Teaspoons At The V & A
London Newspaper Group CN/WPN 05-01-1979
CHRISTOPHER LONG, self-confessed teaspoon addict (there is no known cure) takes a personal look at the current state of the V & A.
By Christopher Long
I had several good reasons for visiting the Victoria and Albert Museum the other Saturday it was raining, I hadn't been there for several months, and I had heard of a new exhibition there called From Teaspoons to Trains.
Now the latter was what chiefly interested me, because I must declare an interest I am a spoon freak: one of a small, dedicated band whose passions are raised by anything to do with early English silver spoons.
So, after following signs through the galleries marked From Teaspoons to Trains, coupled with the London Transport logo, I looked forward to learning what possible connection trains could have with teaspoons and what they, in turn, had to do with London Transport.
Sadly, I left little the wiser. All that I saw were early London Transport posters, photographs of early buses and tubes (looking, I thought, little different from today's offerings) and various cups, saucers and teapots.
Also some pieces of fabric which, I presumed, were used to furnish the buses and tubes. But there was little or nothing on the labels which explained anything.
Apparently the common denominator is that one man was responsible for designing all these things but I can't tell you his name. It doesn't figure much in the exhibition, it doesn't appear in the publicity and today, being Monday, the V & A doesn't answer the telephone.
But worst of all I could not see a teaspoon anywhere! Nor could the attendant. I was rather disappointed and left little wiser than when I went in.
Still, it's a clever title.
Leaving the exhibition I decided to go up and look at my beloved spoons in the metalwork department. I made my way via the textile galleries and was interested to see a large mahogany display cabinet with the words 'Flemish and French Lace, 18th Century'.
Now, mere male that I am, I am aware of the popularity of old lace these days and decided to learn a little more about the subject. I studied the four garments displayed in the case. They looked like smocks the sort of thing worn by peasants in days of old.
But did they really wear lace when they ploughed the fields and scattered? Apparently these Frenchmen and Flemings did just that! And a lace of unbelievable weight and durability, it seemed.
But wait! In small labels beside each garment I saw the words: 'Linen smocks English 19th Century'. And as I left the room I saw that it was entitled 'Study Collection'.
Continuing my pilgrimage to the spoons, I had a nasty fall. The cause of this accident was that I tripped on the uneven and pot-holed decorative tiled floor.
This floor is presumably an original feature of the museum. Beautifully coloured and designed, the tiles are laid to form a corridor an intricate and lasting memorial to the skills of Victorian craftsmen.
Unfortunately, several of the tiles have come loose or been lost. The V & A, never failing to exhort the nation to respect and preserve the national heritage, have done their bit to remedy this damage.
Three largish areas of missing tiles have been roughly filled in with cement. Three loose tiles have been replaced - upside-down. A further hole remains.
Picking myself up and brushing myself down, I now entered the outer extremities of the metal-work department. Here, in front of me, was the nation's premier collection of arms and armour.
But, oh dear! What a sorry sight it is! I must admit that my blood was up by now, but as I make my way out of this botched-up chaos of a collection, let me leave you with some approximate statistics.
There are 74 items on show with no labels to identify them or their origin. (I gave up counting fairly soon).
There are three large cases in which all the labels of all the exhibits were lying in a jumbled, illegible pile in the bottom.
There are 128 pieces of beautiful silver and silver-gilt, stacked up on top of each other, with not one single label to identify them. They look rather like items in a jumble sale.
I lost count of the number of exhibits which it was difficult to identify with any particular label, and looking at the whole sorry scene, I was reminded of the chaotic and neglected collections one once used to see in small provincial museums.
The attendant told me that he usually tries to learn about the exhibits in his job but not here! "They've been reorganising and improving it for about three years," he said.
Still, arms and armour are not my chosen subject. I went on into the silver section. Here they've been 'reorganising and improving' it for at least three years.
As I surveyed the cluttered show-cases, all of them squeezed together with scarcely room to swing a rat-tail, I felt they might not have bothered.
Again there was the same absence of labels, or any other attempt to make the subject interesting. Looking at these splendid memorials to the skills of silversmiths through the ages, I wondered what they had done to deserve such an uninspired fate.
But some of my beloved spoons were more fortunate. Judging by the gaps in those familiar displays, not a few had made the break! And not even labels mark where once they lived!
"I think they've had some problems with these galleries," someone told me. "I think I heard that it's subsiding or something."
Please note that this article was written in the early 1980s! While chaos in the Metalwork and some other departments of the V & A remained for many years (to the shame of several 'prestigious' directors and curators) by the year 2001 vast improvements had been made. It is a pleasure to visit the place these days.
© (1979) Christopher Long. Copyright, Syndication & All Rights Reserved Worldwide.
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