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.

 

Interlopers?

Among the Leeds City Museum ancient Cypriot collection are two juglets which are unlike anything I’ve seen before.

1964-0307-and-1964-0308e-s

Two juglets with incised decoration © Leeds Museums and Galleries

They’re quite small, about 10cm high, and they both have a globular body and narrow cylindrical neck and foot, with a single handle. They’re made of buff clay with a pale pinkish-buff slip, and have incised and punctured decoration – three sets of concentric circles on one, and a symmetrical abstract pattern in a marked-off field on the other. There are traces of glossy black paint in alternate sections of the complex decorated panels, as well as around the rims and feet, so they must have looked quite striking before it wore away.

1964-0308b-s

Incised and punctured decoration with traces of black paint. © Leeds Museums and Galleries

The thing is, they don’t look like any ancient Cypriot ceramics I’ve come across, in shape or decoration. This may of course be due to my limited experience, but so far I haven’t found any comparators from a Cypriot context.

The juglets provide us with one clue – they are both marked ‘Hs’ on the base, which is the identifying mark of John Holmes‘ collection.

1964-0308e-s

John Holmes’ mark. © Leeds Museums and Galleries

John Holmes was certainly a notable collector of ancient Cypriot ceramics, many of which are now in the Leeds Museums collection. However, he was very interested in cross-cultural comparisons, and also had ceramics from Mexico and Peru as well as from the Classical world. A hand-written catalogue of his diverse and wide-ranging collection accompanied its sale to the Leeds City Council; it came to the Museum directly from the Council rather than via the Leeds Philosophical and Literary Society, as with the majority of today’s ancient Cypriot collection. Unfortunately the catalogue entries are very brief and imprecise (not to mention hard to decipher), and only rarely offer any opportunity to identify an individual object. These juglets could conceivably be the two ‘Painted Peruvian Vessels’ recorded there, but there’s no way of knowing if that description belongs to these objects.

I wonder whether we should be looking elsewhere for the origin of these juglets, and whether they belong in the Cypriot collection at all. Any progress on answering these questions will be reported here!

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!

Cypriot cockerel… and another mystery collector

While doing some collection-fishing in the hopes of finding more artefacts belonging to John Holmes (on whom much more another time), I came across this fabulous model of a cockerel.

Cockerel figurine © Leeds Museums and Galleries

Cockerel figurine
© Leeds Museums and Galleries

It is beautifully detailed and very characterful. The incised decoration gives the effect of feathers and shows the different textures of wing, body, neck, and plumed, curving tail. The detail in the head is wonderful, down to the nostrils in the downcurved beak and slight wattle below the throat.  The design of the eye, a circle with a dot in the middle, gives it a staring, alert expression.

Head of cockerel figurine © Leeds Museums and Galleries

Head of cockerel figurine
© Leeds Museums and Galleries

Its neck seems slightly extended and bent forwards as though about to peck something on the ground; all in all, it’s remarkably expressive for such a small object (3 in tall).

Cockerel figurine © Leeds Museums and Galleries

Cockerel figurine
© Leeds Museums and Galleries

Its Cypriot credentials aren’t very clear; it’s not a typical Cypriot form, and looks to be quite late. It may possibly be Roman. It has a round, hollow base, which contains an intriguing clue to its provenance.

Monogram on base of cockerel figurine © Leeds Museums and Galleries

Monogram on base of cockerel figurine
© Leeds Museums and Galleries

As well as various pencil numbers (of which the significance is unclear), it includes a neat monogram in ink, ‘CB’. This doesn’t fit any of the Cypriot collectors or donors I’ve come across so far. Who was ‘CB’, and where did they come by this cockerel? Time for another trawl through the records!

‘A great object’: famine relief through excavations in Cyprus?

As mentioned earlier, the Visitors’ Guide to the 1875 Yorkshire Exhibition states that, while Vice-Consul in Cyprus, T.B. Sandwith relieved the hardship of local inhabitants by paying for the products of their excavations.

“A famine had taken place in the island at that time, and Mr Sandwith, knowing that there were ancient graves in various parts of the island, set the people to excavate them… The sale of many of these articles relieved the starving people” (p.10).

On the face of it, this seems rather unlikely. However, I’ve come across further sources that add weight to the idea that Sandwith’s excavations were motivated, at least in part, by a desire to help local Cypriots. As noted in a previous post, the Cypriot oenochoe bought by Mr Joseph Hall came with the following provenance:

“The digging has been under the charge of Mr Sandwith our Vice Consul, brother to the late Dr Sandwith of Kars celebrity, and the pottery sent to England to be sold for the relief of the inhabitants, who were suffering from famine.”
(Letter to Mr Joseph Hall, © Leeds Museums and Galleries)

Perhaps this is no more than a repetition of the story circulating at the Yorkshire Exhibition. More weight can be given to information provided by Mr John Holmes (1815-1894), a notable Leeds collector who was acquainted with the Sandwith family. He provided a brief biographical note of Dr Humphrey Sandwith, T.B. Sandwith’s brother, for the 1889 volume of Old Yorkshire, a multi-volume compendiary of notable Yorkshire places, events and people. In this he says:

“I made his [i.e. Humphrey Sandwith’s] personal acquaintance in 1873-4. It begun [sic] in the old pots, sent from Cyprus by his brother, T.B. Sandwith (then Consul), for sale, to relieve the Cyprians, who were dying of famine from a three years’ drought and locusts. I purchased from a shop window in Sheffield certain of the very curious pottery, of at least over 2,000 years old, became acquainted with and was visited by the Rev. Henry Sandwith, of Todwick, and was induced to visit Humphrey at the Old Manor House at Wimbledon, 1874 – presumably because I had, in 1871, sold so many vases, etc., at such prices as, among others, to enable the Consul to do much good, as I realized myself in Larnaca, 1873.” (Old Yorkshire series II volume 1 (1889), ed. W. Smith)

This account gives a tantalizing glimpse of the dispersal of the Sandwith collection in Yorkshire in the 1870s. What was the shop in Sheffield, and who else bought the Cypriot artefacts? Eight Cypriot pieces in the Leeds City Museum are from John Holmes’ collection, and it is at least possible that some of these were originally shipped to England by Sandwith.

There is further testimony from even closer to home. The Leeds City Museum archive includes a couple of hand-written letters from the Reverend Henry Sandwith, the third of the Sandwith brothers, who seems to have been involved in the sale of his brother’s collection. Dated only ‘Sep 10’, one letter to an unknown recipient begins as follows:

“Will you kindly let me know how many pieces of pottery remain unsold and the prices of each. I will then consult with Mr Holmes whether any reduction in the prices of them should be made. Personally I should feel strongly disposed to favour a considerable reduction if the purpose be as you suspect; but I have a great object in view; the relief of famine which must also guide my decision.”

Again, this raises intriguing questions about the ‘purpose’ alluded to; but it also confirms a relationship between Henry Sandwith and John Holmes, and explicitly links the sale of the Sandwith ceramics with famine relief.

The hardship caused by locusts and resultant famine in Cyprus in the later 19th century is not in doubt. The evidence above strongly suggests that T.B. Sandwith took steps to ensure that local Cypriots benefited from the appetite for antiquities in the West, and that at least some of the profits from sales of pottery went to those who excavated them.

The Yorkshire Exhibition of Arts and Manufactures, 1875

The early collections of the Leeds Philosophical and Literary Society are very much a reflection of their times, representative of Victorian interests which ranged widely over subjects which today would be considered separate, specialised academic disciplines. This eclectic approach can be seen in the Yorkshire Exhibition of Arts and Manufactures, held in 1875, to which some of the pieces still in the Leeds City Museum’s collection can be traced.

The Yorkshire Exhibition was a huge event running from May to September 1875, involving the whole city. It was undertaken in support of the Leeds Mechanics’ Institution, which taught every branch of science and art, as well as maintaining an extensive library. This Institution found itself burdened by debt as a result of building new premises in 1865:

Leeds Mechanics’ Institution, 1875

“one of the ornaments of Leeds… certainly the handsomest and best-appointed Mechanics’ Institution in the kingdom” (Yorkshire Exhibition Official Catalogue, p.25)

Since 2008 this building has been the home of the Leeds City Museum, so we are still benefiting from its purchase today.

Leeds City Museum, © Leeds Daily Photo

The Yorkshire Exhibition covered almost every conceivable aspect of art, science and manufacture. This picture from the Illustrated London News gives some idea of the scale:

The Duke of Edinburgh opening Yorkshire Exhibition, Illustrated London News

Of the Fine Art department, the Official Catalogue says:

“Where we find so much that is good, it would be invidious to single out examples. Suffice it that Her Majesty and the nobility and gentry of the land, and last, but not least, the wealthy manufacturers of Yorkshire, are all contributors.’

This department included quite extensive exhibits of antiquities, including a case of Cypriot material, mainly from Thomas Backhouse Sandwith and John Holmes, a major Leeds collector and antiquarian. Among Sandwith’s exhibits were this beautiful jug of Red Polished ware, and this vessel described in the Catalogue as a ‘Child’s Feeding-Bottle’. Interestingly, no description seems to match the triple juglet.

Jug of Red Polished ware, © Leeds Museums and Galleries

‘Child’s Feeding-Bottle’, © Leeds Museums and Galleries

Members of the Leeds Philosophical and Literary Society took the opportunity to secure some of Sandwith’s collection for their museum, ‘by a grant from the President’s Special Fund’ (Report of Council of LP&LS, 1876). It’s great to think that these Victorian benefactors had the breadth of vision to ensure that the Society’s collections were comprehensive and thoroughly representative of the arts as well as the sciences, which were in fact the primary focus of interest for many of the key members.

We are also lucky to have, via the Leeds University Library Special Collections, a selection of original Guide Books which really make the Exhibition come to life. The Official Catalogue is serious in tone, giving full weight to the dignity of the occasion and its Royal patronage. It gives a detailed account of every part of the Exhibition and every item on display, and it would certainly have taken more than a single visit to do it justice and give full attention to the densely printed information.

Yorkshire Exhibition Official Catalogue

The Yorkshire Exhibition Guide and Visitors’ Descriptive Handbook, published by the Daily Express, is an altogether jollier affair.

Yorkshire Exhibition Guide

Priced competitively at twopence and crammed with advertisements, it sets itself in opposition to the Official Catalogue by cheekily beginning its Preface as follows:

“In this busy age few people have either the time or the inclination to crawl inch by inch through an Exhibition with no aid but the lifeless pages of a Catalogue. With what avidity would the dazed sightseer, bewildered by the multifarious objects around him, place himself under the guidance of a well-informed friend who would conduct him through the several departments by the easiest route, and discourse agreeably upon the most interesting objects along the way. To supply the place of such a friend is the object of the present little work.”

The author has an interesting take on Sandwith’s motivation for assembling his Cypriot collection:

“They were exhumed from the old Phoenecian graves in 1871-2. A famine had taken place in the island at that time, and Mr Sandwith, knowing that there were ancient graves in various parts of the island, set the people to excavate them… The sale of many of these articles relieved the starving people, while Mr Sandwith was enabled to preserve the admirable collection we see here.” (p.10).

I’ll return to this subject another time; it seems sensible, however, to take information in the Handbook with a pinch of salt. The author appears to have prioritised a lively tone over conscientious fact-checking, as evidenced by this dry comment in Nature on his description of one of the scientific exhibits:

Nature, May 27th 1875

This called forth a pained response from the Exhibition’s organisers:

Nature, June 3rd 1875

Interesting to see these concerns over competence, authority and control of information, long before the internet age!