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

What are field collectors?

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The Pitt Rivers Museum distinguishes between those collectors who collected objects themselves whilst in the field (that is during archaeology or anthropology fieldwork, or collected when travelling or working abroad etc) and those people who possessed collections but did not collect in the field. This category therefore does not include 'secondary collectors': that is, those collectors who amassed collections via auction houses, dealers or field collectors.

Methodology of preparing tables:

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Before any work could begin on preparing the field collector tables the whole of the Museum's object database field collector field had to be cleaned, new names added to the field, some names removed and uniformity between entries ensured. This is because there had been great inconsistency in the way entries had been made in this field over time since computerisation first started at the PRM in the mid 1980s. As there were nearly 200,000 entries on objects prm (the Museum's database) at that time [there are now over 200,000] this work took a very good deal of time. However the effort expended gave excellent value to the PRM collections management task as a whole as, for the first time, both the 'Field collector' information and [to a lesser extent] the 'Others Owners' and 'PRM source' fields are clean and the data reliable.

Every field collector in the database was identified and checked to see whether it was possible that the items associated with the collector could have been collected before 1945. If there was a possibility then the collector's name was added to the database. For most collectors we only have a 'collected by [date of accession usually]' date rather than a specific date. The percentage of definite pre-1945 collectors is very high.

Once all the names of possible pre-1945 collectors had been identified, the total number of objects relating to the collector was identified (in some instances this might have included post 1945 material); and the countries in which the objects were collected were listed. The next stage was to provide biographical information for as many collectors as was possible including information about career and connections but also often provided new information which could be added to the objects database (such as when the collector was in a specific country), or the full form of the person's name. In other words the objects database continued to be augmented throughout the 6 months that it took to prepare the information in the database and the database and statistics are merely the tip of the iceberg of the work that has had to happen to prepare this data. Approximately 2,000 new biographical records were created on the Museum's internal biographies file during this process, immeasurably improving this collections management resource.

Once as much biographical information as possible had been amassed (principally via the web) and added to the tables some overall statistics were prepared though it must be recognized that there are lots of problems with these statistics as with all statistics prepared by this ESRC project. These problems really occur because of the arbitariness of the way in which information is available about collectors (that is the researcher has control over the information that they retrieve, but cannot control the overall level of information that is available about any one person). This means that any conclusions that can be drawn; for example, about which types of careers tend to be associated with the field collection of objects ; is necessarily circumscribed by the fact that we can only know that the figures for people in a certain career are a minimum figure and possibly totally inaccurate. This problem is exacerbated when comparisons are made between different careers (or clubs or societies etc). Such caveats also affect the database of all individuals associated with the Museum on this website.

[This graph was produced by the DCF Cataloguing Team during the DCF first project, however it shows that there was a significant decrease in the number of new accessions post 1950]

Number of possible field collectors whose objects, collected prior to 1945, were donated to the PRM

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There are a total of 3,378 individuals associated with the PRM up to 1945 who might have been field collectors (72.3 per cent of all the individuals).

It is apparent from this that a surprising amount of biographical data is available for this fairly random selection of people. Of course many of the field collectors are people of note (famous as nineteenth century explorers for example) and others are likely to have formal biographical information retained about them because they served in the Armed Forces, but others are deeply obscure and it is a testament to the usefulness of the web as a research tool now that so much information about so many people was obtainable with relatively little problem.

This biographical information will be extremely useful for museum researchers in the future (whether from inside the institution or within) and is already proving very useful for other Oxford University museums with whom we have shared the data and who have donations from many of the same collectors.

Which field collectors collected the most objects given to the Pitt Rivers Museum?

The following are the top 20 field collectors with the largest number of collected objects in the PRM (given in descending order):

Field collectors by size of collections up to 1945


Name of field collector

Size of collection


Henry Balfour



Ernest Westlake



Beatrice Blackwood



Anthony John Arkell



Louis Seymour Bazett Leakey



Francis Llewellyn Griffith



Mervyn David Waldegrave Jeffreys



Charles Gabriel Seligman / Brenda Seligman



Augustus Henry Lane Fox Pitt Rivers



Alexander Montgomerie Bell



John Henry Hutton



James Philip Mills



John V. Cook



Richard Carnac Temple



Dorothy Anne Elizabeth Garrod



Basil Hall Chamberlain



James A. Swan



Robert Powley Wild



Estella Louisa Michaela Canziani



Thomas Nelson Annandale [Walter William Skeat expedition] / expedition with Herbert Christopher Robinson


More information about these field collectors

How many objects did each field collector collect (in ranges)

Different careers during which field collectors have collected:

It should be made clear that even were fairly full biographical information is available for the specific field collector this does not mean that specific types of information is necessarily available - not all Who was Who entries list careers or education but particularly many entries do not list all the clubs and societies to which an individual belongs. For both this and the following set of statistics therefore these numbers should be considered minimums rather than maximums. In addition, many collectors did not have a single career which led to their collection but several for example a 'Religious' person may also have been an Amateur Archaeologist, a member of the armed services might also have served in the Colonial Services etc so these are often double counted.

Because fuller biographical information is only available for a third of the field collectors, these statistics should be taken with more than a pinch of salt, they do not by any means represent even the minimum number of people who actually had this career (and was a field collector), the ratios between each profession is also affected by the fact that people in certain professions (for example, the armed forces or academia) are more likely to have biographical information officially recorded (and therefore retrievable via the web). However some limited interest can be taken from the fact[s]:

that there is a far greater number of archaeologists and amateur archaeologists than there are anthropologists (and amateur anthropologists);

that more Army officers collected material than Naval officers (that we know about),

that almost as many natural historians as anthropologists collected material;.

It is not unexpected that second as collectors only to archaeologists are people working in the Colonial Services and that there are more colonial servants that entire members of the Armed Forces. The number of missionaries and other religious workers is also significant.

Colonial Service: [Includes diplomats and colonial forestry workers] 513

Armed forces:

RN - 148 [NB I have included in this some men who were Merchant Navy or sailors]

Army - 259

Military [that is, it is not clear from their rank which service they belonged to] - 63

Academic :

Anthropologists - 240 (of which 48 were deemed to be 'amateur')

Archaeologists - 544 (of which 312 were deemed to be 'amateur')

Natural historians [including geologists, botanists etc]: 230 

Other - 152 [excludes anthropologists, archaeologists and natural historians]

Religious : 300 of which 172 were probably Missionaries

Travellers: 209

Antiquarians : 75

Medics : 164

Museum Professionals: 206

Note that for anthropologists and archaeologists amateurs as well as professionals are counted in these categories. In fact it is questionable whether there was such a thing as a professional anthropologist or archaeologist before 1900. Other amateurs (eg amateur naturalists) have been included under other headings but they are probably not as significant as the number s of amateur anthropologists and particularly amateur archaeologists.

Different types of connections that may have led collections to be given to PRM

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Educated at Oxford University:

Oxford University is often said to be preferred as a university because of the networking advantages it allows in later life. Assuming that there is at least an element of truth in this we checked, as far as is possible using web biographies and research on diploma students by Chris Wingfield to identify those collectors with an Oxford University education. Note however that these figures are definitely underestimates:


These results do not seem tremendously significant, one would expect that people who knew of an institution (and one would expect Oxford students to know of the Pitt Rivers Museum) to be more likely to donate or collect for that institution, given this natural bias the number of Oxford University students against either everyone for whom we have a biography (or all entries) does not seem very great.

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Living in Oxford

There are a greater number of people who were themselves based in Oxford for at least part of their lives or else whose objects were donated via an Oxford resident. In the following pie charts these are shown against the total number of entries [3,400] and also against the total number of entries that have any biographical information at all [2,304]. In each case the percentages are almost the same with approximately a third of all field collectors having lived in Oxford at least for part of their lives or the objects they collected having come via an Oxford resident. This figure does seem to be to be significant though hardly surprising. As with Oxford University students (all of whom are classed in our statistics as having been Oxford based) you would expect people who know of the Pitt Rivers Museum because they live nearby to be more likely to collect objects or donate them to the Museum than people who live further away.

Please note when preparing these statistics we did not double count between Oxford based field collectors and Oxford based donors. In many cases of course people are both collectors and donors but in all these instances we counted them only once, as collector. Thus the final graph shows that about a third of all field collector entries in our tables have Oxford connections.

Clubs and Societies

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Another way in which individuals (such as field collector swho happened to give to this museum) can be linked is via clubs, societies and professional associations. While compiling biographical information we have attempted to obtain as much information as possible about membership of such institutions. Sources such as KnowUK often include such information (as it is included in Who was Who entries), other sources of biographical information do not. Such information is therefore extremely patchy. Any numbers given below should therefore be assumed to be the minimum number of field collectors that belonged.

Obviously, as regards the inclusion of the Athenaeum in this list (the only 'men's only club' to be included) many of the field collectors belonged to a variety of such institutions but the Athenaeum seems to have been the one more PRM related individuals belonged to.

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