Report of the Curator of the Pitt Rivers Museum (Department of Ethnology) for the year ending 31 July 1945

Curator: T.K.Penniman, M.A., Trinity College.
University Demonstrator and Lecturer in Ethnology: B.M.Blackwood, B.Sc., M.A., Somerville College.

During the past year, Dr. Meinhard completed the entry of the Jeffreys collections from the Cameroons and Nigeria, and left us to work on an Ethnographical Survey of Africa for the International Institute of African Languages and Cultures, a work for which he has most valuable qualifications and experience. We have asked Captain J. S. P. Bradford of Christ Church, now serving with the Royal Air Force in Italy, to join us as soon as possible as Department Demonstrator, his duties to include teaching, but also to assist in the administration of the Museum Collections, and so relieve the Curator of a part of the incessant burden of identifying, selecting, entering, cataloguing and other routine, a dissipation of intellectual and physical energy if entirely placed on one man, but a useful discipline of research if fairly shared and done in moderation by more than one.

A pleasant event was A. E. Gunther’s loan of the Hermann Arthur Gunther collection of Japanese Netsuke. The late Dr. H. A. Gunther, brother of the one-time Curator of the Museum of the History of Science, was for many years a visitor to this Museum, and a good friend of the present Curator, in whose room he often spent many hours examining the Loat Collection of Netsuke and discussing matters of craftsmanship and technique. His collection contains 851 netsuke, carved figures of ivory, horn, wood and other materials, to be attached to cords and drawn through the sash of a kimono to hold such objects as tobacco-pouches and drug-boxes. In addition there are 81 Manju, or button-shaped netsuke inlaid with metal on which pictures are shown in relief or etched. Some of these are attached to 69 Inro, lacquered and painted drug-boxes in compartments, and other containers, including examples of the rare Me-Tsubushi, or Eye-Destroyers, which are filled with irritant powder to blow into the eyes of an enemy. The whole collection is accompanied by a catalogue, on which Dr. Gunther worked for more than twenty years, giving full details of the artists, and the subjects, mythological, historical, religious, natural, or humourous, and a valuable small collection of books on Oriental Art, including the very rare Ko-ji Ho-ten in two volumes by V. F. Weber. Mr. Walters has mended and lined a cabinet, and with the help of one lent by Dr. Gunther, the Curator has been able to display about three-quarters of the collection in the Lower Gallery with some descriptive labels.

At last it has been possible to complete the delivery of the musical Boxes from the Symons Estate, chosen mainly before the death of the late Mr. A. J. A. Symons, who was greatly interested in our plan to illustrate the History of Automatic Music. We had previously acquired examples of the Table Grand, Sublime-Harmony, Forte-Piano, Harp-Piccolo, Orchestral, Revolver, and Double-Cylinder, all linguaphones, in which the metal tongues of the comb are plucked by the pins on a revolving cylinder, instead of the fingers or thumbs used on the African Sansa, their prototype. The Table-Grand and Double-Cylinder have extra cylinders which can be inserted, and the latter plays two cylinders at once in harmony. Sublime-Harmony has three combs, and Forte-Piano and Harp-Piccolo have two each, tuned in harmony. Sublime-Harmony has three combs, and Forte-Piano and Harp-Piccolo have two each, tuned in harmony, the Orchestral has a wind-organ and percussion-drums added, and the Revolver changes from one cylinder to another by the raising of a lever at the end of a tune or set of tunes. Among others in this class of linguaphones is the rare and very early Waterloo Box, given by Mrs. Symons in memory of her son. The comb, as in all early examples, is bolted on in sections, instead of being in one piece, and the spring is wound by a key and chain, not a lever. Of miniatures, we have only one first-rate one, by Rochat, and to make a good collection, need others by such makers as Bordier. In what may be called the Regina type of linguaphone, a revolving disc with projections, or holes, as in the Stella patent, plucks levers, which in turn pluck the tongues of the combs. Our previous examples were of the Regina with the 15-inch and 19-inch discs, the Stella and the Three-disc Symphonium, which plays three tune-sheets at once. This year, we have the 24-inch Polyphon and the interchangeable Regina, which picks up and plays any one or more of a dozen discs from its carrier in the order desired. Several of the more complicated boxes were the worse for age, long storage, and the debris of enemy action. We owe it to Mr. Walters’ patience, skill and ingenuity, and to help from the Engineering Department in making missing parts, that these instruments now give a perfect performance.

Accessions, as usual, come from all parts of the world. To illustrate European arts and industries, we received small collections, further to illustrate lace-making in England from Miss Nevell and Mr. Turner, Victorian and Mediterranean jewllery from Miss Grafton and from Dr. and Mrs. Milne, weapons from the Wolstan Berkeley bequest, Roumanian embroidery from Lady Craigie, Balkan embroidery and jewellery from Mrs. de Garis Davies and Miss Durham’s estate, a working model in bone of a lady spinning made by French prisoners of war in Napoleon’s time given by Miss Davies-Cooke, watch-cocks from the collection of the late Professor Thomson, given by his daughters, a child’s smock from Mrs. Bicknell, a Neapolitan cart-horse saddle from Dr. Hildburgh, and small pieces of early Victorian furniture from Mr. Somerset. From Brazil, Dr. Goncalves brought us a considerable number of small pottery figures illustrating the contact of Mediterranean, Indian, and African ideas in various parts of his country. Accessions from Asia included embroidery and various objects collected in China about 1841 by Surgeon-General Duncan McPherson and given by his grand-daughter Mrs. Sturrock, who also gave us material collected by her relatives in India and Japan. Dr. Hildburgh presented two large bronze kettle-gongs figured and inscribed from South China, and among other material, a large collection of pipes from all over the world. At first, it seemed that enemy action had ruined them, but Miss Blackwood’s care in unpacking and drying, and much patient work by Mr. Walters and Mr. Whiting, restored nearly all of them to something like new condition. A fine collection of Malayan and East Indian weapons came from the Berkeley bequest which after years in storage, came out fresh and new under the treatment of the Technical Staff. Another colourful addition was Mrs. Mackay’s loan of a Brahui woman’s gorgeous costume. African accessions included shields and weapons from Egypt and the Sudan in the Berkeley bequest, a 17th century Algerian drum from Miss Grose, Palaeolithic implements from South Africa given by Mr. Swan, medicine-objects from Nigeria given by Mr. G. I. Jones and Ashanti textiles and beads lent by Dr. Fortes.

Apart from dealing with new accessions, the Curator finished the rearrangement of fire-arms. Last year the development from the hand-cannon through the match-lock, wheel-lock, snaphaunce, and flint-lock was shown with historic labels. This year cases were arranged to shew the spread of the match-lock and flint-lock in Asia and Africa, and the development of early percussion guns from 1807, first in Europe, then in Asia and Africa. The case illustrating fire-making was completely rearranged to shew the distribution of frictional methods, ploughing, rigid and flexible sawing, and drilling, throughout the world, and the development of percussion methods and their distribution. The screens and desk-cases illustrating types and distribution of personal ornaments and toilet appliances, which had suffered badly from a former defect in the roof, were completely cleaned, lined, labelled, and rearranged by the Curator, with the help of Mr. Walters and Mr. Whiting. Miss Blackwood has gone through the North American archaeological material, selected an exhibition, and prepared two explanatory screens with pictures, diagrams, and notes to go with it, and has added two similar screens to the Melanesian, one to the Micronesian, and one to the Polynesian exhibitions arranged by the Curator. The exhibitions and screens in the Top Gallery now shew a pretty complete account of the Stone Age Industries in the world from the Lower Palaeolithic to the Chalcolithic. In this series, only New Guinea and South America remain to be completed before we begin a series on the Bronze Age. The section on Stone Age Techniques now includes the valuable Barnes exhibition of Natural Fractures simulating Human Technique, the Knowles exhibition of Clacton, Levallois, and Brandon (Edge-flake, Top-flake, and Side-flake) technique, and the Palaeolithic and Neolithic Axe, Miss Blackwood’s series on modern stone-axe and adze making, a complete Brandon exhibition, one shewing sawing and drilling, and another shewing modern attempts to reproduce ancient and primitive techniques by Glover, Flint Jack, Snare, Spalding, Edwards, Balfour, Barnes, Coutier, and Knowles. Sir Francis Knowles’s exhibition of “The Manufacture of a Flint Arrow-head by Quartzite Hammer-stone”, now published by the Museum, has had a most favourable reception throughout the world, and its sale has exceeded expectation.

Much credit is due to the Technical Staff for finding the wood and making up and glazing the screens under existing shortages and other difficulties. Among other work, Mr. Walters and Mr. Whiting have refitted several obsolete cabinets from the Iron Shed in the Upper Gallery thus contributing to the good order of specimens there, and enabling the Curator for the most part to arrange stored and exhibited material of the same kind in one area, rather than separate them in an arbitrary and vexatious manner. Second-hand book-cases and cupboards have been bought with a grant from the Delegates of the University Museum, the former for bringing the libraries in 9 Crick Road, the Iron Shed, and other places, together into the eastward wing of the Geology Department as soon as it is vacated, and the latter for reorganizing part of the collections that still remain in chaotic condition.

The Curator has entered and arranged the Bell Collection of some 3000 European Stone Age specimens, and entered and indexed the old collections transferred from the University Museum in 1886, and brought the index of Donors, Lenders, and Sellers up to date. Miss Blackwood added about 18,000 cards to the Regional Index, and reorganized the boxes, which now run to 120, representing about an eighth of the cards needed for the present specimens, which are close on a million. Much of the work done by her and the Curator involved detailed cataloguing of collections that had been entered en masse, and of collation with more than one Accessions Book. Miss Blackwood also added about 220 lantern slides to our teaching collection, which is now contained in over 200 boxes, each containing 20 - 60 slides. Mr. Robins continued to work on the subject catalogue of lamps. These, with the Fire-making Collection, are about the most comprehensive selection anywhere in the world, and ought to be published. The same can be said of the collection of Musical Instruments, which numbers over 5000.

Mr. Ford continued the catalogue of the Balfour and Buxton Libraries in his spare time. Apart from his purchases, we welcomed the gift from the Beasley Library at Cranmore of 140 volumes of old voyages and travels, many of them rare, and especially valuable here because we have specimens collected on these early voyages, many of which are figured and described in these old books.

The Curator gave his one-year course on the Origins of Civilization to students from the Honour School of Geography and of Modern History, and gave short courses twice on the same subject to Cadets of the Royal Corps of Signals. The usual course on Race, Culture, and Environment was given in Trinity Term, and throughout the year advice was given by letter or in person to Research Students. Miss Blackwood lectured twice weekly in all three terms to students of the Honour School of Geography and of Modern History, and others, giving her usual Ethnological Survey of the World, this time with special attention to Oceania. In addition to giving much help to Research Students, she gave a special class on Skeletal Anatomy at the request of the Oxford University Archaeological Society, and another on Anthropological Method to four students about to do fieldwork in Burma and elsewhere.

Among extra-mural activities, the Curator continued to serve as Secretary to Heads of the Science Departments, and Miss Blackwood continued her co-operation with the Ashmolean Museum on local archaeological work, and served a further term on the Council and Executive Committee of the Royal Anthropological Institute. A part of her vacation was spent in giving assistance and advice to a small Agricultural Museum at East Hendred.

During the year the Curator published Origins of Civilization in the Afrasia Dry Zone in ANTIQUITY for June 1945, A Steatite Figure of the K’ang Hsi Period in the Pitt Rivers Museum at Oxford in MAN, 1945, no. 52 (with Dr. William Cohn), a Foreword to PRIMITIVE ANAESTHESIA AND ALLIED CONDITIONS, by Dr. E. S. Ellis, William Heinemann (Medical Books), in press, a Page of Exotic Horse Brasses in H. S. Richards, HORSE BRASS COLLECTIONS, No. 3, published at Vessey road, Sutton Coldfield, “A Chronological Table from Lower Palaeolithic to Early Iron Age in the Old World” in F. G. W. Knowles, MAN AND OTHER LIVING THINGS, Geo. Harrap and Co., in press, and a review of the REPORT OF THE BOARD OF REGENTS OF THE SMITHSONIAN INSTITUTION in the OXFORD MAGAZINE of 3 May 1945. Miss Blackwood published an obituary of Mary Edith Durham in MAN, vol. XLV, Jan-Feb. 1945, no. 14, and Mr. Turner published The Indian’s Role in Brazil’s Progress in the LATIN AMERICAN WORLD, XXV, 13, and has in press a review for MAN of Loram and McIlwraith, THE NORTH AMERICAN INDIAN TODAY.

9,695 people visited the Museum, including many parties of school-children.

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Supported by the John Fell OUP Research Fund


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