Analysing the English Collections at the Pitt Rivers Museum

Henry Balfour’s Fire-Making Collection

Frances Larson

English pocket pistol tinder-box bequeathed by Balfour 1938.35.1101

English pocket pistol tinder-box bequeathed by Balfour 1938.35.1101

Automatic lighter for bed-side use, from London, bequeathed by Balfour 1938.35.1183

Automatic lighter for bed-side use, from London, bequeathed by Balfour 1938.35.1183

Russian enamelled tinder box bequeathed by Balfour 1938.35.799

Russian enamelled tinder box bequeathed by Balfour 1938.35.799

English heet brass cylindrical match box bequeathed by Balfour 1938.35.827

English heet brass cylindrical match box bequeathed by Balfour 1938.35.827

This section of the website explores Henry Balfour’s fire-making collections, and, in particular, some of the networks of people who sent him objects, like fire pistons and match boxes, relating to the history of fire-making. The following pages are based on work undertaken during the Relational Museum research project at the Pitt Rivers Museum, 2002-2006. Fire-making was one of Balfour’s great interests, and, after his death in 1936, more fire-making artefacts were bequeathed to the Museum from his private collection than any other category of object. He started collecting artefacts relating to fire in the 1880s and he was still acquiring them in the late 1930s. Around 65% of Balfour’s fire-making collection was from Europe (1134 of 1758 objects), and the second largest proportion of the collection was Asian. The following sections look at the Asian and European collections in a little more detail, and discuss some of Balfour’s publications on fire-making technologies.


One of Henry Balfour’s students, Beatrice Blackwood, noted that he could produce fire using the sawing method with fire sticks in 35 seconds (Pitt Rivers Museum Manuscript Collections, Blackwood, Box 1A). Henry Balfour had a life-long fascination for the technology of fire-making. When he died, the collection he bequeathed to the Pitt Rivers Museum exemplified his two great interests: fire-making technologies and musical instruments. More than 1600 objects relating to fire were accessioned after Balfour’s death, which is more than twice as many as any other category of artefact in this part of the collection. Balfour collected match boxes, tinder boxes and tinder bags, flints and steels, sulphur cups, lighters, tapers, fire sticks, fire saws and fire pistons: his fire-making collection harked from all over the world and from every period of history. Over the years, he established himself as a leading expert on the technology of fire.

Balfour’s interest in fire-making technologies started early. He acquired several things in 1888 and 1889, which were eventually bequeathed to the Museum in 1939, indicating that he was beginning to build up a private fire-making collection just three years after he started work at the Pitt Rivers Museum. During these first two years, his acquisitions were made quite close to home. He bought several bundles of sulphur matches from Oxfordshire, Northamptonshire and Brittany; tinder boxes from Guernsey and Surrey, a small group of fire-related artefacts from Norway, and lighters from France. His earliest acquisitions explored ignition techniques that had been in daily use little more than fifty years earlier: the design of matches, lighters and tinder boxes. That Balfour began acquiring objects that most British people took for granted shows the respect he had for the workings of the material world around him, to which others hardly gave a second glance.

It is impossible to know exactly what drew Balfour to fire-making technologies, but there are various influences that may have led him in this direction. As a young man working at the Pitt Rivers Museum he was inspired by the work of General Pitt Rivers. Pitt Rivers had explored the development of firearms, which had led him to the conclusion that improvements in such weapons were made very gradually ‘as the cumulative result of a succession of very slight modifications’. Balfour acknowledged this work as the basis for a theory of development that could be applied to other ‘arts, appliances and ideas’ (Balfour 1904: 3).

One of Balfour’s notebooks is dedicated to the history of western firearms (Pitt Rivers Museum Manuscript Collections, Balfour, Box 4). It charts the historical stages from the early use of bows and cross-bows ‘for throwing pellets’, through to the needle guns and snider rifles of the mid-nineteenth century. Fulmination techniques were key to improvements in the efficiency of western firearms, and Balfour explored these ignition techniques in his notes. He described the use of the matchlock gun in the sixteenth century, where a moveable arm, holding a lighted wick, was brought down to light the gunpowder when the trigger was depressed; the wheel lock gun, where a flint was depressed against a moving metal wheel to create the spark; the flint lock gun in the seventeenth century, where the flint hit a metal striking surface; and, in the early nineteenth century, the percussion system, where a hammer hit a cap containing a fulminate of mercury which exploded on impact and ignited the gunpowder. Balfour’s notes show not only his own keen interest in an area that had also fascinated Pitt Rivers, but also the centrality of ignition technology to his history of firearm design.

By the end of his life, Balfour had created a sizable collection of firearms and firearm accessories himself: 539 objects in his collection are classed as ‘firearm weapon’, and all but fifty of these were bequeathed to the Museum when he died, rather than being accessioned each year as they were acquired. Although it is impossible to know for certain, his own research into fire-making technologies might have been linked to his interest in the history of firearms.

The need to produce fire was common to all people throughout the world, and Balfour’s theoretical approach as an anthropologist was best applied to types of technology that had the broadest geographical range, because these objects allowed him to piece together a more complete history of cultural development. Fire-making techniques provided a perfect case study for tracking cultural ‘developmental links’ worldwide: not only did they unite humanity, they also distinguished people from all other living things. In addition, fire-making was linked to other technologies that fascinated Balfour in their own right, such as lamps and lighting practices, the use of bellows for metal furnaces, pottery and ceramic traditions, and, as we have seen, the development of weaponry. The necessity of fire to human cultural life made it an obvious choice for the kind of anthropological investigation Balfour was interested in.

Balfour’s trip to Norway 1888

Balfour had also gained first-hand experience of the need to produce fire successfully in trying circumstances during a trip to Norway in 1888. Having spent the best part of a month visiting towns along the northern Norwegian coast studying whaling traditions, Balfour and his travelling companion, Alfred Heneage Cocks, set out in two small boats from Elvenaes, and, accompanied by four local guides, made their way to the Norway-Finland-Russian border. This trip seems to have been more of a holiday than a research trip, but it was undertaken in difficult conditions. Their rowing boats were rather ‘cranky’ and periodically had to be hauled over land or up rapids

Each about 14ft long, roughly constructed with three planks to a side, these being stitched together with the roots of the Red Fir, and pegged with the trenails to the ribs. No iron nails or clinkers. My boat was especially leaky, and required bailing out every 1/4 or 1/2 hour, which kept me busy all the time while afloat – in fact, to keep her afloat. (Balfour diary, 29 August 1888, Pitt Rivers Museum Manuscript Collections)

Along the way they stayed in small huts (that did not always have their roofs intact), on beds made of hay, grass or birch branches with reindeer skin blankets, or else they slept out in open with the up-turned boats as a shelter. They ate fish they had caught or squirrels they had shot, cooked on open fires, with potatoes and coffee from their supplies. During the second half of the trip it rained constantly, and Balfour spent the last three days and nights of the journey soaking wet. Not surprisingly, this made the business of creating and maintaining a campfire extremely difficult. One particularly wet night,

It was impossible to make a fire, and anyway, as I had been unable to shoot or fish, there was nothing to cook, so I turned in on the billets to get out of the rain and slept, a wringing-wet ulster and macintosh doing duty as bed-clothes. The leaky boat dripped water onto me, but as I was already as wet as I could be, this made little difference. The wood billets were hard and angular, and, Lord, it was cold! I was shivering all over, but somehow I managed to get off to sleep. (Balfour diary, 5th September 1888, Pitt Rivers Museum Manuscript Collections)

The following day they tried to make a fire again, but it was still too wet and they had to settle for a meal of cold squirrel. Although Balfour’s diary retains its matter-of-fact, and sometimes humorous tone, the final days of the excursion must have been hard. Although he does not record how they made their fires, travelling in these conditions gave him first-hand experience of the gift of fire and how vital it was for humans to be able to create and control fire, whatever their circumstances.

The Asian collections

Balfour developed his fire-making collection through his friendships and professional contacts. The evidence suggests that he acquired a greater proportion of his fire-related objects through other people than for his collection as a whole. There are 361 people or institutions linked to Balfour’s collection in its entirety, either as field collectors or as ‘other owners’. Although fire-related objects only make up about 14% of the whole collection, 119 (almost exactly a third) of these people or institutions were Balfour’s source for fire-making objects. Many of them gave or sold him other artefacts too, but it is interesting that such a high proportion of Balfour’s friends and acquaintances assisted him, at some point, in acquiring objects related to fire-making. It may simply be that this part of his collection is better documented, but this in itself would be significant, particularly as much of the collection was not accessioned until Balfour’s death, many years after the objects were acquired, during which time such information could easily have been lost. Either more of Balfour’s fire-making collection was acquired in the field by others, or information regarding the field collectors who bought him fire-making objects was kept more carefully.

Balfour devoted three papers to fire-making technologies: ‘The Fire-Piston’ in 1907, ‘Frictional Fire-Making with a Flexible Sawing-Thong’ in 1914, and ‘Ceremonial Fire-making in the Naga Hills’ in 1926. The first of these was based on objects sent to Balfour by a group of colonial residents in South East Asia. Henry George Ashworth Leveson, who became Assistant Superintendent for Burma’s Southern Shan States in 1892, and Deputy Commissioner in 1901, sent Balfour 76 objects associated with fire between 1890 and 1909, making his contribution to Balfour’s fire collection not only the earliest but the most significant in terms of number of objects. Leveson gave Balfour his first fire pistons, as well as numerous tinder boxes, fire-saws and fire flints from Burma over the years.

Fire pistons were well known in parts of South East Asia, and Balfour’s purpose in writing about them was to lay out the evidence for their geographical distribution, as far as it was known, and on this basis explore the possibility that they had originated there independently from those known to have been invented in Europe in the early nineteenth century. This question, of whether ‘the fire-piston has been transmitted from one geographical area to the other, or whether it was independently arrived at in the two regions’ caused Balfour some difficulties. He found it hard to conclude that these ‘relatively primitive peoples’ could have invented the apparatus themselves, but also recognised that because the evidence for its use across a wide-ranging geographical area dated back to the 1860s it was highly unlikely that it had been introduced by European travellers. He felt sure that if the ‘Eastern’ fire piston had been independently invented, it must have had its origins in some ‘happy accident’. In the end, he suggested such an accident might have occurred during the cleaning of one of the small muzzle-loading cannons found in the area. If a tightly-fitting cleaning rod was driven up the bore of the cannon with enough force it might have erroneously produced a spark. Balfour thought this ‘the least unlikely of the possible suggestions as to the prototype of the fire-piston’ (1907: 46).

Balfour’s essay on fire pistons reflected a general interest he had in fire-making practices in South East Asia. Although the vast majority of Balfour’s fire collection is European – 1134 of the 1758 objects in the collection are from Europe (65%) – by far the second largest proportion of the collection is Asian. A total of 431 objects are provenanced to Asia, while only 83 come from Africa, the third largest continent represented in terms of the number of objects from there. Within Aisa, 200 objects are recorded as coming from countries within South East Asia. A number of people gave fire-making artefacts to Balfour from South East Asia. Some of these, like Leveson and Thomas Nelson Annandale, a Research Fellow in Anthropology at Edinburgh and later Deputy Superintendent of the Indian Museum, Calcutta, sent Balfour objects they had collected themselves during their travels. Others, like Donald Gunn, a medic based in London, and Enrico Hillyer Giglioli, a Museum Director and Professor of Zoology in Florence, gave Balfour objects they had acquired from other people, acting as middle-men in the chain of transactions. Another museum curator with links to Oxford who helped Balfour to find out about the fire-making traditions of Asia was Robert Walter Campbell Shelford. Shelford became curator of the Sarawak Museum in 1897. He lived in Sarawak until 1905, when he moved to Oxford to work in the Hope Department at the University Museum. The surviving letters between Balfour and Shelford date to 1904, but are clearly fragments from an ongoing correspondence between the two men (Shelford to Balfour, 9 September 1902, Pitt Rivers Museum Manuscript Collections). While in Sarawak, Shelford ‘ordered’ fire syringes for Balfour, acquired various artefacts on Balfour’s behalf, and encouraged other people, like D.I.S. Bailey, Resident of Simanggang, and Charles Hose, Resident of Sarawak’s fourth administrative division, to send Balfour fire-making equipment.

Many of Balfour’s friends and colleagues sent him objects for his fire-making collection, among them, John Henry Hutton, who worked as a Political Officer and Deputy Commissioner in Assam. There are 67 objects from India in Balfour’s fire-making collection, and 16 of these were collected by Hutton while he was living in Assam as a member of the Indian Civil Service. Balfour and Hutton were friends, and during the winter of 1922-1923 Balfour visited Hutton and his colleague James Phillip Mills, and joined them on their official tours through the Naga Hills. Balfour wrote about local fire-making practices in his diaries during the trip. He was given an ‘exhibition of fire-making in the Naga fashion, with a cane thong sawn round a forked stick which was held in the ground’ while at Baimho in October 1922, and watched a ‘youth making fire with a stick and cane thong’ while at Mongsemdi in early November. On both occasions, Balfour noted the time it took to create fire: 20 seconds on the first occasion, and 25 seconds on the second (Balfour diary, Pitt Rivers Museum Manuscript Collections).

Balfour recorded the evidence relating to fire-making traditions as his travelled. The custom in the Naga area was to split the ‘hearth’ fire stick longitudinally, part the way down, and hold the split open with a stone or a piece of wood. This meant that the tinder could be placed in the split, so that when the thong was ‘sawn’ across the stick the resulting spark would catch the tinder straight away. Balfour had published a paper on ‘Frictional Fire-Making with a Flexible Sawing-Thong’ in 1914, before his trip to India, which described all known forms of the custom, including its use in the Naga Hills. Given this knowledge, Balfour was particularly interested to find an example of a fire stick that was not split during his visit to the Naga Hills:

On enquiry, I learned that this kind was used for divination only, it not being essential to obtain a spark for this purpose, but only to char and break the thong in the process. Later, we had a demonstration of divination by stick and cane thong frictional fire-making. When the thong broke at the end of the sawing process the fibres standing out on the two broken ends were examined to see whether they were longer on the strip of cane held in the right hand or on that held in the left; if the former, the omen was good. [The thong in the right hand represents the person or unit consulting the omen, that in the left represents the opposing force, e.g. disease, enemy, game hunted, evil spirits, etc]. (Balfour diary, 8 November 1922, while at Chantongia, Pitt Rivers Museum Manuscript Collections)

Later, when he was about to leave Mokokchung and embark on the last leg of his journey (without Mills or Hutton) to the Plains, he had been asked by an Ao man whether he would like to consult the omens himself, to find out whether his journey would be successful. Balfour accepted the invitation and experienced this divination using fire-sticks first hand. When the thong broke the parts were of unequal length, indicating that he would travel onwards untroubled, which Balfour found ‘satisfactory’. Although he added that,

It occurred to me afterwards that I was perhaps unwise to resort to divination, since, if the omen has been inauspicious, the carriers would probably have refused to start and I might have been delayed, with awkward results. (Balfour diary, Pitt Rivers Museum Manuscript Collections)

Balfour wrote up his findings on this form of divination for a short paper in Man, published in 1926. He pointed out that the ceremonial use of fire-making technologies put a different slant on the interpretation of objects that had often been assumed to be purely practical in application. When used in divination, it was not essential to get a spark, since the place where the thong broke was the ‘all-important factor’ (1926: 103). By way of comparison, Balfour mentioned information he had received from Charles Hose regarding the use of fire-making apparatus during naming ceremonies in Sarawak. During these ceremonies, the fire-stick was often carved in anthropomorphic form to represent the god Laki Pesong with the split in the wood becoming the god’s legs, and the thong was sometimes drawn across only one of the legs, a practice that would be useless for actually producing fire. Furthermore, the omens were read by comparing the lengths of the broken thong, in a similar way to the Naga’s divination practices. Balfour argued that obtaining fire might be irrelevant in the ritual context in Sarawak too and he finished his paper, as he often did, with an invitation for confirmation on the matter from his readers.

English and European collections

It is not surprising that Hutton, who spent his working life in India, would contribute Indian material to Balfour’s collection, but Edward Lovett, who lived in London, is better known for his collection of objects relating to British folklore. Lovett was head cashier at a city bank in London, but collecting was his real passion. He wrote about his collection in a book called Magic in Modern London, published in 1925. In the early 1890s, Lovett contributed a set of Indian fire-sticks, a fire steel with cotton cord tinder and a tinder bag also from India, a tinder bag from Bangladesh, and a strike a light pocket knife from the Netherlands to Balfour’s fire-making collection, and nearly 50 objects to Balfour’s collection as a whole.

Edward Lovett corresponded with Balfour, although there is little remaining evidence of their relationship beyond a couple of letters dated 1902 and kept in amongst Balfour’s notes on writing traditions, in which the two men debated the origin of the tally (Balfour papers, Pitt Rivers Museum Manuscript Collections). Balfour kept copies of some of Lovett’s papers, and there is also, amongst Balfour’s notes, a newspaper clipping giving details of a paper Lovett read at a meeting of the Croydon Microscopical and Natural History Club, on ‘Coinage: its evolution and its curiosities’. These scraps of paper indicate Balfour’s ongoing interest in Lovett’s work and his collection. Lovett contributed a number of British and Irish candles, rush lights and lamps, and Albanian gun flints to Balfour’s collection over the years.

Lovett and Balfour also had a common acquaintance in the form of Fred Snare, an antiquarian based in Suffolk (see Balfour correspondence, Pitt Rivers Museum Manuscript Collections). Snare seems to have mainly supplied Balfour with stone implements, but he did send Balfour a French, sheet brass, pocket tinder box in 1913 which was donated to the Museum in 1939 after Balfour’s death. There are also hints that Balfour sent Snare objects in exchange. On one occasion, Snare hoped Balfour could ‘get me one of those cigarette lighters I fancy the wheel is Aner metal ([cerium] of iron and silicon) invented by Dr. Aner to kill our flint industry…’ (ibid).

Snare’s contributions to Balfour’s fire-making collection took their place within the largest section of objects: that is, those that originated in Europe. A massive 1134 of the 1758 objects in the collection are European, and more than half the European collection was from the United Kingdom (595 objects in all).

One of the most important contributors of European material to Balfour’s fire-making collection was Edward Bidwell, who gave him 57 objects, almost all of them European. Bidwell contributed the second largest number of objects to Balfour’s fire collection of any individual. Unlike Lovett, who collected all kinds of material, Bidwell’s own collection was almost exclusively focused on the history of fire-making techniques and he was an acknowledged expert on the subject.

The earliest surviving correspondence between Bidwell and Balfour in the Pitt Rivers Museum manuscript collections dates to November 1889, only a year after Balfour’s first recorded fire-related purchase, when Balfour wrote inquiring about an ‘Instantaneous light box’ in Bidwell’s collection that he was hoping to examine. Bidwell, in his reply, stated that he could not spare the artefact because some friends were coming to view his collection, and he added that he did not know of any other examples that Balfour might be able to procure for himself. He finished his letter by commenting on his most recent purchases:

Last week I picked up a nice little brass Compression tube and I have just obtained a pistol tinder box with a percussion cap instead of a flint – made by old Joseph Egg. I should like when next in Oxford to see your collection as it is only by this means that one can find out what to look for. (Balfour papers, Pitt Rivers Museum Manuscript Collections)

In a follow-up letter a couple of weeks later, Bidwell discussed the Instantaneous light box further and added that he hoped Balfour would be able to come and see his collection when he was next in London. He also wrote that he knew of a Roman lamp in town with ‘a swivel and twisted hook’ he would like to show Balfour one day. Other comments in Bidwell’s letters suggest that the two men used each other’s collections as a means of measuring and improving the quality of their own: in 1926, Bidwell wrote that he ‘should like to know what are the many things wh[ich] I lack and you have’ (ibid).

In 1926 Bidwell’s private collection was bought by the match manufacturing company Bryant and May, who exhibited it in a gallery at their offices in Bow, East London (Christy 1926). The catalogue for Bidwell’s collection at the Bryant and May Museum was written by Miller Christy, and Balfour’s collection includes objects given to him by both Bidwell and Miller Christy. In fact, Balfour read through the proofs for Christy’s catalogue for the Bidwell collection (Balfour papers, Pitt Rivers Museum Manuscript Collections). In January 1924, Christy updated Balfour on the situation as Bidwell’s collection was installed in Bow: ‘You ought to contrive to get to Bow before long. I know Bidwell wants to take you there. His collection will be spaciously housed and well displayed when contemplated arrangements have all be carried out.’ (Balfour papers, Pitt Rivers Museum Manuscript Collections). In 1926, as the three men corresponded over the distribution of the fire plough in the Pacific Islands.

In an earlier letter, dated 16 January 1926, Christy ponders the possibility that Balfour’s collection might be combined with Bidwell’s in some way:

Yes: if your collection and Bidwell’s could have been combined, the arrangement would have been ideally perfect; but, on the other hand, there is one great advantage of keeping them separate – that there is no probability of both being destroyed by fire. If the combined collection had been in some great National Museum, there would be practically no need to consider such a contingency; but, if in private hands, the risk must be taken into account.’ (Balfour papers, Pitt Rivers Museum Manuscript Collections)

His comments are clearly in response to some suggestion made by Balfour in an earlier letter. It is unlikely that Balfour would have considered parting with his own collection, so he may have raised the possibility that the two could be united to form an independent collection or one under his own curatorship (1926 was the year Bidwell’s collection was sold to Bryant and May). Miller’s point that there was a greater risk of damage by fire when a collection was in private hands implies that Balfour had wondered about subsuming Bidwell’s collection into his own.

Bidwell gave Balfour objects on numerous occasions between 1891 and 1923 (three years before his collection was sold), and the vast majority were matches or matchboxes. Forty of 57 fire-related objects were matches, sets of matches or matchboxes, from the United Kingdom, France, Germany and Sweden. In addition, Bidwell gave a variety of cigar lighters from France, Austria and Germany, two English ‘instantaneous light boxes’, two fire-making hydrogen lamps, a Hungarian fire steel and two English tinder boxes, along with the Indian fire-sticks already mentioned.

Concluding thoughts

My discussion has only touched on a fraction of the large network of people that shaped Balfour’s fire-making collection. One gets the sense of an extensive, fluctuating group of academics, amateurs and professionals, in Oxford and beyond, who accepted objects as a natural extension of their intellectual debates. The objects that found their way into Balfour’s collection had often passed through more than one set of collector’s hands on the way. Although Balfour travelled extensively himself, as a full-time curator and teacher he had little opportunity to undertake in-depth fieldwork. Instead, he nurtured a stream of objects channelled through friends who were either in the field themselves or able to access artefacts as they moved through European networks and markets.

Objects, sent by friends and acquaintances, brought the wider world to Balfour’s doorstep in Oxford, but in order to fully understand that world he studied their design and construction very carefully. Objects constituted his primary data set. He could use the fire-making equipment in his collection. He noted that one French pocket fire piston given to him by Miller Christy in 1902 ‘works very satisfactorily with a really ‘quick’ form of tinder’, and that a Burmese piston collected by Frank Atlay and given to Balfour by Donald Gunn in 1907 came with a small bag of vegetable floss tinder, ‘with which I have been able to produce fire with considerable ease on many occasions’ (Balfour 1907: 22, 24).

It is a credit to Balfour that he was able to draw on such a range of contacts to supply him with information according to his interests at any one time. Many of these people were known to him through his work at the Museum, and he was one participant in a much larger network of collectors, travellers and ethnographers who customarily exchanged objects and ideas. It is impossible to trace the precise nature of many, if not most, of Balfour’s friendships because only a handful of letters remain, but the objects they exchanged are historical evidence, and it is possible to track the flow of objects between these men and women using the Museum’s object-related documentation. In the case of Balfour’s fire-making collection, such work benefits from the level of information regarding exchanges which survives despite the fact that the bulk of the collection was accessioned in 1939, many years after Balfour acquired it.

Although it is difficult to give definite figures, a quick run through of all the objects in Balfour’s fire-making collection indicates that tinder boxes, tinder pouches and matches are the largest categories, followed by fire sticks, fire steels (including strike a lights), tinder and fire pistons. The size of the European collection, and the dominance of tinder boxes and matches, indicates that Balfour was just as interested in the history of western fire-making traditions as he was in more remote cultural practices. For Balfour, it was just as important to study the material culture of his own society as it was to analyse data from places further a field. The need to produce fire, quickly and efficiently, united humankind, so that fire-making technologies were perfect for studying the historical relationships between different regional groups.

How far non-western people were to be credited with technological innovations was something which Balfour struggled with, but despite his own cultural biases, his writings seem to be infused with a respect for the skill with which people manipulated the material world around them. In his essay on ‘The Fire-Piston’ in 1907 and his 1914 paper ‘Frictional Fire-making with a Flexible Sawing-thong’, he carefully considered the possibility that these techniques had arisen independently in each geographical area because there was no evidence for a cultural or historical connection. In both cases, he concluded that their occurrence in Europe probably came about independently from their use in other parts of the world. Balfour’s fascination with local fire-making techniques while he was in the Naga Hills in 1922-23 is evident in his diaries, which record the occasions when he requested demonstrations and collected fire-making objects. He carefully noted down the time it took for different people to create fire. Thanks to Beatrice Blackwood’s lecture notes, we know that Balfour could also make fire using two wooden sticks in a matter of seconds. Balfour’s fire collection, although created by a man who saw himself as a dispassionate scientist, also allowed him to empathize with those he studied rather than distance himself from them.

Further Reading

Balfour, H., ‘Presidential Address to the Anthropological Section of BAAS: The Relationship of Museums to the Study of Anthropology’, Journal of the Anthropological Institute of Great Britain and Ireland, 34 (1904a), 10-19.

Balfour, H., ‘The Fire-Piston’, in W.H.R. Rivers, R.R. Marett and N.W. Thomas (eds.), Anthropological Essays presented to Edward Burnett Tylor in honour of his 75th Birthday (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1907), 17-50.

Balfour, Henry 1914 ‘Frictional Fire-Making with a Flexible Sawing-Thong’ Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute 44, 32-64.

Balfour, Henry 1926 ‘Ceremonial Fire-making in the Naga Hills’ in Man 26, 101-103.

Christy, Miller 1926 The Bryant and May Museum of Fire-making Appliances : catalogue of the exhibits London: Bryant and May Ltd.

 Technologies & Materials