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.
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
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).
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.
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