Friday, 20 April 2012

Object Labels

Many of the objects in the Cook-voyage collections at the Pitt Rivers have several labels on them.  Some are large, and visually intrusive, but they contain important information about the objects and their histories since they were collected.  The image below is of the labels which have been applied to one of the barkcloth 'ponchos' belonging to the Tahitian Mourner's costume.

Forster Number - No 9.  Written in the same hand as the 'Catalogue of Curiosities', almost certain to be that of George Forster, these numbers allow us to match objects to the entries in the catalogue.  The entry for the three ponchos reads;

9.Brown        Belonging to the Mourning dress, and put on one over the other, beginning
                     with the white, the red next and the brown overall.
10. Red

The large handwritten label was attached when the collection was still at the Ashmolean Museum, before the ethnographic collections were transferred to the newly-opened Pitt Rivers Museum in 1886. The information on it was complied by Philip Bury Duncan, Keeper of the Ashmolean, Edward Evans, Assistant Keeper, and Museum Assistant George Augustus Rowell.  The Catalogue was lost at this point, not to be 'rediscovered' until 1969, so the information about the costume must have come from other sources, although clearly the correlation between the handwritten number labels and Cook's collection had been made.   Interesting from the conservation point of view is the fact that 'the costume was undressed at the Ashmolean by Dr. Tylor, and Professor Mosely' in 1883 'for the purposes of drying the cloth and attending to the feather cloak, the latter being in very poor condition.'

Labels can tell us more than the written information they contain.  The handwriting, the types of paper they are written on and even where on an object they are applied can tell us more about the biography of an object.