Unpacking the Collection

Part of the series One World Archaeology pp 55-82


Consuming Colonialism: Curio Dealers’ Catalogues, Souvenir Objects and Indigenous Agency in Oceania

  • Rodney HarrisonAffiliated withFaculty of Arts, The Open University Email author 

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This chapter explores the potential for a study of colonial curio dealers’ catalogues in producing particular forms of colonial desire that contributed to the production of a market in ethnographic souvenirs in Britain and its colonies in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Curio dealers occupied an integral space in a network which connected museums, tourists and indigenous artisans, but have been largely ignored in studies of colonial relations and material culture. Previous work on Kimberley Points has suggested Indigenous Australians produced markets for the sale of certain curios to colonial collectors which fulfilled complex roles within the groups who manufactured them, as well as those who received them through purchase, trade or exchange. Focussing on the 1929 catalogue of a Sydney-based curio dealer, Tyrells Museum (formerly Tost and Rohu Taxidermists, Tanners, Furriers and Island Curio Dealers), this chapter demonstrates that such catalogues not only have the potential to reveal changes in market demand, price and desirability of ethnographic objects, but also how artefacts were transformed from functional objects into ornaments, changes in their method and context of manufacture, as well as changing colonial relations between indigenous and non-indigenous people.