Pipes from the Thames, 10 years on!

salisbury_pipes
Part of the Jarzembowski Collection (LIVNP 2005.24).

This week’s blog entry is a combination of an update on the current Historic England project on one hand, and a nostalgic look back at an ongoing project,  the Jarzemboswki Collection (LIVNP 2005.24), on the other.

Back in 2005, thanks to support from the Worshipful Company of Tobacco Pipe Makers and Tobacco Blenders, the Archive was able to acquire a very substantial collection of clay tobacco pipes from Ed Jarzembowsk and his wife. The vast majority of the fragments had been collected by the couple from the Thames Foreshore from around Blackfriars and Queenhithe, but it also included a large of fragments from Salisbury that were collected following dredging work on the River Avon.

When the pipes came to us each individual pipe had been placed in a paper envelope on which Ed and his wife had painstakingly recorded where the fragment had been found, the date it had been found and any mark that was on it. Not only that, but they had also attempted to identify the maker from that mark, which more often than not was a moulded mark. These envelopes were then placed into a large number of lettuce boxes. This storage system worked fine until it came to transporting it half way across the country to Liverpool. By the time the pipes had reached Liverpool, most of them had jumped out of their envelopes. It was only thanks to the Jarzembowskis’ excellent record keeping that we were able to get the fragments back in to their correct envelope!

lettuce_boxes
One of the many lettuce boxes of pipes.

Clearly priority had to be given to getting these fragments properly marked and bagged. Therefore, this was our first mammoth task and in 2006 the first of a long line of volunteers set about marking, bagging and cataloguing a collection with an estimated 10,000 fragments.

Our position within a university environment enables us to offer training and research opportunities for students from the departments of archaeology, history and archives. Since the NPA employs a comprehensive cataloguing and indexing system that conforms to Museum Documentation Association standards, we are able to provide training for students who wish to seek future employment with the museum and heritage sector.  Large collections, such as the Jarzemboswki’s mean there is plenty of material for them to get their teeth into.  It’s a win-win situation – they get the training and we get some much needed help.

KONICA MINOLTA DIGITAL CAMERA
Our 2006 volunteers hard at work in our old workroom.

Each fragment within the collection has been given a unique accession number and has been carefully bagged.  All of the fragments with stamp marks have been impressed for inclusion in the National Clay Tobacco Pipe Stamp Index, which is another very important project that the Archive is associated with – but that is a whole other story!

Once marked with their accession number and, having had any stamped mark recorded, the full details of that fragment including details of any attribution Ed and his wife were able to make, were logged onto an Excel table.  This table is both sortable and searchable.  Great progress was made during the initial push from our volunteers who managed to fully catalogue over 6,000 of the estimated 10,000 fragments.  We are very pleased to say that many of those initial volunteers have gone on to pursue careers in the museum sector and we like to think that their time spent with the Archive has helped them on their way. Last week, a new set of volunteers started working with us. 

2016_volunteers
Our 2016 volunteers in our posh new labs – well, sadly not really our labs, but we get to use them!

These new volunteers are working on a number of our collections, one of them being the Jarzembowski Collection and it is hoped that this last push will see the catalogue of this group of pipes finally completed.  At that point we’ll be able to upload the catalogue to our website so that it is fully available for researchers.  Yes it has taken nearly 10 years – but sometime things are worth waiting for!

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