16. Report of the Curator of the Pitt Rivers Museum (Department of Ethnology) for the two years ending 31 July 1946

Curator: T.K. Penniman, M.A., Trinity College.
University Demonstrator and Lecturer in Ethnology: B.M.Blackwood, B.Sc., M.A., Somerville College.
Departmental Demonstrator: J.S.P.Bradford, M.A., Christ Church

As shortage of labour prevented our printing a report last year, this report will give a brief summary of what we have done and what has happened to us since 31 July 1944.

 Dr. Meinhard left us in February 1945 to work on an Ethnographical Survey of Africa for the International Institute of African Languages and Cultures, a task for which he has most valuable qualifications and experience. The two large volumes containing entries of the Balfour and Jeffreys collections, as well as many other pages in the volumes of Donations and beautifully written labels, are reminders of his scholarly and definitive work for us, and we are grateful. Captain J. S. P. Bradford, of Westminster and Christ Church, joined our staff in January 1946 as Departmental Demonstrator and Assistant Curator. He had previously been an Assistant at the London Museum, and had published papers in Oxoniensia and The Antiquities Journal. As a Territorial he was with H.M. Forces at the outbreak of war, and served throughout, mainly in North Africa and Italy, where in the intervals of sterner duties he gained further experience in archaeology and ethnology. His final task, in 1945, was that of Staff Officer with the Monuments, Fine Arts, and Archives Sub-Commission of the Allied Commission for Italy, and when appointed to this Museum in October he was engaged in the selection of over 100,000 air photographs of rural and urban areas in Italy, the Balkans, Austria, South Germany, and France, for the University of Oxford, and of similar libraries for the British, American, and French Academies in Rome. So important were these for all engaged in environmental studies, including ethnology and archaeology, that we gave him leave of absence until January. The fact that we shall be able to use this valuable gift from the British School at Rome is in large measure due to the foresight, skill, and hard work of Captain Bradford. Another new member of the staff is Mr. I. M. Allen, of St. Clement’s School, Oxford, who is making good progress in learning the technical work of the Museum from Mr. Walters, and in studying the nature and purpose of the collections with the Curator.

 During the past two years we have finished the entering, restoration, and classification by principal subjects of specimens in storage in the three outbuildings and in the main building. This work, carried out mainly by the Curator with Mr. Walters and Mr. Whiting, will save time formerly spent in exploration, and has enabled us to clear some accretions from the exhibition area, and restore the original idea of displaying the local species under the subject genus, though a general satisfactory arrangement will have to await further building. Miss Blackwood has added photographic and explanatory screens, made and glazed by the technical staff, to the sections on New Guinea, Polynesia, Micronesia, Melanesia, Mexico, Central America, and North America, and selected and arranged or rearranged much of the material. The series on Stone Age Industries, Ancient and Modern, with 60 illustrative screens, is now complete, except for the South American screens and arrangement of specimens, and a beginning has been made 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 technique, the Palaeolithic and Neolithic axe, Miss Blackwood’s series on modern stone axe-and-adze-making, a complete Brandon exhibition, one showing sawing and drilling, and another showing 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.

 Mr. Walters and Mr. Whiting have refitted obsolete cabinets in the Upper Gallery, and Mr. Bradford has thus been able to sort and rearrange in storage under the exhibitions some 3,000 stone tools from the Near East, Great Britain, and Scandinavia, that they can be quickly found. Rearrangement of storage in the outbuildings gave the staff an opportunity to clear fifty years’ accumulation of clubs from the south side of the Upper Gallery, and so completely to rearrange a seventy-five foot run of weapons, the most notable series being those including the Eskimo harpoons collected by explorers of the North-West Passage, and the boomerangs, of which we have a very large collection. Sir Francis Knowles arranged this exhibition, and drew the principal flights of Australian boomerangs thrown by himself. At the Curator’s suggestion Mr. Walters made wire models of these flights and placed small model boomerangs on them in the position they take at various points of the flight. During the supervision of these models Sir Francis made a valuable catalogue of our Indian boomerangs at the request of the High Commissioner for Australia, retaining a copy for our own use.

In the Lower Gallery, the Curator has arranged the cases and screens illustrating types and distributions of personal ornaments, toilet appliances, weights and measures, and Sir Francis has arranged the cases illustrating the varieties of ancient and modern tools and the materials of which they are made. In the Court, the Curator has rearranged the overcrowded case illustrating fire-making to show 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 gun-cases, the first of the collections of General Pitt Rivers, were cleared of accretions, and in one section the development from the hand-cannon through the match-lock, wheel-lock, snaphaunce, and flint-lock is shown with historical labels. In the others are shown 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 other parts of the Old World. A most valuable accession in the Percussion section came from Mr. R. P. McCall, brother-in-law to Mr. Walters. This shows two rods of iron, and one of steel, first in square-section, then twisted, and hammered into flat ribbons, and again being cork-screwed and welded into a gun-barrel, with all subsequent stages of finish, with full explanation by Mr. McCall of the making of fire gun-barrels by his firm at Dumfries during the nineteenth century.

Under general maintenance, equipment, and restoration, a few of the more important tasks have been the cure of 55 of our bronzes of bronze disease by Mr. Bradford, and the pickling of about 50 more in sodium sesquicarbonate. Miss Blackwood has added over 30,000 cards to our Regional Index, now increased to 140 boxes, and the Curator has entered and arranged the Bell Collection of some 3,000 European Stone Age specimens, 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. Thus about an eighth of the cards needed for about a million specimens have been written. Much of the work involved detailed cataloguing of collections that had been entered en masse, and collation with more than one Accessions Book. Miss Blackwood also added nearly 400 lantern slides to our teaching collection, which is now contained in over 200 boxes, each holding 20-60 slides. Mr. Robins continued his work on our collection of Lamps, and the catalogue is practically finished. These lamps, with the Fire-Making Collection, are about the most comprehensive collection anywhere in the world, and ought to be published. The same can be said of our Musical Instruments, which numbers over 5,000. Some of these can be, and ought to be, restored to play again, when money and craftsmen are available.

Mr. Ford, and later Mr. Bates, continued the catalogue of the Balfour and Buxton Libraries in their scanty periods of leisure. Apart from 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 books. A really outstanding gift, which gave us great pleasure, was the Marett Library, from Mrs Marett and the family, of about 2,000 volumes on anthropology and archaeology, together with a special bookplate. With this, and the Balfour and Buxton, and part of the Tylor and other libraries, we are admirably equipped with books to help us with the collections, and to teach students. But they are in three buildings, and many are yet uncatalogued, and we have not been able even to begin on 8,000 to 10,000 pamphlets. When we collect the libraries into the eastward wing of the Geology Department which is being vacated next year, our greatest need will be a Secretary-Librarian for the Museum, who can look after the Library, and take a great burden of routine secretarial work off the Curator.

During the past eight years the Technical Staff has worked wonders in using old and formerly rejected materials to make necessities and improve our equipment in an unsatisfactory workshop with what can only be described as Early Iron Age equipment. Among outstanding work has been Mr. Walter’s success in restoring musical boxes and automata, and in making from Mr. Bradford’s description a piece of apparatus to enable archaeological details, visible on oblique air photographs, to be plotted on a map in their correct plan relationship, and so measured precisely, as in the vertical view. This should prove of great value in excavation. However, old materials have come to an end. The staff have reorganised the workshop, and we have wired it for electric power, and bought some modern machinery and tools, and will get more as they become available. In these days when human needs are standardized to a few patterns, and those becoming more and more expensive, we shall try as materials become available to make what suits us, at a reasonable cost, rather than take what we can get at prohibitive cost. We need one more young man to train as a technician. The old staff, academic and technical, are all about the same age, and retire at the same time. We must plan for some continuity and knowledge of what there is in a time when we shall no longer be here.

Accessions have been many and valuable. Even to list them all would require a thick book, and there is space merely to indicate outstanding collections.

A pleasant event was Dr. 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 the 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, carved, and 44 Kagamibuta, 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 with 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 humorous, and a valuable small collection of books on Oriental Art, including the very rate 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 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, the Orchestral has a wind-organ and 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 combe, 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 by 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 disks, the Stella, and the Three-Disk 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 disks from the 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. Walter’s patience, skill, and ingenuity, and to help from the Engineering Department in making missing parts, that these instruments now give a perfect performance.

To our two cages of singing birds and the Turkish Dancer, we have added from Mrs J. M. Thompson’s collection one of her singing birds, which jumps up from the inside of the box and sings when a lever is pressed. These are described in Chapuis and Gélis, Le Monde des Automates, in the chapter on ‘Les Oiseaux Chantants’ in volume II. We are most grateful to Mrs Thompson for helping us to fill this gap in our collection of automata.

Dr. Percy A. Scholes added to our small collection of wind-organs a fine church barrel-organ with four stops, the wood diapason, metal principal, metal quint, and metal fifteenth. This is a decided encouragement to our development of this series.

One of the most important accessions received by the Museum for a long-time was from Mrs Elsie McDougall of Woodstock, New York, who had heard of our collections and methods of study from our friend Mr. J. Eric Thompson. For many years she has collected archaeological and ethnological material from Central America, and has classified and studied it from the point of view of the technical processes involved, following independently the same methods as those devised by General Pitt Rivers. The archaeological collections from Mexico and Central America with their many types of weaving, brocading, embroidery, and dyeing, including ombre-shading and ikat, roused unusual admiration and interest both for their beauty and variety of techniques. The public cannot see them for some time, as the textiles and the many notes and photographs which accompanied them are now in the care of Miss Laura Stuart, who published Miss Durham’s collection of Balkan textiles for the Bankfield Museum, and helped the late Dr. Haddon to publish the Sea Dayak fabrics at Cambridge. By the time that Mrs McDougall’s collection is published as the second of our Occasional Papers on Technology, we hope to show the textiles, for limited periods, as we dare not run risks of fading until we have an annexe built differently from the present building.

Another important and valuable gift was a collection from Ayssinia and Somaliland, made by Wilfred Thesiger, Esq., D.S.O., the donor, in recent years, and by his father, the Hon. Wilfred Thesiger, D.S.O., Consul-General and Envoy Extraordinary and Minister Plenipotentiary in Abyssinia between 1909 and 1914. Clothing and mule-trappings, of embroidered silk and velvet, weapons ordinary and ceremonial, and other material illustrating the life of a people not well represented in British collections, have enriched the Museum in a section which seemed most unlikely to develop, and placed us greatly in the donor’s debt.

One of our most opportune gifts came from Sir Robert Reid, Governor of Assam between 1937 and 1942. His beautiful collection of textiles and ornaments came just after a Congress in which the Director of the National Museum at Copenhagen and the Director of the Musée de l’Homme in Paris had asked us for Assamese material. Though we have the large Hutton and Mills collections, there were few duplicates. However, Sir Robert Reid readily assented to the idea of sending duplicates abroad, and Mr. Bradford chose collections for both Museums, and another for the Art Museum of Denver, Colorado, keeping about 200 examples for ourselves. From Copenhagen, we are promised excavated Eskimo material and some Danish Prehistoric, and from the Musée de l’Homme, material representing periods of the French Palaeolithic for which we have at present merely types. We are most grateful to Sir Robert Reid for enabling us to fill these gaps in our collections.

Other accessions, in smaller collections, represent all parts of the world, and most of the activities of humanity. To illustrate European arts and industries, we have examples of lace-making from Miss Nevell, Miss Austen, and Mr. Turner, Victorian jewellery from Miss Grafton and from Dr. and Mrs Milne, weapons from the Wolstan Berkeley bequest, examples of peasant art from Miss E. F. Noel, 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, watching-cocks from the collection of the late Professor Thompson, given by his daughters, a child’s smock from Dr. Hildburgh, small pieces of Victorian furniture from Mr. Somerset, and finally, important Neolithic material from Apulia given by Mr. Bradford and Mr. Williams Hunt, and Neolithic material from Greece given by Miss Sylvia Benton.

Material from the Americas included a collection given by Dr. Gonçalves of small pottery figures illustrating the contact in Brazil of Mediterranean, Indian, and African ideas, a Hopi blanket from Mr. Buckland Bompas, and from Mr. J. Eric Thompson a collection to illustrate Mexican and Central American archaeology. We have also received a part of the Navajo and Pueblo material which Miss Blackwood collected for the Museum in 1939. This was kindly stored for us during the war by the American Museum of Natural History in new York.

Accessions from Asia included embroidery and various objects collected in China about 1841 by Surgeon-General Duncan McPherson, and given by his granddaughter Mrs. Sturrock, who also gave us material collected by her relatives in India and Japan. Dr. Hildburgh presented two valuable 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. Mrs. Wray gave a large collection of Malayan stone axes and adzes from Pahang, collected by her husband between 1878 and 1908. Chinese toys from Mr. E. T. Leeds, Tibetan tea-furniture from Mr. J. C. Nelson, delicate and beautiful Indonesian carving from Dr. A. E. Barclay, a gorgeous Brahui woman’s costume from Mrs Mackay, Syrian Bedouin textiles from Capt. Brian Stuart, and material from North-West India, including two Gandhara figures, from Mr. E. Joseph, were among other accessions from Asia.

African accessions included shields and weapons from Kenya and the Anglo-Egyptian Sudan given by Mrs Lightbody and Mrs Gorringe, weapons from Egypt and the Sudan in the Berkeley bequest, a 17th-century Algerian drum from Mrs Grose, Palaeolithic implements from South Africa given by Mr. J. A. Swan, medicine objects from Nigeria given by Mr. G. I. Jones, Ashanti beads and textiles lent by Dr. Meyer Fortes, Ashanti bronze vessels for offerings given by Capt. R. P. Wild, Moroccan pottery lent by Miss Canziani, and a collection of models representing all Ashanti stools except the Golden obtained from Mr. S. C. Sinclair.

A good old collection of West Australian material made by a relative between 1825 and 1850 was given by Miss Coates-Carter. Among general accessions were a fine collection of large-scale maps made by Mr. Bradford, and a gramophone and several records to illustrate the history of music in various parts of the world.

In both years, the Curator gave his one-year course on the ‘Origins of Civilization’ and one-term course on ‘Race, Culture, and Environment;, and in one year gave a short course on Origins to Cadets of the Royal Corps of Signals. Miss Blackwood lectured twice weekly throughout both years; in the first, giving a general survey of the world, and in the second, devoting a term each to Europe, Aboriginal America, and Africa. In the latter two terms of each year she also gave a course of lectures on the prescribed special areas of Malaya and Indonesia, Melanesia, and New Guinea. She also arranged special classes for the Oxford Archaeological Society, and for students about to do field work in Burma. Like the Curator, she assisted research students from various parts of the world as the need arose. Mr. Bradford gave a one-term course on ‘Air Photography and Environmental Studies’. Mr. Turner lectured to the Ashmolean Natural History Society in October 1946, on ‘Native American Contributions to our Food and Industry’.

The Curator and Miss Blackwood examined for the Diploma in Anthropology and acted as judges for the degree of D.Sc.

Among extra-mural activities the Curator continued to serve as Secretary to the Heads of the Science Departments, Miss Blackwood served on the Councils of the Royal Anthropological Institute and of the Folk-lore Society, and represented the Board of the Faculty of Anthropology and Geography and the Royal Anthropological Institute on the Council for the Promotion of Field Studies, while Mr. Bradford served on the Council of the Royal Archaeological Institute.

A specially pleasant event during the year was the visit of the Permanent Council of the International Congress of Anthropological and Ethnological Sciences at Easter time. We received them in the Museum, with a leaflet of welcome explaining the arrangement of the collections, and as this leaflet gives general information about the Museum a copy is enclosed with the report, as well as an account of General Pitt Rivers published by the Curator in the Congress number of Man for July 1946.

During the past two years the Curator also published The Ethics of Dr. Julian Huxley in the 1944 Hibbert Journal, Origins of Civilisation in the Afrasian Dry Zone in Antiquity for June 1945, A Steatite Figure of the K’ang Hsi Period in the Pitt Rivers Museum at Oxford (with Dr. William Cohn) in Man, 1945, 52, a Foreword to Ancient Anodynes by Dr. E. S. Ellis, Heinemann, 1946, Exotic Horse-Brasses in H. S. Richards, Horse-Brass Collections, no. 3, published at Vesey 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, Harrap, 1945, The Waterloo and other Musical Boxes in the Pitt Rivers Museum at Oxford, Museums Journal, February 1946, and a review of the Annual Report of the Board of Regents of the Smithsonian Institution in the Oxford Magazine for 3 May 1945. Miss Blackwood published an obituary of Mary Edith Durham in Man, 1945, 14, Mr. Turner published ‘The Indian’s Role in Brazil’s Progress’ in the Latin American World, XXV, 13, and a review of Man, 1946, 42, of Loram and McIlwraith, The North American Indian To-day, and Mr. Bradford has in progress Siticulosa Apulia, an account of 150 new Neolithic sites discovered in South Italy in 1945, and an edition, with Mr. O. G. S. Crawford, of Discovery from the Air, by the late Major Allen.

About 18,500 people have visited the Museum in the past two years, including many parties of school-children and members of H.M. and Allied Forces.


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