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

British Empire Exhibition 1924/25

As I expected, the National Art Library was a great place to do some research.

I wish I could have spent longer there, but I had a date with Antigone at the National Theatre in the afternoon (highly recommended). Nevertheless, I did what I came to do; the books I had ordered were waiting for me, and the system worked flawlessly, thanks to the friendly and patient staff who bore with all my newbie questions.

Regarding the British Empire Exhibition, it’s a case of a few answers and many more questions. Thanks to The Lion Roars at Wembley by D.R. Knight and A.D. Sabey, and a cheerful contemporary guide by M. Grant Cook, I now know more about the Cyprus exhibitions in 1924/25.

According to Cook, in 1924:

‘The Cyprus Pavilion transports us quickly to the far-famed island with its sun and colour, its ancient traditions, its fascinating legends and history… Pottery appears in all the familiar classic forms, but distinguished by a characteristic native touch from other pottery.’ (Cook, p.66).

Perhaps unsurprisingly, this doesn’t give much insight into the background or nature of the ceramics on display. The exhibition was organised by Mr W. Bevan, who was the Director of Agriculture in Cyprus; it would seem reasonable to assume that his attention would be focused more on the natural resources of Cyprus than on its artistic contribution. Which leaves the question of who selected the ceramics, and from what collection.

Knight and Sabey explain that the Exhibition as a whole was considerably in deficit when it closed in 1925, which may explain why the contents were sold off. They give details of the auction of the Hong Kong artefacts, but it’s not clear yet how the Cypriot ceramics came to be sold. I think my next step is to consult the Colonial Office annual reports for Cyprus for the relevant years; if I can track them down!

National Art Library and Wembley exhibition

Getting excited about my first visit to the National Art Library at the V&A in the next few days. The Leeds University Library is brilliant and spectacular – and has surprisingly extensive holdings on Cypriot archaeology – but no one library can do everything, so I’m going to London to fill some of the gaps. I’ll be looking at Sotheby’s catalogues from the 1880s (more on that another time), and also reading about the British Empire Exhibition held at Wembley in 1924/5.

We know that some of the Cypriot ceramics in the Leeds City Museum were purchased by the then Curator, Mr Henry Crowther, following the Exhibition at Wembley.

Henry Crowther Wembley purchase

This raises several questions: what was in the Cyprus exhibit at Wembley, and who arranged it? Who did the ceramics belong to, where were they from, and how were they selected? How was the sale organised, and who benefited? Hopefully after some more reading I’ll be getting closer to some answers.