Putting Our Heads Together

Recently we received an enquiry which we hoped could be answered with a quick dip into SD 1705/MS1761, the group of large pencil-drawn portraits by H.W. Foster we highlighted in Faces from the Folios. Unfortunately it turned out that we were looking for designs outside the folio’s broken number sequence noted in the catalogue record – no poring over beautiful artworks for us today… tsk! – and so we cast our net wider in search of answers.

Within class letter “HH” (Heads) we checked two records which turned out to contain more designs in the same style as our folio of faces, this time as photographs of the final designs or of the finished pieces.  These helpfully provided us with the extra information we needed to complete our enquiry – hoorah! – but by consulting these three records at once we’d also inadvertently begun to solve a re-numbering riddle before we’d even realised it existed.

As we looked through SD 1705/MS1752, a slim volume of photographs titled “HH85. Heads”, we realised that the numbers penned next to each design didn’t match those inscribed on the matching artworks in SD 1705/MS1761. There were also more designs shown in HH85 than there were in the original folio, but the numbering mismatch prevented us from working out where these extra designs might have sat in the folio’s fragmented sequence.

To solve this numbering puzzle we needed a key and, in the very next record, we got one. The collection of photographs that make up SD 1705/MS1759 might have looked like a page-by-page copy of HH85 – sequence and final numbering included – but there was one crucial difference: these card pages also contained a crossed-out set of numbers (thankfully still legible) which matched those found on the illustrations in the Art & Design folio.

Thanks to SD 1705/MS1759 we can now see how the fragmented sequence of artworks in SD 1705/MS1761 relates to the fuller series of designs in the HH85 volume of SD 1705/MS1752; it also makes it easier to bring together the different annotations dotted across each set of designs – SD 1705/MS1759 includes names for some of the women and SD 1705/MS1761 describes colours and sizes, for example. We’re looking at how best to incorporate all this information into the online catalogue too… without going number blind of course!