Wednesday, 13 January 2021

Horn combs

The museum recently (pre-covid) took receipt of a selection of 139 horn combs, acquired by the Worshipful Company of Horners to be accessioned into their collection, which has been cared for by MoDiP since 2010.

Horn has been used since prehistoric times as a cheap, readily available, easily worked material from which essential tools, as well as decorative items, were made. It is considered to be one of nature's plastics because of the way in which it can be moulded with the application of heat and/or pressure. The Horners’ collection provides a comprehensive insight into the use of this material up to the development of the early synthetic plastics which replaced it.

MoDiP’s Documentation Officer first completed the object entry process: listing each comb within the museum’s Accession register, ascribing a unique number and then labelling the objects and finally, producing a searchable catalogue record within MoDiP’s collections database. Once all of the data had been captured, the combs were handed over to me for storage.

After an initial assessment of the size and variation of the objects as well as the shelving space that had been set aside, I ordered some ‘Really Useful’ boxes, matching those already being used to house this particular material. Being made of strong and inert polypropylene, these boxes also stack easily and are transparent so that the contents can be viewed easily. 

Image ref: Preparing the storage boxes in the museum.
Image credit: Katherine Pell


Each box had to be lined with plastazote, a chemically stable, polyethylene foam cushioning material. We buy this in very large sheets and I was able to make use of the museum space, during quiet periods, to spread out all of the equipment I needed to cut it to size (see image above). I typically use a ruler, scalpel and cutting mat for this but am thinking about investing in a thermocutter hot knife tool – it would certainly have made this job a lot easier!

Next, the combs were sorted so that similar types could be stored together. This is advantageous for minimising future handling; if a researcher wanted to look at all of the mourning combs for example, it is much easier to retrieve one box containing them all than to search for and then remove ten different objects from ten different boxes. It is also beneficial to keep similar materials together; several combs contain silver which require regular condition checking - far simpler to achieve if they are all located in the same box and maintaining specific environmental micro-climates becomes much more straightforward too.


Image ref: The combs all sorted into boxes.
Image credit: Katherine Pell



Finally, each box was then divided up into sections with further plastazote being used to separate, support and cushion each comb (see image below). 



Image ref: A box of hair pins, sorted (left) and then stored (right).
Image credit: Katherine Pell


The boxes were then numbered, positioned on a shelf on the roller racking in the store and each comb’s catalogue record updated with a location reference so that they can be identified. The next job is photography, which we hope to begin soon, and then the records will be made available to search online through MoDiP’s website.



Image ref: Boxes numbered and located on a shelf in the store.
Image credit: Katherine Pell


There are some really lovely examples in this collection but my favourites are the painted combs, particularly the bird and the butterfly (see image below). Made in China in the mid twentieth century, they are both translucent horn, shaped specifically to incorporate the beautiful hand painted design.

Image ref: The painted combs.
Image credit: Katherine Pell


All of these objects, along with the rest of the Worshipful Company of Horners’ collection, can be viewed in the museum by request once we are able to re-open.

Katherine Pell
Collections Officer

Tuesday, 5 January 2021

My plastics at home: part 3

Another year, another lockdown so obviously time for another My plastics at home blog!

I was thinking about the last blog we had written in this series where each member of the museum team had chosen a plastics object from home that was important to them in some way. It suddenly occurred to me that there is another object that I use on an almost daily basis that has proven invaluable over the years, but being so familiar I had not recognised its significance until today. It is my trusty travel mug – see image below.

My Aladdin travel mug

My Aladdin travel mug
(image credit: Katherine Pell)


It was purchased for a few pounds at a local discount shop, about sixteen years ago when my first child was born. I heeded the advice given to me by my maternal grandmother that you should get out of the house at least once every day with young children, regardless of the weather. For me, as much as for my daughters, each morning I would pack up the pushchair for an adventure. As well as the nappies, wipes, milk and snacks (once they had started weaning), I always made sure I had my coffee ready to go in this amazing, totally leak-proof cup. Being so impressed by it, I went on to purchase an additional one in blue for my husband.


Mine and his
(image credit: Katherine Pell)

Made of injection moulded polypropylene, the insulated double wall construction is designed with silicone banding running all the way around the exterior for grip, alleviating the need for a handle. The lid has a repeated pattern of two indented circles to assist with screwing and unscrewing and contains two (yes, two) rubber seals that ensure this mug is 100% reliable.



Unwashed mug and lid!

(image credit: Katherine Pell)

Although they are a bit battered now, these mugs are still going strong and have accompanied us on our many travels around the country, as well as the daily (sometimes twice daily) dog walk, the school run and the (pre-covid lockdown) commute to work. By reusing them we do not have to buy a drink whilst out and about; saving us money and reducing our impact on the environment. They have never failed us and I have yet to find their equal despite acquiring many alternatives that, despite claims to the contrary, all end up leaking. Usually in my bag.

Perhaps best of all, my fabulous plastics travel mug reminds me of a stylised stormtrooper! Or is that just me?

Katherine Pell
Collections Officer