From the Archives

  William Brown - the Showman  

Here is a short piece of mine which was published in the Museums Journal in the 1980's?.

'The following piece was first published in the pages of 'William   the Fourth' in the chapter entitled 'William the Showman' published in April 1924   published 60 years before Neil Cussins charged for admission at a National Museum. Here can be found the ultimate definition of the reason we collect objects, the justification for public expenditure on high quality display, the neatest explanation of the need to charge for entry, all within a penetrating pen portrait of typical attitudes of public to curator, curator to public and indeed curator to curator. To cap it all the author provides one of the earliest, and oblique references to the Elgin marbles controversy.

Picture the scene in the Old Barn Museum, the curator William Brown, with his assistants Ginger, Douglas and Henry are showing their priceless collection of insects to a typically skeptical public   the sort any curator knows and dreads:

"Here, ladies and gentlemen," he said impressively, "is thirty sep'rate an' distinct speeshees of insecks. I only ask you to look at them. I    "

"They're jus' the same sort of insects as crawl about our gardens at home," said the audience coldly.

"But have you ever seen 'em c'lected together before?" said William earnestly. 'Think of the trouble an' time wot I took c'lecting 'em Why, the time alone I took's worth more'n a half- penny. I should think that's worth a halfpenny. I should think it's worth more'n a halfpenny. I should think      "

"Well, we wun't" said the audience. "We'd as soon see 'em crawling about a garden for nothin' as crawlin' about a box for a halfpenny. So there."

Ginger, Douglas, and Henry looked at William gloomily.

"They aren't worth getting a c'lection for," said Ginger.

"They deserve to have their halfpennies took off 'em!" said Douglas.

But William slowly and majestically brought out his fourth box and opened it, revealing rows of gorgeous butterflies, then closed it quickly.

The audience gasped.

"When you've given in your halfpennies," said William firmly, "then you can see this wonderfu' an' unique c'lection of twenty sep'rate an' distinct speeshees of butterflies all c'lected together."

Eagerly the halfpennies were given to William. He handed them to Douglas, triumphantly. "Go an' buy the marbles, quick" he said in a hoarse whisper, "case they want 'em back."

Then he turned to his audience, smoothed back his hair, and reassumed his showman manner.'



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