|Empty boxes from the Glassby collection|
It might be a bit of a truism that curators need to be good detectives, but there are few better examples than the empty box.
For instance, at the moment staff here are working in the Archaeology Store packing up the Glassby collection* of ancient Egyptian and Near Eastern amulets, scarabs, ushabtis (funerary figurines that were placed in tombs) and other assorted treasures.
In amongst these wonderful objects are a number of empty boxes labelled with exotic descriptions like ‘Amulet of Ptah Soker, an Egyptian God’ and ‘Figure of a Hippopotamus’.
There’s an inevitable sinking feeling that comes with finding these, as the realisation dawns that the hard work of tracking down the missing objects is about to begin. Thankfully, the answer usually turns out to be quite simple – here, some have been given new boxes while others were removed years ago so they could be put on display.
Modern collections management systems, with their ability to track the locations of objects, help no end, but ultimately they rely on the data we put in them. A curator still needs good instincts, patience and the ability to follow clues to solve the mystery of the empty box.
|Egyptian amulet found by Flinders Petrie|
*William J.J. Glassby came to Bedford in 1912 to take up the position of land agent for the Polhill family at Howbury Hall in Renhold. Well known as a ‘seeker of curios’, he kept his collection at the Costin Street Mission Hall, where it was ‘always a source of great interest to visitors’.
Tom Perrett @tjperrett