Latest discoveries

Last week I decided to do some more rummaging through the archives and collections at the Leeds Museums Discovery Centre, in the hope of finding out more about the ancient Cypriot acquisitions made by Henry Crowther, curator of the Museum from the 1890s until the 1920s. I’ve previously blogged about his glass lantern slides which include objects donated by the British Museum from their excavations at Enkomi and Klavdia, and had a feeling that there might be more to be discovered.

I had underestimated quite what an avid collector of lantern slides Henry Crowther was – there must be hundreds, if not thousands. However, I was lucky enough to come across a couple which shed some further light on the Enkomi donation.

Small Enkomi objects s

Lantern slide showing small objects from Enkomi (c) Leeds Museums and Galleries

This slide is labelled ‘Crete’ in Crowther’s writing, which is an unusual slip, as the objects it shows are definitely from Cyprus (an identification helped by the fact that one of them has ‘Enkomi, Cyprus’ written across it). It shows seven objects, including the four spindle whorls from Enkomi still in the collection. But it’s the two objects in the centre and bottom left that interest me.

The list made by the British Museum detailing their donation includes hand-drawn sketches of the objects, as well as descriptions – a practice which is invaluable for helping identification and which I make use of myself, despite my negligible drawing skills. This list includes ‘2 stone beads’, one of which, the biconical example in the centre of the bottom row on the slide, still exists. It’s possible that the object at the bottom left is the other bead, although neither the photo nor the drawing are really clear enough to be sure.

2 stone beads

‘2 stone beads’, from the British Museum list

What is easier to identify is the object in the centre. The list mentions a ‘Bone ornament in the shape of pomegranate’ which doesn’t seem to have survived in the collection (at least, I haven’t found it yet…). But there can be little doubt that it’s the object shown on Henry Crowther’s lantern slide.


Image of pomegranate-shaped ornament (c) Leeds Museums and Galleries


‘Bone ornament in shape of pomegranate’, from the British Museum list

It’s good to know that it did come to Leeds, and to have an image of all the small stone and bone objects from the British Museum’s Enkomi donation together.

In an unrelated discovery, I also came across a manuscript letter from Henry Sandwith, brother of Thomas Sandwith, who managed sales from the latter’s ancient Cypriot collection, displayed at the 1875 Yorkshire Exhibition of Arts and Manufactures, to help relieve famine in Cyprus. It relates to a purchase made by a Mr Robertson, and reads:

Todwick Rectory


Oct 12.

My dear Sir,

Mr Robertson, whose letter I enclose, has suggest a safer means of transport for his pottery. Will you therefore kindly see that the basket, packed as previously suggested, is delivered to the Guard of the Liverpool train for Lime Street Station on Friday next, the 14th, at the time mentioned by him, viz 11am. I have written to him (Mr R) to fix Friday instead of Monday, which will give you more time.

Faithfully yours,

Henry Sandwith

We already know from other correspondence that Mr G. Sinclair Robertson was minded to buy ‘the £5 vase’ from the Sandwith collection, and that he donated ‘a large early Greek pottery vase’ to the Liverpool Museum in 1876, though it’s not now identifiable in the Museum’s collection, and was possibly lost to WWII bombing damage. So this letter doesn’t really give any new information, but does paint a picture of the way in which sales from Sandwith’s collection were managed – a very different world, in which one could arrange for the delivery of baskets of ancient Cypriot pottery via a local train guard.

I have a strong suspicion that there’s more to be found in the archives, and am looking forward to finding out!

Henry Crowther’s lantern slides

For some time I’ve been trying to track down a collection of glass lantern slides of the Museum’s Cypriot pottery, taken at some point between 1893 and 1928 by Henry Crowther, then Curator of the Museum. Eleven have now come to light, and they provide a fascinating window on the earlier history of the collection.

Crowther image of Cypriot ceramics
 Leeds Museums and Galleries

Most of the Cypriot artefacts shown are still in the collection today, and it’s great to be able to witness this earlier stage of their history. These images were of course taken before the 1941 bombing, and some of them show artefacts which were later damaged. One of the most interesting is this bull askos, which has the figure of a small dog with long ears and perky tail perched on its handle.

Crowther image of bull askos  Leeds Museums and Galleries

I’m not sure, but I think it’s the same one as this askos currently on display in the gallery; still an appealing and intriguing piece, but much of the humour and liveliness has been lost along with the dog.

Bull askos  Leeds Museums and Galleries

One of the most striking things about these slides is that almost all of the images are coloured. The slides were taken in black and white, with each pot (and the background) carefully coloured in appropriate shades by hand. This is more successful at some times than others; the opiate juglet has a slightly strange marbled appearance, which is rather misleading.

Crowther image of opiate juglet  Leeds Museums and Galleries

This black-and-white slide, showing a bowl and a white shaved juglet which appear to be missing from the current collection, is more in keeping with modern aesthetics of ancient art, although, as we are constantly reminded, ancient Greek temples and statues would have been brightly coloured. The hand-coloured slides bring out the vividness of the Cypriot pots, which is a large part of their identity and appeal. It’s interesting that this colour was felt to be important for Mr Crowther’s late 19th/early 20th century audiences.

Crowther black and white image.  Leeds Museums and Galleries

Over at the blog for the Leeds University Museum of the History of Science, Technology and Medicine, Mark Steadman has written about the evocative quality of the magic lantern slides in that Museum’s collection. These images of the Cypriot collection help to put the age of the ceramics in context; the slides seem antiquated in the light of current technology, but in relative terms the images were taken only recently.

Henry Crowther, who took these images, was a hugely significant figure in the development of the Leeds City Museum.

1923 portrait of Henry Crowther. 

He began work at the Museum of the Leeds Philosophical and Literary Society in 1875, had a stint away at the Royal Institution of Cornwall from 1881 to 1893, then returned and stayed until his eventual retirement in 1928 at the age of eighty. He was hugely enthusiastic and hard-working, constantly seeking and implementing new ways of improving the museum. Most significantly from the point of view of the Cypriot collection, he took the opportunity of buying for the Museum a collection of ancient Cypriot pottery after the close of the British Empire Exhibition at Wembley.

The innovation for which, above all others, he will be remembered is the development and delivery of Schools Talks and Christmas Lectures on the Museum collections. The figures involved are amazing – over forty years he delivered lectures on a huge range of subjects to hundreds of thousands of children and teachers. His ability to make his subjects come alive was warmly praised:

“The reports from the Supervisors invariably speak in the highest praise of the Lecture, the beautiful slides and the large and varied collection of objects gathered by Mr. Crowther to illustrate the subject.” (Report of Council of LP&LS, 1915).

The Council of the LP&LS ensured that he was remunerated for his efforts, voting that he should receive half, then all of the profits accruing from the Schools Lectures. He himself was proud of their success, as evidenced by his letter of 1902 to Dr Murray at the British Museum, expressing thanks for a donation of Cypriot antiquities:

“We are always thankful for these recognitions by the British Museum and we, I may fearlessly say, do our best to teach the people their value. For eight years I have given Christmas Museum lectures, our average attendance being 250; last year I gave 20 lectures to 7,000 children and 250 teachers; we are to begin in October with another series to 10,000 school children; your kind gift is, therefore, an appreciable one to us.”

The fame of his lectures evidently spread, and he was in some demand as an itinerant lecturer, as this ‘Syllabus of Lectures’ shows.

Henry Crowther lecture syllabus

From this we learn that the colorist of the lantern slides was Miss Violet Crowther, Henry Crowther’s daughter, who was the first Curator of Abbey House Museum and its collection of ‘bygones’. It’s not clear which lecture the Cypriot slides belonged to; possibly the Christmas lecture for 1897, on ‘Pots and Pottery’. In any case, it’s good to know that around the turn of the century the Cypriot ceramics were reaching large audiences in and beyond Leeds, and inspirational to think of the opportunities technology affords to put them before even larger and more widely spread audiences today.