my priorities in working with the Cypriot collection at the Leeds City Museum is to reconstruct the history of the ceramics – both their original area of manufacture and use, and their relatively recent excavation and subsequent changes of hands. While they are interesting and beautiful in themselves, it does add to their value as a source of information if we know something of where they came from, and who collected them.

This is often unrecoverable, as the information was never recorded or has been lost somewhere along the way.  Excavations in the late 19th century were not carried out according to modern archaeological standards, to put it mildly, and there was less interest in the question of provenance than we have today. I was therefore the more surprised and pleased to find that two of the jugs in the Leeds City Museum collection came complete with tiny scrolls of paper inside, giving vital clues to their provenance – in the best tradition of the children’s adventure novel.

Label accompanying Cypriot oenochoe © Leeds Museums and Galleries

Label accompanying Cypriot oenochoe © Leeds Museums and Galleries


Label accompanying Cypriot oenochoe © Leeds Museums and Galleries

The jugs in question, of White Painted ware, are very similar to each other. They have a duck-like appearance, created by the ‘eye’ on either side of the rim and the trefoil lip which resembles a beak, and this is enhanced by the tail below the handle at the back. They are humorous and charming, and it’s easy to see their appeal to a collector.

Cypriot oenochoe © Leeds Museums and Galleries

Cypriot oenochoe © Leeds Museums and Galleries

Cypriot oenochoe © Leeds Museums and Galleries

Cypriot oenochoe © Leeds Museums and Galleries

Cypriot oenochoe © Leeds Museums and Galleries

Cypriot oenochoe © Leeds Museums and Galleries

The jugs most recently belonged to Mr T.E. Hollings of Calverley, Yorkshire, whose large collection of ceramics came to the Leeds Art Gallery in 1946-7. Mr Hollings managed the family business of woolen manufacture, and was also an important collector of early English ceramics, in particular Leeds ware. Most of his collection is now held by Temple Newsam House. His large collection included only a handful of pieces from antiquity, so it’s interesting that these jugs in particular caught his eye.

The paper slips, while not in the best condition, clearly link the jugs to the collections of the Cesnola brothers. The name of Cesnola is well known, not to say notorious, in connection with Cypriot antiquities, principally due to the activities of Luigi Palma di Cesnola. He was both American and Russian Consul in Cyprus from 1865, and was relentless in his acquisition of antiquities. Scholars describe his activities with a greater or lesser degree of circumspection, but it’s pretty clear that during his eleven years on Cyprus he systematically looted vast numbers of tombs with scant regard for record-keeping, even resorting to falsification to magnify the impact of his finds. He later became the first director of the Metropolitan Museum, New York, where a significant portion of his collection still remains.

Alexander Palma di Cesnola, though not approaching the fervour of his brother, was also a keen collector. He undertook excavations mainly at Salamis from 1876 to 1879, sponsored by his father-in-law Edwin Lawrence, and amassed a considerable haul of antiquities. The Lawrence-Cesnola collection was sold at Sotheby’s between 1883 and 1892.

Catalogue of Cesnola sale at Sotheby's, 15 May 1884

Catalogue of Cesnola sale at Sotheby’s, 15 May 1884

The sales catalogues describe the pottery in general terms, too vague to identify which lot these jugs belonged to. However, A.P. di Cesnola also published part of his collection in a lavishly illustrated album.

Cesnola album cover

A.P. di Cesnola album

This shows that jugs of this style were certainly included (see the fifth from the left on the bottom row).

Lawrence-Cesnola album

Indeed, similar jugs are known to have been bought from the Cesnola sales by the eminent Victorian collector Lt.-General Pitt Rivers.

Unfortunately, there is a missing link between Mr Hollings and the Lawrence-Cesnola sales (assuming both jugs came from this collection). The dates show that Mr Hollings could not have purchased them at the sales himself, since he began collecting around 1910; so he must have obtained them at second hand. I had high hopes that he would have recorded details of the purchase, as he kept meticulous records of his English ceramics, which greatly adds to the value of his collection. Sadly, if this information ever existed for his small collection of ancient pottery, it is now lost, as it does not appear in his extensive surviving ledgers. The excellent website of the Pitt Rivers Museum in Oxford explores Lt.-General Pitt Rivers’ purchases from the Cesnola sales in detail, even listing every successful bidder at the sales. However, there is no name on the list which can currently be linked to Leeds or Mr Hollings.

Therefore, although these jugs are attested to have passed through A.P. di Cesnola’s hands, we don’t (yet?) know their whole modern history.  The trail which started so promisingly has run cold for now; but there is always the possibility of a further clue down the line.

Exploring the British Library

Recently I had a great day out in London – not at the Olympics, but my first ever visit as a researcher to the British Library. I remember when I first arrived at university we were told that the Bodleian Library was like a venerable musical instrument which needed some practice to get the best out of it. The British Library is not dissimilar, but when I’d mastered the intricacies of the online catalogue it all went fairly smoothly.

British Library reading room

I finally got hold of the Colonial Office reports on Cyprus from the 1920s, which shed some light on the background to the Wembley Exhibition, from which some of the Leeds Museums Cypriot collection came. I’ve also made a little progress on the subject of amphora handle stamps. The Leeds Museums and Galleries collection includes an amphora handle with a stamp which is described in all the accompanying documentation as reading ‘ΦΙΛΑΙΝΟΥ’. The problem is, it doesn’t:

Amphora handle
© Leeds Museums and Galleries

So I’m trying to track down what this means and how it can help us date the amphora fragment. I also read up on the Amathus style – which confirmed that none of the Leeds University collection is decorated in this style – but that’s helpful in a negative kind of way, and there was some useful bibliography.

I enjoyed looking through Mr James Boyd Glenhead’s self-bound annotated volume of sale catalogues from the late 19th century. Unfortunately it didn’t help much with tracking down the origin of the two vases in the Leeds Museums collection which are said to have come from the Lawrence-Cesnola collection (more on this another time). However, I remain hopeful that the missing piece of the jigsaw is out there somewhere.

So a mixed day in terms of progress, but at least I was able to see everything I’d planned, and to enjoy a cup of tea in the cafe, surrounded by books, which is a very pleasant experience. Can’t wait to go back again.

View from British Library cafe