There are close to 5,500 Minton company records in The Minton Archive, but even a number that large doesn’t necessarily reflect the true size of the archive. The Minton Archive Art and Design section of the paper catalogue, for example, comprises 349 catalogue records yet contains over 30,000 individual items. So, how do you go about trying to represent an archive of this size in two moderately sized display cases?
Time constraints have shaped how we’ve explored the Minton company records so far. With so much to do in such a short space of time there hasn’t been the opportunity to spend time browsing through the Archive – instead we’ve gleaned as much as we can from our work to transfer the original paper catalogue into a digital format. During the boxing up, sorting and shelving of the Archive we’ve also been in direct contact with portions of it, sometimes mentally noting down interesting boxes as we’ve been going along, or jotting down the catalogue numbers they hold. Due to this quite literal work-in-progress knowledge the choices for each of the display cases changed multiple times, even as the case themes became more specific. As we finalised our item lists we had to accept that there were probably many more fantastic items still to be discovered… but perhaps that’s how it should always be!
The content of the cases was also defined through our collaboration with The Potteries Museum & Art Gallery. Seeing their collection of Minton pieces in the stores, discussing with them the objects they’d like to display, and defining the case “themes” with them meant we could focus our attention on specific and, hopefully, familiar portions of the Archive. Emphasising the connection between the archive material and the ceramic objects was a very important part of the display – one case contains a pair of programmes for The British Porcelain Ball (from the Archive) next to a cup, saucer and plate in the Porcelain Ball pattern (from the Museum’s collection).
Finally, as we began to select individual records in the catalogue and pick them out from the Archive for further investigation, considerations such as an object’s physical properties, its condition, and even whether its particular qualities would be lost behind glass also played a major part in whether they could be considered for display or not. For example, we’d initially envisaged displaying the indenture of apprenticeship for Eliza Smallwood, along with the register of apprentices in which her name could be found, right up until we realised that doing so would take up almost half a display case, even if they were overlaid!
In future posts we’ll talk about the final choices for each of our cases: “Art and Design” and “Tableware”.