By Joseph Cate, Curator of Education and Public Programs
Who doesn’t like a good puzzle to solve? Sometimes researching the museum collection can be like putting pieces of a puzzle together, a puzzle where pieces are gathered from other experts. Two such items originated from the collection of Brigadier General Thomas F. Barr, father-in-law of Norwich Commandant Colonel Frank Tompkins.
The two pieces, composed of a nearly identical blue fabric and similar silver thread, seemed to be related though labeled very differently. The semicircular “pouch” was attributed to the Sioux or Arapaho of Minnesota and dated c. 1873–1879. The stiff circular collar with a tag bearing “L.H.J. Reykjavik” was dated c. 1847. So which culture did they belong to? Icelandic or Native America? And what decade are they from? The 1840s or the 1870s?
We utilized three search engines to conduct a reverse image search of the collar: Google, Bing, and Yandex (the Russian equivalent to Google). Google and Bing showed nothing of interest but Yandex provided a near perfect match. We followed a link to the Nordiska Museet, the Nordic Museum, of Stockholm, Sweden, where we obtained contact information for Karen Dern, the Curator of the Nordic Museum. Using photographs sent to her, Ms. Dern confirmed the collar was indeed Icelandic and called a halskrage. Dern provided a picture of a halskrage from the 1880s, the date of origin for all of their samples. Unfortunately, she could not identify the other object with certainty. Though she guessed it was a purse, as our label indicated, she leaned toward Icelandic origin, not Native American.
Upon Dern’s suggestion we emailed the National Museum of Iceland, where Lilja Árnadóttir, Director of the Museum Library, answered our query. The collar is typical of costumes worn by Icelandic women between the second half of the 18th century and the first half of the 19th century, which corresponded with our date of 1847. She also identified our “purse,” which was not a purse at all but a baptismal hat worn by an infant. Another puzzle solved!
The Icelandic collar and baptismal hat from the mid-19th century can be viewed in our current exhibition 200 Years—200 Objects.