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Birmingham Museum Trust’s Western Africa Collection A Summary The total number of objects in Birmingham Museums Trust’s Western African collection is 437. This includes 265 items from Nigeria. There were two objects found in the records that could possibly have come from the city of Benin. They... Read more Birmingham Museum Trust’s Western Africa Collection
The total number of objects in Birmingham Museums Trust’s Western African collection is 437. This includes 265 items from Nigeria.
There were two objects found in the records that could possibly have come from the city of Benin. They were Bronze Charms (1994A1 and 1994A2). However these objects could have originated in the country of Benin, the records are unclear.
Ibeji Female Figure (1965A218) is an example of an object that came from the area around Benin City and could possibly have ties to the city. There is other material in the collection whose origins are similarly ambiguous.
The collection is made up of textiles, jewelry, cooking utensils, musical instruments, clothing, basketry, some tools and weapons and some metal objects that were used as currency.
There are also 40 objects marked ‘ceremonial.’ These are masks and headdresses, figures made from brass and carved from wood and paddles used in dances and ceremonies.
Whilst there are some objects donated by other museums and some were purchased in a sale at Christie’s, most of the collection was donated by private citizens.
Major Donors and Number of Objects donated
Percy Amaury Talbot – Donated 54 objects in 1922 (see bio below)
Ms Irena Buck (a Christian teacher in Nigeria between 1956 and 1962) – Donated 16 objects donated in 1989. Mostly currency and carved figures.
Mrs Jane Goodwin (a Nurse for 10 years in Nigeria. Her items were collected in the late 1940’s from the Eastern Province and Kano) – Donated 9 objects in 1988 and 6 in 2002. Mostly food containers and carvings.
M J Laddell - 7 brass figures made by ‘natives’ for his Aunt who was married to a Government official in Nigeria in the early 1920’s. Donated in 1980
Mrs Joy Kimpton (her father collected the objects on the Gold Coast, circa 1916) – Donated 14 objects in 1986. Mostly basketry.
Mrs E G Robert (a Missionary in Sierra Leone) – Donated 65 objects, mostly textiles and basketry in 1977.
The Methodist Missionary Society – Donated 19 objects in 1956. Jewellery, ceremonial items and musical instruments.
Tamworth Castle Museum – Donated 26 objects in 1989. Mostly ceremonial items and objects used for working textiles.
Purchases from Auction Houses
Christie's South Kensington (in 1988) 1988A217, 1988A74, 1988A64, 1988A65, 1988A66, 1988A67, 1988A68, 1988A69, 1988A71, 1988A72, 1988A73
Sotheby's (in 1953) 1953A647, 1953A648
Information on some Christie’s Purchases: see folder 1988A64-A69 ‘African material from the Rene and Mercedes Lavigne collection sale at Christie’s, 24th March 1988
Object Accession Numbers of Donors
Tamworth Castle Museum
1989A165, 1989A166, 1989A167, 1989A168, 1989A170, 1989A172, 1989A174, 1989A179, 1989A180, 1989A186, 1989A187, 1989A190, 1989A216.1, 1989A216.2, 1989A216.3, 1989A171, 1989A173, 1989A177, 1989A181, 1989A182, 1989A183, 1989A184, 1989A185, 1989A188, 1989A189, 1989A195
1992A436, 1992A435, 1992A434, 1992A432, 1992A433, 1992A437, 1992A438, 1992A439, 1992A440, 1992A441, 1992A442, 1992A443, 1992A444, 1992A445, 1992A446, 1992A447
1988A165, 1988A204, 1988A205, 1988A206, 1988A207, 1988A208, 1988A209, 1988A210, 1988A211, 2002A59, 2002A60, 2002A61, 2002A62, 2002A63, 2002A64
M J Laddell
1980A28, 1980A27, 1980A29, 1980A30, 1980A31, 1980A32, 1980A33
1986A86, 1986A87, 1987A292, 1987A293, 1987A294, 1987A295, 1987A296, 1987A297, 1987A298, 1987A299, 1987A300, 1987A301, 1987A302, 1987A303
E G Robert
1977A197 to 1977A236
Methodist Missionary Society
1977A118, 1960A138, 1960A139, 1960A140, 1960A145, 1960A146, 1960A147, 1960A148, 1960A149, 1960A152, 1960A153, 1960A154, 1960A155, 1960A171, 1960A167
Note: A large number of textiles were acquired in 2002 by Birmingham Central Museum as a purchase or collected by the Curator of World Cultures as part of his fieldwork. These are modern textiles made in the region.
Percy Amaury Talbot (1877-1945)
Included below is a short biography of Percy Amaury Talbot, one of the best known ‘Africanists’ of the time. He is a good example of the kind of person making donations of African objects to museums in the early part of the twentieth century and whilst none of his donations are recorded as such, is the best place to start when searching for objects taken from Benin City in 1897.
He gave 54 items to Birmingham Museum on 26th August 1922.
Talbot was born in June 1877; he was educated at University College, Oxford. He often brought his wife and her sister on his travels with him and after his wife died in 1916 he married her sister in 1919.
An expert surveyor, he served as assistant commissioner on the Anglo-Liberian boundary commission (1902-3), took part in Alexander Gosling’s expedition to Lake Chad (1904-5) and the expedition to the North Cameroons and French Central Africa (1910-11). He was appointed Assistant District Commissioner of Southern Nigeria in 1905 and was promoted to District Commissioner in 1911. In 1921, he was appointed Resident in Benin at a time of great unrest and also seconded as a Census Commissioner. He became the first recipient of the African Society’s silver medal in 1923 as a tribute to his outstanding service.
He dispersed his extensive ethnographical collections between various museums; the British Museum, the Pitt Rivers Museum in Oxford and Birmingham Museum. He also had a collection of over 300 plants that were at the time new to science.
Talbot wrote extensively on southern Nigeria, including his governmental experiences. He focused on the relationships between men and women in their societies and the characteristics of water-spirits among the Ekoi and their neighbours. He retired in 1931 and he died in Cheltenham in 1946.
Talbot mainly acquired items as gifts received in the course of duty, although he did seek out objects that were of religious significance. In the early 1900’s when objects thought of as ‘pagan idols’ were being burnt, Talbot’s position allowed him to preserve a wide variety of ceremonial objects, as well jars and bowels acquired cheaply in market places.
‘In the Shadow of the Bush, a story of the Ekoi of Southern Nigeria’ 1912
‘Catalogue of Talbot’s Nigerian Plants, British Museum’ 1913
‘Life in Southern Nigeria. The Magic, Beliefs and Customs of the Ibibio tribe of Southern Nigeria’ 1923
‘The Peoples of Southern Nigeria’ 1926
‘Some Nigerian Fertility Cults’ 1927
‘Tribes of the Niger Delta’ 1932
He contributed the survey chapters to: Alexander Boyd’s ‘From the Niger to the Nile’ 1907.
His first wife wrote ‘Woman’s Mysteries of a Primitive People’ 1915