Glass negatives, digitisation, and ‘The πιθηκος’

After I finished processing the nitrate film negatives which I talked about in my last post, I moved on to the twenty-four negative booklets (albums) and catalogued them to file level. I also processed two boxes of glass negatives which also form part of the ‘Photographs and collected postcards series’ (PEN 7). These two boxes contain a total of twenty-six glass negatives, most possible gelatin dry plate negatives, which measure 125mm x 175mm. These plates show museum objects, mostly from Knossos, and drawings from Tel el-Amarna.

Photograph of a glass plate negative showing a restoration drawing by E. Gilliéron of the “Captain of the Blacks’ fresco in the House of the Frescos, Knossos [PEN 7/5/26/6]. Copyright: British School at Athens.

Gelatin dry plate negatives replaced collodion glass plate negatives at the end of the 19th century and were extensively used during the beginning of the 20th century until they were replaced by lighter nitrate film negatives. Like the latter, glass negatives are very fragile: they are heavy and subject to breakage, chipping, fractures and delamination of the gelatin image-carrying layer. This type of plate is also vulnerable to oxidative deterioration, which appears as fading, yellowing, and silver mirroring. To prevent deterioration, the plates, together with the nitrate film negatives and photographs, are stored in a cool and dry environment in the Father Edward Bader Photographic Archive Room at the BSA.

Example of the “silver mirroring” effect on one of the glass plate negatives within the collection.

The next task to be done to complete the PEN 7 series was to catalogue the six negative index books, created by John Pendlebury, which refer to the negatives in the albums, and are organised according to the same geographical areas associated with trips around Greece and other Mediterranean countries, as well as England.

The entries for the negatives and negative indexes were the last few needed to complete the Pendlebury catalogue! Therefore, over the last week, I have been selecting and organising  the materials which still need to be digitised. They are the following three series: “Excavation records for excavations in Crete” (PEN 4), “Material relating to the death of John Pendlebury” (PEN 5), and “Collected items relating to the Pendlebury family” (PEN 6).

Preparing these materials for digitisation has given me the opportunity to examine pieces I hadn’t seen yet, such as the papers contained in series PEN 6, which Madelin Evans catalogued before me. This series contains some very interesting documents relating to John’s childhood, education, and early years in Greece including essays about ancient Greek philosophers written by John between 1918 and 1923, a poem titled ´The πιθηκος´, written by John in a mixture of English and Greek and sent to his father whilst he was studying at Winchester College, and a hand-drawn plan of Tanagra (Greece), made by John in the spring of 1923.

School work by John Pendlebury about ancient Greek philosophers [PEN 6/1/5]. Copyright: British School at Athens.
‘The πιθηκος’ (The apes). Poem written by John Pendlebury in February 1919 [PEN 6/1/4]. Copyright: British School at Athens.
Detail of a hand-drawn plan of Tanagra, Greece [PEN 6/1/6]. Copyright: British School at Athens.

But perhaps the most fascinating items are those relating to Crete. It’s well known that John was captivated by the culture, countryside, and people of Crete, and this passion can be seen in papers, such as the poem, ‘Crete! – Crete!’, written by John, and some drawings of traditional Cretan costumes (although the artist is unknown). Finally, I found a transcription of Cretan mantinades, in John’s handwriting, which includes an original couplet written by him.

Poem titled ‘Crete! – Crete!’ by John Pendlebury [PEN 6/1/20]. Copyright: British School at Athens.
Detail of drawings of people [in traditional Cretan costume][PEN 6/1/27]. Copyright: British School at Athens.
Details of ‘ΜΑΤΙΝΑΔΕΣ’ by John Pendlebury [PEN 6/1/21]. Copyright: British School at Athens.

The digitisation of the remaining material is one of the last phases of the John Pendlebury Archive project. Over the next few weeks, I will send all the material to be digitised and will create, together with the BSA’s Archivist, Amalia Kakissis, several spreadsheets and csv files to structure the data contained in the catalogue in a format that can be imported into the EMu collection management software. A new challenge!


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