This week’s What’s on the van? comes from Monica Price, Head of Earth Collections.
A story to tell
Each of the millions of different objects in our Museum has a story to tell – what it is, where it is from, who collected it, when and why. All that information is collected together on the specimen’s label, and museum curators look after labels like this just as carefully as they do the specimens themselves.
Some of the labels in the Museum are very old, but the handwriting can be distinctive. Although this label does not say who wrote it, we can tell from the handwriting, the style of number, and the Italian locality, that it was written by an Englishman called William Jervis. He was a geologist who worked at the Museo Industriale Italiano (Italian Industry Museum) in Turin during the second half of the 19th century.
William Jervis wrote books on the rocks and minerals of Italy that are important for ores, building materials and water supplies. He also put together sets of rocks samples to be sold to other museums and universities. He trimmed each one to a neat rectangular shape and gave it a number. On the label, he’d write the number, what the rock was, and exactly where it was collected. Some of his labels are very detailed indeed and show that his samples came from places no longer accessible today. The specimen accompanying this label is one of a set of Sardinian rocks. It comes from San Giovannni mine, near Iglesias, and shows the kind of grey limestone that was found close to the ‘lode’, the vein of lead and zinc ore minerals which was being worked by the miners.
Do you have a collection of geological specimens, or maybe shells, plants or insects? It is always a good idea to do what William Jervis did, put a number on each specimen (maybe using a little paper label), and then write all the information about it on a label. It’s also a good idea to keep that information all together in a book or on a computer so that if a label goes missing, the information is kept safe. Don’t forget to keep a back-up of your computer file though, just in case!