Charles Seligman Beatrice Blackwood PRM Museum John Hutton Henry Balfour Edward Tylor Augustus Fox

Geographical statistics regarding the Pitt Rivers Museum's collections up to 1945 - The most common European collection - items from the UK

[article ID:229]

One of the interesting countries as far as the statistics are concerned is the UK which so dominates the collections. It is unexpected that a museum which supposedly celebrates world wide cultures and all times from the remotest archaeological past to the present in fact concentrates so much on Europe and particularly the UK and also on archaeological objects, especially stone tools. These unlikely facts are illustrated here with some charts etc:

Firstly the dominant feature of the European collections is the UK collections with the English collection being most numerous:

In other words, over three-quarters of all European objects in the PRM up to 1945 were from three European countries, France, Italy and most importantly the UK.

To show the dominance of the English collections in the European collections and the UK collections globally:

In case anyone thinks that this is an aberration of the collections prior to 1945 here is the current position:

From which it can be seen that the English collections have declined slightly as a percentage but the UK collections have actually increased proportionally after 1945.

The pattern of acquisition is very similar for the UK and for English objects, the global position is as follows:

Both the UK and English collections received most objects in the 1880s (probably mostly from the founding collection) but then peaked again a decade earlier than the global collections (in the 1920s rather than the 1930s).

As to the division of overall collections into archaeological and ethnographic objects, the proportions of the UK and English collections are identical:

Both the UK and English collections are much richer in archaeological items than the global collections, with relatively few objects which are not clearly archaeological or ethnographic and with a slightly smaller percentage of ethnographic objects. Just under a third of the English archaeological objects came from the founding collection.

English archaeological items account for a whacking 38 per cent of all European archaeological items accessioned up to 1945, 20 per cent of all archaeological items obtained throughout the world by 1946, and 9 per cent of all the object obtained by the PRM up to end of 1945 (that is, nearly one in every ten objects acquired by 1946 was an English archaeological item).

Note of course, that these items are part of the Balfour and Pitt Rivers' donations, and are not necessarily all collected in the field by them

As mentioned before not only do the UK and specifically England dominate the European collections but also archaeological items and specifically stone tools:

Just one collector dominates the European collections - the founding collection of the museum from Augustus Henry Lane Fox Pitt Rivers:

In other words, one in every four European objects is an object which was part of the founding collection (NOT field collected by Pitt Rivers). The same percentage is true of the UK collections, that is one in every four UK object up to 1945 was part of the founding collection, and of the English collections:

We presume it will be obvious that in each case the finer geographical delination is included in the larger that is the part of the founding collection that is from England also forms part of the UK collections and thus form part of overall European Pitt Rivers collections.

As to Pitt Rivers as a field collector: Pitt Rivers at least potentially field collected 4447 European objects, 4055 UK objects (part of 4447 obviously) and 3948 English objects (part of 4447 and 4055 obviously):

By which it can be seen that at least there is a possibility that Pitt Rivers personally collected one in every 5 English object, and just over one in every 10 European object up to 1945.

Henry Balfour was also an important European collector:

ESRC 'Relational Museum'

October 2003

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The financial support of this project by the ESRC is gratefully acknowledged.