Into the Woods: The Anthropologist, the Archives and the Historian

Ann Plane

Bird skin, Frank Speck Papers, Box 1, Folder 12, Phillips Library.

Bird skin, Frank Speck Papers, Box 1, Folder 12, Phillips Library.

Most archival work is pretty predictable—the usual mix of letters, sketches, and other paper-based materials. It’s not every day that you page up a box, open up a folder, unfold the notebook in the folder, and find a songbird skin. Throughout my summer as a Malamy Fellow, I found all manner of interesting things while combing through the materials that make up the manuscript collections of Frank G. Speck at the Phillips Library.  The bird skin looked a little the worse for the wear, but there it sat, feathers and all, nestled among field notes, correspondence, photographs, maps, and much more.[1] Read more

Investigations into Chinese Export Lacquerware: Black and Gold, 1700-1850

Maria João Petsica

Dressing table, brought to Salem for William (Billy) Gray (1750-1825), 13300, c. 1800. Courtesy of the Peabody Essex Museum.

Chinese export pieces that feature the black lacquer and gold decoration are commonly designated as Canton lacquer in a clear association with the place from whence they were shipped and believed to be manufactured. Lacquer decoration referred to as Canton lacquer was produced in gold painted decoration or miao-jin. In this technique, the decorative motif was painted in gold, by means of fine brushes, over several layers of black lacquer. Objects of this kind were brought home by merchants and sea captains to furnish their homes or as gifts to family members and friends (Image 1). During the eighteenth and the first half of the nineteenth centuries, a considerable number of lacquered pieces reached Europe and the US due to the trading activities with China. The Peabody Essex Museum has several remarkable examples of this production brought back from Canton (today’s Guangzhou) on the ships belonging to private traders and members of the East India Marine Society. The primary goal of my Ph.D. research is to characterize Chinese export lacquer production from 1700 to 1850 and understand how these objects were created and traded.

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A Closer Look into a Lesser Known Collection: the Nathaniel B. Mansfield Papers

Box 56, folder 1

 

The Nathaniel B. Mansfield Papers, or collection MH 156, is one of the Phillips Library’s recently processed manuscript collections.  A rather large collection consisting of 78 boxes, 2 flat files, and over 60 volumes, the Nathaniel B. Mansfield Papers arrived at the Peabody Museum in the 1950s, and documents the merchant and shipping business of this Salem based merchant, in addition to containing some personal papers.  One of only a handful of manuscript collections at the Phillips Library about trade with West Africa, this collection holds a number of very interesting items.

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