Tutankhamun or Tutankhamen,
Wembley and Hull - The connection.
by Alan Sabey
As everyone knows, Howard Carter and Lord Carnarvon made the famous discovery of this Pharaohs tomb in The Valley of The Kings in Egypt in November 1922, just two years before the British Empire Exhibition at Wembley. The discovery was the talk of the day and, as a result, a cult of Egyptian style jewellery, clothing and even buildings such as offices and cinemas began.
A decision was taken to construct a replica of the tomb in the Amusement Park at Wembley. The person responsible for the accuracy of the work was Arthur Weigall, the eminent Egyptologist (1). Egypt had never been part of the British Empire but the British at one time had an administration there and that is probably why the replica tomb was built where it was and not in the main part of the Exhibition. (It was hardly an Amusement) Howard Carter got to hear of this reconstruction and brought a Court Case to try and get it stopped. His hopes were in vain and the Case was concluded just before the opening of the Exhibition in April 1924. The display went ahead.
In the meanwhile, under the guidance of William Aumonier, a team of craftsmen comprising his two sons and twelve decorative artists, carvers in wood and stone, and carpenters (2) from Hull, made life size replicas of the Gold Throne, couches and chairs, chests and caskets and one of the guardian statues. These were made in a studio near the Tottenham Court Road in London for display at Wembley. The idea was to show visitors how the interior of the tomb comprising three chambers in actual size had looked, exactly as it had been found in 1922.
Some of these items were copied for the British Empire Exhibition and can now be seen in the Museum in the old Grammar School in the centre of Hull.
Visitors to the British Empire Exhibition in both years were fascinated with these replicas as this was still in the age when the average man-in-the-street did not go abroad for his holidays and touring in places like Egypt was more for the aristocracy and the wealthy.
After the close of the Exhibition in October 1925, Mr Albert Reckitt of Reckitt & Sons Ltd of Hull purchased the replicas for his private collection. In 1936 he presented them to the City of Hull Museums. They have now found a permanent home in the Hands on History Museum in the Old Grammar School in the centre of Hull.
I had heard that these items ended up in a museum in Hull but on receiving an enquiry from a researcher into Egyptology in London for a book, I found the Hull Museums website and sent a message asking about the replicas. Very soon a reply came back by e-mail confirming the name of the actual Museum where these items now are and details about opening etc. This was passed to the researcher who informed me that the help from our Group would be acknowledged in his forthcoming book.
As we were about to hold our 2002 Convention in York, and Bill had been kind enough to take me up to York with him in his car, I had the thought that we might divert to Hull on our way home to see these items, which can be regarded as an additional item to my article on where Wembley Exhibition items can be found now. As suggested in the e-mail I telephoned the Museum to check that it would be open the following Monday. I was happy to hear that it was and looked forward to seeing another example from my favourite exhibition. There is a multi-storey car park opposite the very large Holy Trinity Church and is only a couple of minutes walk away from the Museum.
Replicas of the beds or couches were one of the items on display at Hull
When we arrived at the Museum we informed the lady behind the counter as to why we were there and she directed us upstairs to a couple of rooms and there before our eyes were the replicas in bright gleaming colours, looking to all the world as if they had just been made, and not eighty years previously. The attendant handed us a listing of the items before us, but unfortunately this was only for use within the Museum. Naturally we asked if there were any publications or postcards to buy, but there were not. I asked if it was possible to obtain a photocopy of the pages and the man must have taken kindly to us southerners with our London accents who were only passing through Hull that day, and arranged to get copies made for us at a nearby photocopying shop. I settled the amount due myself with a second set for Bill and I was asked to complete an enquiry form because we were asking for background information on the replicas and how they came to be in Hull. We both found the Museum staff extremely helpful.
Very soon some more photocopies arrived by post with one page from an article in the Reckitt & Sons in-house magazine "Ours" in the May 1936 edition. It was suggested that a charge might be due for the additional photocopying. Part of the text sent says that all records of accessions during the 1930s were at the Albion Street Museum and were totally lost when the building was destroyed during a bombing raid in June 1943.
As I was keen to build up a file on these ex-Wembley replicas I telephoned David Richardson, Hulls Assistant Education Officer, to say that the Group would be quite willing to pay for any photocopying, and explained that I wished to build up a permanent record of the Tutankhamen replicas for future members of the Group. David said he would contact their Finance officer and would let me know the cost. Very soon after, an envelope arrived with the set of photocopies of the Reckitt article and a note to say that they were providing our Group with them free of charge. This is a very generous gesture and I wrote back thanking them very much for their assistance.
All the photocopies are now housed in a binder together with a page from the Daily Mail for September 30th 2002 where scientists had reconstructed how they thought Tutankhamen had looked three thousand years ago. This is the system often used these days for reconstructing a face from X-rays of the skull and other modern technology. A few days later there was a very interesting television programme about how they thought that Tutankhamen had met his death at only 17 or 18 years of age. A Pharaoh about whom little was known at one time, has now become very well known.
British members will be able to recall the time in 1972 when items connected with Tutankhamen went on a world tour and for a time were on display in the British Museum in London. Most visitors had to endure long waits unless you were very fortunate. The day that we went I think we only queued for about forty-five minutes, but the display areas were very crowded. I am one of the few people who has seen them three times, firstly in the Cairo Museum as part of a Mediterranean cruise, then in London and thirdly again in Cairo during a holiday in Egypt.
By the way, the name Tutankhamun can be spelt in a number of different ways, all of which are correct! (I raised this point with the Post Office on the issue of the stamps in 1972 and they told me they had checked with the British Museum.)
Items on Display at Hull
Hippo-headed couch, Cow-headed couch, Lion-headed couch, black bed, white bed, Guardian of the Tomb, Wooden effigy or mannequin, Golden Throne, small chair, Golden Shrine, Gilt casket, chest, carrying chest, large chest, brown chest, white box, plain ochre coloured chair, two Alabaster vases, Folding stool, white stool, red stool, folding camp bed, a game of Senet and the Gold Face Mask (which has become the most famous object of all).
I have found a number of postcards of the Tutankhamen artefacts but sadly all are mint cards.
One thing is important, they cannot possibly date from earlier than 1922 and they are not British Museum issued cards.
All are titled tutankhamen series and were published by the Bruce Co. London. They appear to be a very long series and I have noticed differences that split them into 5 types. Liz. McKernan wrote an article (3) about the postcards for P.P.M. published in the November 2002 edition, in which she states, in relation to this series of cards "The photos used in this series appear to be identical to those taken by Harry Burton of the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, who photographed every stage of the excavation and every object found inside."
Every card has, on the front left side, a number followed by tutankhamun series, and on the right is the title of the card. The backs have a standard format of POSTCARD across the top with an almost joining T division and FOR CORRESPONDENCE on the left and FOR ADDRESS on the right. The words Printed in England appear in the stamp box.
An imprint "Copyright Publication by the Bruce Co. London" appears down the left hand back of every card.
Types 4 and 5 look to me to have this printed in a style reminiscent of the 1950s and 1960s. However the size of the lettering and whether the stamp box is made up of solid or dotted lines creates the five types as follows -
Words in Italics are only a description and do not appear in the text on the front of the card.
Type 1. Sepia printing, back printed in black, POSTCARD measures 39 mm. dotted line stamp box 004 The passage to antechamber vertical left
005 The objects in antechamber couches and boxes
006 The objects in antechamber couch and statue
014 The canopic canopy vertical left
015 The tutelary Goddess Isis vertical left
042 An Alabaster casket
043 An ivory and gilt casket
044 The Kings jewellery box
Type 2. B/W, back printed in brown, POSTCARD. measures 40 mm. solid line stamp box.
002 The Valley of the Kings
Type 3. B/W, back printed in black, POSTCARD measures 52 mm. dotted line stamp box.
024 The Kings Sceptres
Type 4. B/W, back printed in black, POSTCARD, measures 43 mm. dotted line stamp box.
019 The alabaster canopic chest. vertical right
055 The Kings centre-piece. vertical left
Type 5. Back printed in black, POSTCARD measures 30 mm. dotted line stamp box.
072 The Kings Ba (Soul) pectoral ornament
I have held onto these cards in the hope that one day one will turn up with a Wembley stamp and message such as "just seen these things at Wembley", and we will know the source. It is my considered opinion that Type 1 being sepia pictures could have been issued around the time of the Exhibition.
The question that still needs to be answered is "Why did a London based firm publish cards of the Tutankhamen find?"
Footnote: texts marked (1) and (2) are taken directly from the article in "Ours" May 1936 and grateful thanks are extended to Hull Museums who supplied copies of the article. The article by Liz McKernan is also acknowledged (3).
© Exhibition Study Group 2002