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Ancient Glass Beads & Related Objects (Mrs. John Morrin Collection)

DATES December 01, 1933 through February 28, 1934
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  • December 1, 1933 An Exhibition of Ancient Beads and Related Objects will open December 5th in the Wilbour Memorial Hall of the Brooklyn Museum to continue through December and January. The entire history of bead making and at the same time the development of the mastery of glass technique will be presented in the shop and the display of over 100 strands of beads will be supplemented by jewels and small objects connected with the customs of the peoples who wore the beads.

    The collection is owned by Mrs. John Horrin, one of the best known private collectors in America and has been gathered by her both here and abroad through the past twenty-five years. In many cases she has completed a strand of a certain type by adding bead by bead over a member of years. Her collection has been declared by Professor Jean Capart, Director of the Royal Museums of the Cinquantenaire to be the best of its kind in the world, and is familiar to leading experts of the United states. This is the first time it has been shown publicly, although Mrs. Morrin has loaned several individual objects to the Metropolitan and other Museums.

    Present-day archaeology has realized the value of the personal belongings in throwing light on the life and character of the people of ancient times. Hence in beads is found the great representation not only of the healthy class but of the bourgoisie and the most humble. It is probably that strands of beads of precious and semi-precious stone such as are shown in the collection were used not only for decorative but occult amuletic value as well. Small protective figures of various deities, animal and human, in hard stone faience or class form pendants to delicate strands of beads. After the end of the 18th dynasty glass became the popular medium for beds and retained its favor through the end of Egyptian supremacy and was adopted and further developed by the nations with whom Egypt has commercial relations. The legend of Phoenician glass discovery has disappeared before the excavations in Egypt which show that glass was known as early as the 12th dynasty (2000 to 1788 B.C.) and was entirely familiar and commonly used after the 18th dynasty (1580 to 1350 B.C.)

    The earliest beads shown are the pre-dynastic amber and shell beads dating before 3500 B.C. and thence almost without a gap the development of this form of adornment is race through 5000 years ending with Italian star-beads of the 6th century A.D. and Rakka beads of Persia in the 13th century A.D. The majority of the necklaces are of glass and include such types as eye-beads, lulibeads, stratified glass, gold-glass beads and the fascinating facebeads. The latter are small beads bearing inlaid female portraits and are often called “princess” or “portrait”. The faces on these beads are little more than one-eighth inch in diameter. There are also a number of objects from the City of Akhenaten, the heratic King of the 18th dynasty. One of the rarest beads in the collection is a silver one which bears the cartouche of the great King Usertesen of the 12th dynasty.

    Among the related objects that form a background and complement to the bead collection, is a set of small tanagra ornaments which were gilded to resemble gold and were used as a substitute for the gold work in Greek burials of the 3rd century B.C. Other objects of Egyptian, Greek, Roman and Cypriote civilizations are to be seen supplementing the beads. Two strands of superb gold work of Ptolemaic times are outstanding examples.

    In the foreword to the catalogue of the exhibition, Dr. Gustavus A. Eisen, the greatest living expert on ancient glass, declares the collection to be a great one and says:

    “The collection now on exhibition is due to the singular taste, energy, perseverance and good judgment of Mrs. John Morrin, who during a large part of her lifetime has used every opportunity to add to her collection, sparing neither time nor money in procuring the choicest objects that could be found. The result of her perseverance is the present display of beads dating from the earliest known to the late middle ages, when the art of bead making began to suffer from the demand made by commerce for beads suitable for trading with the so-called uncivilized races of mankind. The collection contains an immense number of bead types, as well as many unique specimens of which any collector or any museum could be proud or envious. From the time of the old Egyptian dynasties to the dark ages of our own era the series seems to practically unbroken.”

    “I can imagine nothing finer, more attractive or more intrinsically charming than this collection for a public museum and for public display.”

    This exhibition will be of interested to schools of applied design and craftsman, as well as to archaeologists and the general public.

    Brooklyn Museum Archives. Records of the Department of Public Information. Press releases, 1916 - 1930. 10-12_1933, 098-9.
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