A 19th Century Weapons Collection


A 19th century weapons collection: extract

Weapons in Museums, Galleries and Literature: extract

Extract from King's 'Franks and Ethnography', 1997

(p152- 153)

... the Royal United Services Institution Museum. Founded in 1830 to receive collections of historic and contemporary arms, and scientific material to do with naval and military affairs, the RUSI rapidly became a major repository of ethnographic material, Unfortunately, while initially there were high intentions of publishing catalogues in all sections, few actually appeared and survived, so that much of the collection was not documented. Once the galleries, in Whitehall, had come to be fitted out with exotic arms and armour in the pseudo-baronial style, there was little need for the RUSI to continue to acquire such material. So within thirty years of its foundation, the museum began to de-accession material. In the 1860s Franks [A.W. Franks, British Museum] seems to have acquired a magnificent series of ethnographic items from the RUSI for the Christy Collection; pre-eminent among them is the Hawaiian figure of a dancer (?), described on the registration slip as U(nited) S(ervices) M(useum) No 1'. ... Franks' interest in this museum was maintained by entries in one of his notebooks from the following decade. In this he listed the contents of the galleries and corridors rather briefly, mentioning for instance 'a spear from N(orth) W(est) A(merica)'. Northwest Coast spears for fighting, or harpoons for despatching wounded whales, as they may also be, are exceptionally rare artefacts. What is interesting is that Franks knew the importance of this instrument, made this brief note, came back and drew the spear c1870, and then in 1896 when the RUSI was disbanding its armorial trophies, the Christy Fund acquired the spear for the British Museum.

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