Well, we did it. After about four years of focused work, the Peabody Institute collections team has finally completed the inventory project.
This project has been a labor of love (and frustration, and tears, and headaches…) over the years. And I am thrilled to share that the last drawer was inventoried last week!
The project was originally designed back in 2016 to gain full physical and intellectual control over the collection. We knew that the Peabody Institute was home to thousands of items that had not yet been cataloged and were therefore inaccessible to researchers, classes, and tribal partners.
Over the course of the project, we more than doubled the catalog records in our internal database, counted just over 500,000 individual items, and rehoused items from over 2,000 wooden drawers into archival boxes.
I considered linking to all the past blog posts about this project, but honestly, that got ridiculous pretty quickly! Instead, I will direct you here to find everything tagged as part of the reboxing project to learn more about our process.
A massive thank you must go out to everyone who was a part of this incredible project. This includes all Peabody Institute staff – including those who have had to move on over the years – our volunteers, and dozens of work duty students.
Our deepest appreciation also goes our financial supporters – the Oak River Foundation, the Abbot Academy Fund, and Les ’68 and Barbara Callahan for their generosity and support of the Peabody’s goal to improve the intellectual and physical control of the Institute’s collections.
In January, the HVAC system in one of our collection storage areas malfunctioned. Repair work required that the system was turned off for several days. During this time, we monitored the objects for any changes. One vessel caught our eye.
Thanks to Marla’s experience with the collection, she noticed that previously documented spalling due to salt efflorescence was likely developing further (see figure). A quick look at older photographs confirmed that the damage had indeed progressed. The vessel was stored on open shelving and an inspection of the area around the object determined that no fragments had fallen completely off. We decided to rehouse the vessel in a box to buffer it against changes in environment during the current or future failure of the HVAC system.
Since I’ve encountered salt efflorescence a few times, I thought I’d add a bit more information. Porous materials, like bone, ceramic and stone, can absorb salt from various sources. Once inside, salts can be dissolved by moisture in the air through a process called deliquescence. Eventually, the water evaporates and the salt recrystallizes. In very porous objects, the salt crystals form on the surface. In objects where the surface is less porous than the underlying body, recrystallized salt can generate massive forces than can spall or pit the surface (Source: NPS Conserv O Gram 06/05 page 1). In worst case scenarios objects can disintegrate.
As I mentioned in an earlier blog, salts can enter porous objects through groundwater or seawater in buried or submerged contexts (Source: NPS Conserv O Gram 06/05 page 1). They are a major source of salt in archaeological collections such as ours. In the case of ceramics, food and water stored in objects during their pre-burial use life can also leave salt residues (Source: Minnesota Historical Society Page 2). Salts can be introduced to ceramics during manufacture through additives that modify the clay body and through water (Source: Minnesota Historical Society Page 2, Source: Digital Fire). Even clay itself can be salty. When I lived in Arizona, I can remember hearing a potter discuss that they would check their clay by tasting it to make sure it wasn’t too salty.
After ceramic objects are recovered during excavation, salts can continue to be added in archaeological labs and museums. Hydrochloric acid has been used to remove calcium carbonate, an insoluble salt that adheres to ceramics during burial that impedes analysis. An unintended result of this process creates calcium chloride, a soluble salt, which is absorbed into the ceramic matrix (Source: The International Institute for Conservation of Historic and Artistic Works- Studies in Conservation Page 172, Source: NPS Conserv O Gram 06/05 Page 2). I would be highly doubtful of repairs that were done years ago. Without detailed treatment records, who knows what glues were used and what contaminants they might introduce.
Deliquescence and evaporation of soluble salts can be greatly diminished by keeping the storage environment below 60% relative humidity and by reducing humidity and temperature fluctuations (Source: NPS Conserv O Gram 05/06 Page 3). However, there is a continued danger of efflorescence. Display cases and storage shelving made from wood have the potential to release acetic acids. This volatile organic compound has the potential to interact with soluble salts leading to precipitation even in controlled storage environments (Source: ICOM Committee for Conservation Page 640).
There may not be quick or inexpensive solutions to mitigate efflorescence. Our current plans for renovation of Peabody collections spaces call for the replacement of wood drawers and cabinets, but this is expensive. In regards to removing salt from objects, the traditional method is through a desalination wash or soak, wherein the object is immersed in distilled or deionized water until the salt level is reduced. This is a complicated process and shouldn’t be done without involving a conservator. Desalination risks removing important residues and compounds that can reduce the usefulness of the objects for future analysis and weaken the object (Source: NPS Conserv O Gram 05/06 Page 3).
Here at the Peabody we’ve taken steps to remove salt through dry brushing, environmental controls, and monitoring. In the future, we have plans to improve our storage space so that these issues will no longer be a concern.
Contributed by Marla Taylor and John Bergman-McCool
Every museum is full of stories and story-tellers. Our recent work in the inventory process has uncovered an old story that always gets my attention (Marla’s). But, before I begin, I must give credit to Eugene Winter, the Peabody’s late Curator Emeritus, who was a story-teller extraordinaire – I am sharing a shortened version of his memories. (Another time, I will tell you about the time Gene cooked his lunch in an active volcano or walked on a whale. The man was full of stories!)
In 1986, Gene welcomed a man named George McLaughlin into the Peabody. McLaughlin claimed to be creating a handbook on archaeology for the local Boy Scouts and was looking to photograph objects in the Peabody’s collection. As a teacher himself, Gene was happy to encourage this project and made arrangements for McLaughlin to return a couple weeks later to access the collection.
However, McLaughlin instead returned the next day and told the administrative assistant, Betty Steinert, that Gene had authorized him to examine the collection – alone. Over the next three days, McLaughlin helped himself to an unknown number of objects from the collection.
Less than a week later, Gene received a call from security at Yale’s Peabody Museum of Natural History. A man matching McLaughlin’s description had stolen artifacts from a grad student’s work area and ran out of the museum before he could be caught. Because McLaughlin had now crossed state lines, the FBI became involved.
Gene and Betty remembered that McLaughlin had used the Peabody’s phone to call his wife about being late for dinner. This crucial piece of information allowed the FBI to locate McLaughlin’s home. Fortunately, McLaughlin was arrested soon after these incidents and all materials in his possession were seized.
In total, McLaughlin victimized six institutions in New England and stole thousands of artifacts valued at over $800,000 in 1986 ($1.9 million in 2020 dollars). He intermingled the artifacts based on his own system and systematically removed their catalog numbers (often the best clue to their original home). By so drastically removing the objects from their context, it was a challenge to return the objects to their appropriate homes.
McLaughlin had kept his own version of a ledger identifying the objects and where they came from. And fortunately, Gene was able to recognize a dozen or so very specific objects from the Peabody’s collection. The FBI left it up to the victimized institutions to divide the material in McLaughlin’s collection. The Peabody ended up with nearly 1600 objects from McLaughlin.
Ultimately, McLaughlin was sentenced to a three year suspended sentence and four years of probation. He was also fined $10,000 and ordered to pay a small restitution to each institution.
And therein lays the origin of the Peabody’s FBI collection.
Having come across these materials during our inventory and rehousing project it was time for them to be cataloged by myself (John). One challenge confronted us: McLaughlin had removed any identifying numbers applied by the museums and applied stickers with his own numbers. As the objects were cataloged, a careful inspection was made for remnants of original numbers not completely obliterated during the removal process. There were many with tantalizing hints of legible numbers. In the end though, there were just a few objects with numbers clear enough to associate with our museum’s ledger.
The remaining majority of objects needed new numbers. As mentioned above, McLaughlin had organized the objects and transcribed them into a ledger of sorts. His ledger was too general to make a one-to-one comparison with our own museum’s ledger, but it served as the outline of our numbering system. We added our own prefix, indicating that these objects were stolen and returned by the FBI and followed that with the McLaughlin number. In that way the objects will always carry that part of their strange history.
It’s been almost two months now since John and I have been back at the Peabody alternating weeks of work. In order to save time while we are in the Peabody, we are using that time exclusively to inventory drawers and spending our weeks at home updating the database with the drawers we inventoried the previous week. Now that we’ll be back in the Peabody more regularly, our work from home duties have shifted to more database work. In his post from last month’s newsletter, you can see all the hard work John’s been doing at home so now I’d like to share some of the things I’ve been able to accomplish from home so far.
Marla has kept everyone busy with various projects since we started working remotely in March. For me, that included digitizing photographs, creating condition reports for textiles, digitizing ledger books, and photographing site records. In total, while working remotely, I was able to digitize nine boxes of photos, complete 120 condition reports, digitize 1,700 ledger entries, and photograph 354 site records.
The majority of my time working remotely has been spent scanning and editing photographs of various archaeological projects from the collection. The photos I digitized were from archaeological excavations in Massachusetts, Maine, Ohio, Illinois, Kentucky, and Connecticut. Perhaps my favorite photos to work with were the ones from the Ayacucho Archaeological-Botanical Project in Peru. This project, directed by Richard MacNeish, was meant to investigate the origin of agriculture and its relationship to the development of civilization in New World Centers. The Ayacucho Valley was subsequently excavated between 1969 and 1975, which produced the hundreds of images that I’ve been working on. Many of the photos are of cave excavations, others show sweeping views of the Peruvian highlands complete with mountains and wildlife, and there’s the occasional photo of the archaeologists acting silly.
Since we’ve been back at the Peabody, John and I have been working hard to make up for lost time on the inventory project. So far we’ve been making great progress as we’ve been able to inventory over 60 drawers since being back. Empty wooden drawers are once again piling up like crazy!
Working from home for the past few months has been an interesting experience. It’s been great saving so much money on gas and I loved being able to make myself gourmet grilled cheese sandwiches for lunch every day, but I’m very happy to be back working with the artifacts. Hopefully someday soon we’ll all be able to enjoy being back at the Peabody full time!
If you’re in need of some grilled cheese inspiration here is one of my favorites—olive tapenade, roasted red peppers, arugula, and manchego cheese! (I only had pita pockets at the time but I think a nice sourdough would be great)
Nearly $345 million dollars is spent on chocolate for Valentine’s Day each year – that’s about 58 million pounds of chocolate! Holy cacao! Chocolate candy plays such a significant role for this romantic holiday, but did you ever think those very boxes would be used to store artifacts? Currently, I am cataloguing and rehousing artifacts from Tamaulipas, Mexico – a collection from Richard “Scotty” MacNeish’s 1948-1949 Tamaulipas Project. About halfway through the collection I found a sweet surprise – an old chocolate box from Cambridge, MA!
In the Inventory and Rehousing Project, it is common to come across artifacts stored in their original housing material from archaeological recovery in the field. Many of these materials are unique and there is always something new to find! Examples of some of these materials can be found here in an earlier article by Peabody Director, Ryan Wheeler. Like Forrest Gump would say about life being a box of chocolates (pun intended here), the same goes for the Peabody collection – you never know what you’re going to get!
Alongside the chocolate box, I also found a holiday gift box and a greeting card box with artifact information and excavation notes written on the outside cover. The chocolate box was the most intriguing to me, because the product and box were from Massachusetts. Upon looking up the company name on the box, “Handspun Chocolate Co, Cambridge, MA,” I came across Boston’s rich history of chocolate production.
New England candy was king of the American confectionary industry from colonial times through to the 1950s. In 1764, two men from Dorchester, MA named John Hannon and Dr. James Baker began importing cacao beans into the United States and producing chocolate in Dorchester Lower Mills. These two men were the chocolate meisters of Revolutionary America and are known today as the oldest producers of chocolate in the United States. In 1779, John Hannon had traveled to the West Indies and never returned. As a result, Dr. James Baker became the “King of Cocoa” with the Baker Chocolate Company.
As sugar refineries began to pop up throughout New England, the candy industry reached a new height with Oliver R. Chase’s machine invention of a chalk-like candy, known today as Necco wafers. White chocolate was later created by Frederick Herbert of Hebert Candies in Shrewsbury, MA. Another local creation occurred in 1930 at the Toll House Inn in Whiteman, MA. An accidental invention, Ruth Wakefield added cut up pieces of a semisweet, chocolate bar, in hopes of melting the chocolate into the dough of her baked cookies. The chocolate kept its shape and just like that – the chocolate chip cookie was born! (Fun Fact: The chocolate chip cookie is the official cookie of the State of Massachusetts.) Nestle began selling chocolate chips in 1939.
By the 1940s, candy companies began consolidating into two large companies – Daggett Chocolates and New England Confectionary Company (NECCO). The latter still survives today, but is no longer locally owned. As of 2018, NECCO was the oldest operating candy company, celebrating 153 years of their most popular “sweethearts” candy. However, by July 2018, the company closed and announced their plans to sell everything to the Spangler Candy Company in the fall. Spangler Candy produces Dum Dum lollipops, Necco Wafers, and Circus Peanuts. In 2019, Spangler announced it would not be producing conversation hearts, as there was not enough time to meet the demand of sweethearts for Valentine’s Day. Typically it took NECCO 11 months to produce 8 billion sweethearts just to be sold for 6 weeks out of the year for Valentine’s Day. Although they were gone for 2019, the sweethearts are back for Valentine’s Day 2020! They are in limited supply at select retailers and – believe it or not – many are missing their signature sayings due to equipment printing problems!
The Daggett Chocolate Company is the lesser known of the two candy companies. Fred L. Daggett began his business in 1892 with several factories located around the city of Boston. Daggett later concentrated his production plant in Cambridge in 1925. Daggett Chocolates produced more than 40 brands of chocolate as well as strawberry fillings for their chocolates. The company also made an impact in the soda and ice cream industries, supplying syrups and crushed fruit to manufacturers. As a result, ice cream and candy were connected and Boston became the first place to mix candy into ice cream.
Looking back at the chocolate box I had found in the Peabody collection, I had searched the company name and found that the company was bought out by Daggett Chocolates along with 30 other small chocolate companies by the 1950s.
The sugar industry reached its peak in the 1950s. By this time, the Boston metro area boasted over 140 confectionaries and factories, with the main street of Cambridge, MA as the epicenter for production – known as “Confectioners Row.” Some of our favorite candy treats including Necco wafers and sweethearts, Sugar Daddies, Charleston Chews, and Junior Mints were produced on this very street. For over a century, the smell of chocolate could be found along the streets of Boston. Chocolate was in the air – literally.
After the 1950s, the candy industry in Boston took a turn. As more candy companies such as Hershey’s, Nestle, and Mars took to the world stage, smaller brands were left behind. The box chocolate dynasty was reaching an end as candy bars began to take over store shelves. The candy epicenter soon waned and Confectioner’s Row became an ordinary main street. Box chocolate giant, Schrafft’s also closed in Charlestown, MA (that’s right, the building you can see from I-93 entering Boston, bearing the Schrafft’s name in red along with a clock tower, was in fact an old chocolate factory.)
Although Boston is no longer candy land today, you can still find candy makers throughout New England sharing their old-fashioned homemade treats and iconic candy classics. One candy store still in operation today is the Spindler Confections shop in North Cambridge, MA. This shop continues to hand make all of their candy and chocolate on site. They even have a candy museum! Check it out here! As for my sweet find in the Peabody collection – how could a box of chocolates send me down a rabbit hole of Boston’s sweet-toothed past? I was surprised that a simple (and chocolate-less), chocolate box could do so much.
To explore more chocolate history click here, here, and here! Enjoy your sweet finds!
I have always thought of the Peabody’s collections storage as one of those sliding tile puzzles. You have to keep shifting pieces that look like they are in the right place in order to end up with the correct completed final image. Sometimes it seems never ending, but each shift makes the space more organized, cleaner, and more efficient.
This sliding puzzle is about as complicated as our collections storage!
A few months ago, I was faced with trying to find space for a couple dozen boxes that we agreed to store temporarily (maybe a year or so). These objects needed discrete storage in a place that would not be disturbed. This was a challenge, but one worth tackling. After some thought, Rachel (Collections Assistant) came up with the idea of moving our large groundstone collection – that storage was discrete and in an area of the room that we rarely needed to interact with. Perfect.
You may be asking yourself, What is a large groundstone? Groundstone objects are stone tools that are formed by grinding and pecking away the larger stone into the desired shape. These can include axe heads, portable petroglyphs, weights, as well as manos and metates. The largest of these are often the metates, or grinding stones, that were used to prepare wheat and corn flour. Some of them are easily 40+ pounds!
The first task was dismantling the previous storage bays – a fun day with power drills and a sawzall. Then I created a plan to install new shelving inside the bays that would be sturdy enough to support all the weight we were moving. The photos may just look like shelves, but I am proud of all the precise measuring, leveling, and cutting with a circular saw and jigsaw that went into this project. When we installed the shelves, everything fit perfectly.
To move the 183 objects we had to load everything onto trays and wheel them across the storage space – some were much too heavy to carry that distance. A quick reinventory assigned everything a new storage location and the process was complete. All told, this move took about a week.
I can’t pretend for a second that I did this project alone – massive thanks and credit to Rachel, Emily, John, and Ryan for their insights, object moving abilities, and skills with power tools!
We have had a tremendous interest in our old storage drawers in the last few months. As collections were rehoused in new cartons, we were able to give away over 100 drawers!
Our last blog featured drawers that underwent cosmetic changes, such as being repainted and stained as well as drawers repurposed into storage, furniture, and a jewelry organizer. You can see these projects here.
We are pleased to share that the Peabody Collection Team has reached their end-of-year goal in rehousing and inventorying 1,444 wooden drawers, which is about 67% of the Peabody’s collection. This means staff is about two-thirds of the way through the entire inventory of the Peabody’s collections!
The vast majority of the old drawers have now found new homes and purposes with many friends of the Peabody. We not only thank you all for your interest and for taking these drawers, but for giving these drawers a new life.
This month’s feature of drawers covers projects both big and small. Our first feature uses the drawers as wedding decorations, creating a photo capture area for guests to take photos and leave a message for the celebrating couple.
Another project is tea trays – a great DIY gift idea for family and friends this holiday season!
An example of one of the larger-scale projects for these drawers is a studio storage wall. This unique idea is fashionable as it is functional – doubling as both a storage space and accent wall for this home studio.
We have also received a lot of interest and support from our fellow Phillips Academy faculty and staff. Some of our wooden drawers have been used for material at the new Maker’s Space for students at the Oliver Wendell Holmes Library on campus. Keep an eye out for our next blog update showcasing more of these drawer projects! If you have repurposed some of the Peabody drawers, we would love to see your creations! Please share your photos with us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
As some of you blog may know, the biggest project currently being done at the Peabody is the complete inventory of all of our collections. In previous blog entries (these can be read here and here), we have discussed the process, including the fact that we move the artifacts from the original wood storage drawers to custom made gray Hollinger boxes-generously supported by the Abbot Academy Fund. When we received the shipments of these boxes, they were stored off-site in two storage units that the Peabody had rented in town. These two storage units perfectly held all of our boxes and everything has been right in the world.
A few weeks ago, I was up in the attic of the Peabody doing a pest inspection with Waltham Services and I had an idea. I went to my supervisor Marla Taylor and I said, “Do you know what would be an interesting idea? If we rearranged what is up in the attic, closed out both storage unit accounts and moved the rest of the boxes up into the attic.” By this point in time, the first of our two storage units was getting pretty empty, with maybe 15-20 large boxes remaining inside. I told Marla that if this idea worked out, it would benefit the Peabody in two major ways (and possibly more, but these are the big ones).
First of all, we wouldn’t have to pay the monthly fee for storage units anymore. This would ultimately save the Peabody a chunk of change every fiscal year, and who doesn’t want to save money wherever they can? When we had the storage units, we used to have to reserve a rally wagon (an SUV owned by Phillips Academy that only certified drivers can operate) and drive over to the storage unit. With that method we could only fit a maximum of six boxes (each containing 12 gray boxes) into the back of the SUV. Additionally, we would save on the cost of renting the rally wagons, which we have been using more frequently lately since we have three people working on the inventory.
Second, anytime we needed more gray boxes for the inventory, we would be able to just walk upstairs to the attic and grab them. The only way this idea wouldn’t work was if the boxes wouldn’t fit in the attic. Marla thought about this idea for a minute and we had a look around the attic to see if this was feasible. After a few minutes with a measuring tape, she said she thought that this idea was great and had serious potential to work. This response was of no surprise to me, because it is well known that I only have good ideas. I received yet another gold star for my many efforts and great ideas.
We then strategized how to get the Peabody ready for the influx of these boxes of boxes. First, we needed to empty the first storage unit. This involved John and Emily making multiple runs to the unit while Marla, Emma and I unpacked the gray boxes and organized them around the basement. All of these gray boxes managed to fit in various places downstairs. This was great! It meant the attic wouldn’t have to house anything but the second unit. A week before the big move, we set about cleaning the attic to make as much space as possibly for the contents of the final storage unit. With the help of work duty students, Marla, Emma, Emily and John, the attic was cleaned and looked like a barren wasteland, but a beautiful one that was about to be filled with boxes.
Finally, we rented a U-Haul truck and set to work. We had set aside an entire day to facilitate this move. Marla and John drove the truck to the storage unit and filled it with as many boxes as possible. When they pulled up outside the Peabody, all hands were on deck. We got all of the boxes into the lobby and started carrying them up to the second floor landing. Marla and John left to go fill the truck with a second load. Once all of the boxes were up on the second floor, Emily, Emma and I started the move to the attic. This part seemed like it was going to be difficult because the attic stairs are very narrow and the large boxes are very wide. But then, I had the BRILLIANT idea to use the stairs as a ramp and literally push the boxes up the stairs. This made the operation go so much faster than originally anticipated.
When all was finally said and done, this move that we expected to take all day (and possibly longer) was accomplished in THREE HOURS. GO TEAM – these boxes were MEANT to go into this attic. We were exhausted, but totally deserving of the Indian Buffet lunch we decided to enjoy. The day was a huge success for the Peabody Collections team. Now the attic looks beautiful and it will be much easier for us to restock on boxes when we need them.
Have you ever heard of the Abbot Academy Fund? (if you said “yes” from one of our earlier blog posts – Gold Star!) If not, please allow me to introduce them.
One of the first educational institutions in New England founded for girls and women, Abbot Academy opened its doors in 1829 and flourished until Abbot Academy and Phillips Academy merged on June 28, 1973. At that point, the Abbot Academy Fund (AAF) was established with $1 million from the Academy’s unrestricted funds. The fund operates as an internal foundation with its own board of directors. Its goal is to preserve the history, standards, tradition, and name of Abbot Academy by funding new educational ventures at the combined school.
The Abbot Academy Fund has been a foundational supporter of the Peabody Institute, especially in recent years. With grants going back to 1990, the AAF has given the Peabody over $250,000! I was recently reminded of this incredible generosity when the AAF once again provided support to complete the transcription of the Peabody’s original accession ledgers.
Looking back over all the successful grants, the AAF has supported a real variety of projects at the Peabody – everything from exhibition support to object conservation to equipment purchase to expeditionary learning trips. However, the largest portion of their patronage has gone to support cataloging and rehousing the collection. They provided funds to purchase a server in 2014 to allow for an online catalog. And again in 2016-2018 to acquire the boxes needed to rehouse the artifacts and gain physical control over the collection. All told, the AAF has awarded us over $100,000 in the last ten years!
Basically, the Peabody Institute would not look or operate the way it does now without the incredible support from the Abbot Academy Fund. I can’t thank them enough!
So much work at the Peabody is brought to you bya grant from the Abbot Academy Fund, continuing Abbot’s tradition of boldness, innovation, and caring.
My name is Emily and I have been working as the new Inventory Specialist at the Peabody Institute for about a month now. My job is to assist with the current inventory and rehousing project. My day to day work consists of moving artifacts from their old wooden storage drawers into new archival boxes which better preserve the objects.
I grew up in a small town called Andover, New York (I know, how ironic) before moving to Buffalo to pursue my Bachelor’s degree in Anthropology. From there, I spent a year in Florence, Italy doing coursework for my MA in Museum Studies which I completed this past August. During my time in Italy, I learned collections care and management from some of the most famous museums in the world including the Uffizi Gallery and the Vatican Museum. This is only my first position working in a museum but I have completed museum internships back home in Buffalo as well as in Santa Fe, New Mexico.
I have always been passionate about archaeology and indigenous studies so I am excited to be in a position where I can apply my knowledge of both and continue to learn more. Even though I have only been here a few weeks, I have learned so much already. It is amazing to be able to work with and handle objects every day which are hundreds of years old and come from all over the continent. Objects that I have been studying for the past five years are now a part of my everyday life and it is truly such a rewarding experience.
Overall I am very excited to be in this position and can’t wait to see what else I will learn and do during my time at the Peabody!