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.

 

Six degrees of Cypriot separation

I had a wonderful time last Monday working with photographer Simon Miles to record the Kent ancient Cypriot collection at the Mercer Art Gallery, Harrogate, for the Cyprus Institute’s digital archive project. This gave me the opportunity to delve into the collection and see objects I had previously only read about in Benjamin Kent’s handwritten register; it was fascinating to see the ‘cone-like projection’ and ‘horn-like scrolls’ in real life!

As well as incorporating diverse, beautiful and intriguing objects, this collection is particularly rich in hints and clues to the objects’ itineraries – their journeys through time and space that have ended (for the time being) in the Gallery. It’s not uncommon to find a label or a note tucked inside an object with tantalising information about its previous movements. This was my experience last week.

White Painted jug

White Painted jug © Mercer Art Gallery

A White Painted jug from the Cypro-Geometric period has a label reading ‘Amathus’, and also a label pasted inside its rim: ‘Painted Vase Early Phoenician [indistinct] From [?Gen.] Cesnola Collection [?obtained from] from excavations in Cyprus. From Park Hill.’ Benjamin Kent’s register also notes for this jug, ‘Lawrence/Cesnola; Sir Theo Fry’s collection’.

Label

Label on the White Painted jug © Mercer Art Gallery

These labels and records provide a rich source of information for the jug’s collection history. The Lawrence/Cesnola reference is fairly easy; Alessandro Palma di Cesnola, Major di Cesnola, the younger brother of the more notorious Luigi, carried out extensive digging and collecting activity in Cyprus, with financial support from his father-in-law, E.H. Lawrence (hence ‘the Lawrence/Cesnola collection’).  Many of the objects thus obtained were sold at Sotheby’s in four sales from 1883 to 1892.

Sir Theodore Fry (1836-1912) is also easy to identify; a very interesting collector in his own right, who deserves further discussion on another occasion, he collected Greek, Etruscan, and Cypriot pottery. We know from helpfully annotated auction catalogues, and from the collating work done by the ‘Rethinking Pitt-Rivers‘ project, that Fry bought from the 1883 and 1884 auctions of Lawrence-Cesnola collection. His own collection was sold at auction in 1905, and many objects from it are now found in the Kent collection in Harrogate.

However, this leaves ‘Park Hill’ to be explained. A little research revealed this to be the residence of John Wickham Flower (1807-73), a lawyer, archaeologist, antiquarian and collector. His widow donated a huge collection of 1,500 pieces, including ancient Cypriot material, to Oxford’s University Museum in 1882 after his death, and this was later transferred to the Pitt Rivers Museum. Flower also bought from Cesnola sales, but those of the elder brother Luigi, General di Cesnola, on 1-2 May and 3 July 1871. These included objects from ‘Amathonta’, i.e. Amathus, where this jug is said to be from.

It therefore seems most likely, given the dates, that this jug was bought by Flower from one of Luigi Cesnola’s sales, then acquired by Fry – whether through a personal connection or at a sale – before making its way to the Kent collection. This would tie in with the label shown above, which claims the jug comes from ‘General Cesnola’s excavations’ – the younger brother would be described as ‘Major Cesnola’. Kent would then have been mistaken in attributing this jug to the Lawrence/Cesnola collection, the source of most of the other objects acquired from Fry – although given the multiple sales of Cesnola objects over a long period, and the interplay between the two brothers’ collections, some degree of crossed wires is almost inevitable.

A further degree of entanglement becomes evident when we consider the link between John Wickham Flower and Thomas Backhouse Sandwith, who had a huge impact on the dissemination of ancient Cypriot art in the Yorkshire area, as discussed at length on this blog and elsewhere. Sandwith wrote an important paper on his observations and deductions about ancient Cypriot material culture, which was published in Archaeologia, the journal of the Society of Antiquaries of London, in 1877. However, long before this, the paper was delivered at a meeting of the Society, on 4th May 1871. As the Society’s minute book notes,

‘In connection with this paper the following Exhibitions were laid before the Society:

Col. Lane Fox V.P. – Cypriote Antiquities from the Cesnola collection

J.W. Flower Esq. – Antiquities from the same collection.’

It seems likely that both of these Exhibitions were of the newly acquired antiquities from the Cesnola sale which had taken place just a couple of days earlier on 1-2 May 1871 (Lane Fox, who is of course Pitt-Rivers, also bought from this sale). There is a certain irony in the choice of Cesnola’s objects to accompany Sandwith’s paper, given the latter’s rather austere comments in his paper on Cesnola’s ‘untenable theory’ concerning the structure of ancient Cypriot tombs. Sandwith sent several batches of objects to Sheffield to be sold, and part of his collection was shown at the Yorkshire Exhibition of Arts and Manufactures in 1875, where it sparked considerable interest in collecting ancient Cypriot objects; including among the Kents, whose collection also includes some of Sandwith’s objects from the 1875 Exhibition.

So, the itinerary of this object gives us some sense of the flows of Cypriot antiquities in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, and the networks along which they travelled. Excavated by one of the Cesnolas in Amathus in Cyprus, the jug was sold in London, probably to Flowers, and joined the rest of his collection, where it may have formed part of the exhibition accompanying Sandwith’s significant paper on 4th May 1871. It then came to Fry, whether by purchase or gift, and eventually, after his sale, it joined the Kent collection, alongside many other objects originating from the Cesnola and Sandwith collections. We see how interlinked these routes are, and how through different generations of collectors objects came together and were disbanded. It’s also interesting to reflect on all the journeys which are lost, because the information wasn’t recorded (even in cryptic ‘Park Hill’ format) or because sale catalogue descriptions are too broad to be reliably mapped onto individual objects. Although it’s not in keeping with modern curatorial practices, it makes me thankful that earlier generations of collectors felt at liberty to inscribe objects with their routes via people and places, and that at least some of this information has survived.

The Society of Antiquaries

Last month I attended the annual Postgraduate Open Day at the Society of Antiquaries of London – a great opportunity to admire the stunning architecture of Burlington House on Piccadilly, and to hear all about the Society’s history, collections and archives.

soc-ant-exterior

The Society of Antiquaries of London

The Society played a brief but significant role in the history of Cypriot archaeology. As I’ve mentioned before, in 1871 Thomas Backhouse Sandwith, British Vice-Consul on Cyprus from 1865-1870, presented a paper on his research to the Society, titled ‘On the different styles of Pottery found in Ancient Tombs in the Island of Cyprus’. This was eventually published in the Society’s journal Archaeologia, along with lithographic plates illustrating the objects under discussion. Some of Sandwith’s collection came to Yorkshire, and was exhibited and sold, creating interest in ancient Cyprus which spread through the region. (In fact, I’ve just had a paper published on this!).

I was delighted to have the opportunity to do a quick bit of research in the Society’s library at lunchtime, with help from the expert librarians – quite apart from the research opportunities, it’s an amazing place to work!

soc-ant-library

View of the library, Society of Antiquaries

I drew a blank in finding out any more about the lithographs that accompanied Thomas Sandwith’s Archaeologia paper – I think it’s destined to be one of those minor but niggling research questions that don’t find an answer. However, it was thrilling to see the record of the meeting at which he presented his paper.

soc-antiquaries-sandwith-minute

Minute book entry © Society of Antiquaries

I was able to find out a bit more about another collector of ancient Cypriot objects, Mr Benjamin Kent, whose collection is now in the Mercer Art Gallery, Harrogate. I knew that Benjamin Kent had been a Fellow of the Society of Antiquaries, and thanks to the Society’s admirable record-keeping, I was able to locate his nomination for Fellowship in 1939. This helpfully includes a list of those who nominated him, which is really interesting in helping to analyse the circles he moved in and the contacts he made.

soc-ant-kent-proposal

Certificate of Candidate for Election, Benjamin Kent © Society of Antiquaries

None of the names are immediately familiar to me, so there’s more work to be done in tracing them. Under ‘Qualification’, the form cites his ‘valuable excavation work among Barrows in the West Riding of Yorkshire and on Roman sites’. This very much fits with my perception of Benjamin Kent; he was more of a hands-on explorer than an armchair antiquarian and collector, and interested in ancient objects mainly for what they could tell him of the past.

Both Benjamin Kent and his father were also Fellows of the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland, so I’m hoping there may be similar records available there. In addition, some of Kent’s papers have recently been accessioned into Special Collections at the University of Leeds library, as part of the Yorkshire Archaeology Society collection. I’m really looking forward to finding out more about the background to his ancient Cypriot collection, other research projects permitting!

New light on an ancient lamp

Recently I’ve been working with Dr Sally Waite of Newcastle University on the Kent Collection at the Mercer Art Gallery, Harrogate.This is a large and varied collection of archaeological artefacts from a wide range of locations and cultures, assembled by two generations of the Kent family and bequeathed to Harrogate Council in the 1960s. Most interestingly from my perspective, it includes over a hundred objects from ancient Cyprus. The Kents do not seem to have acquired directly from Cyprus themselves, but to have bought from sales via dealers. They kept a register of their collection, which includes some information about previous owners, making it possible in some cases to trace the history of an object.

Sally and I are currently looking at the objects in the Kent Collection which previously belonged to Thomas Sandwith, the British Vice-Consul on Cyprus from 1865 to 1870. There are six which are recorded as having come from his collection, but the information in the Kents’ register has enabled us to add to this number.The Kent Collection register describes a simple ancient Cypriot lamp as follows:

“Lamp, open type, shallow bowl with flat base, and flat rim pinched abruptly, slit narrow, dia of bowl 3⅜”. Cyprus, Cudworth Collection.”

Cypriot lamp from the Kent collection © Harrogate Museums and Arts, Harrogate Borough Council

Cypriot lamp from the Kent collection
© Harrogate Museums and Arts, Harrogate Borough Council

There are several examples of this type in the British Museum. While its date is difficult to determine without any archaeological context, it probably dates from the 6th to 4th centuries BC.

As discussed in my previous post, Mr Cudworth published a guide to his collection which includes useful information on provenance. Looking at this guide, the lamp that best fits the bill is described as:

“Open lamp, shell pattern, rare (Sandwith Cyprian Collection).”

Cudworth’s term ‘shell pattern’ refers to the theory that this kind of lamp was based on the shape of Terebratula shells, often known as ‘lamp shells’ for this reason (a term that came into use as early as 1787, according to Samuel Pickworth Woodward’s A Manual of the Mollusca). Cudworth states:

“If we have not in the fossilised Terebratula the original design of the early open lamp used for domestic purposes, the coincidence is, at any rate, somewhat remarkable.”

His guide illustrates this point with a woodcut, which bears a marked resemblance to the Kent Collection lamp.
Woodcut of open lamp from the Cudworth Collection.

Woodcut of open lamp from the Cudworth Collection.

Cudworth records the lamp as being from the Sandwith Collection. There were no lamps exhibited at the 1875 Yorkshire Exhibition of Arts and Manufactures, from which many Sandwith objects were acquired by Yorkshire collectors, and it may well have been bought from the saleroom in Sheffield where the pottery was displayed for sale from 1870. No unified catalogue exists of the Sandwith collection (this would be a great project to undertake at some stage), but we have some additional information from Sandwith’s 1877 article on ancient Cypriot pottery in Archaeologia, the journal of the Society of Antiquaries of London. This includes a brief description of lamps of this kind:

“It would be a mistake, however, to suppose that the better kind of pottery is found in all the tombs. The contrary is the case. Most of the graves contain but two or three common vases, either destitute of pattern or with the simplest designs… A common open lamp (see woodcut) of plain clay, on which no pattern or subject is ever represented, not unfrequently forms a part of the furniture of the deceased’s abode.”

Illustration of lamp from Sandwith's Archaeologia paper.

Illustration of lamp from Sandwith’s Archaeologia paper.

This is so similar to Cudworth’s illustration that I initially thought it was the same woodcut, but on closer examination there are a few small differences. It seems likely that Cudworth was familiar with the Archaeologia  piece, perhaps due to his interest in the Sandwith collection. As Sandwith discusses this kind of lamp in general terms, we can’t go as far as saying that the Kent lamp is the same one illustrated in the Archaeologia paper, but it’s certainly of the same type.

It’s interesting to see the different uses which have been made of this simple lamp by its previous collectors; Sandwith contrasts it with ‘the better kind of pottery’ as a common grave-good, while Cudworth is struck by its similarity to Terebratula shells, presenting this as a possible source of inspiration for its design. Today it is one of the less visually exciting objects surviving from the Kent collection (which includes some spectacular pieces), but it’s given additional interest by what we know of its relatively recent history.