Just unpacking W.D. Webster Illustrated Catalogue of Ethnographical Specimens 18 – 31
Edited by Julien .G.B. Leen . “W.D. Webster Illustrated Catalogue of Ethnographical Specimens 18 – 31” by W. D. Webster
USE Coupon code 83JPCV78
William Downing Webster (1868 – 1913) was a British ethnographic dealer and collector. In 1895 he began to issue illustrated ethnographic catalogues, 17 with illustrations, 14 with photographs.
The 14 catalogues with photographs have been colour corrected, cleaned and bundled in this publication.
This edition includes indexes for object type and region that can be cross-referenced to find specific items. This makes it an invaluable resource for academics, researchers and collectors
Webster was born in 1868 in Greenwich to Robert and Sarah Webster. Although his father was in the potato trade, Webster was initially employed as a stained glass designer in Lancaster before becoming a dealer in ethnographic antiquities in the 1890s. In 1891 he married Agnes Harrison in Kendal. He published a series of catalogues detailing his collection during the next two decades, and staged a number of exhibitions of ethnographic material at Earl's Court. In 1899 he traveled throughout Britain purchasing material from British soldiers returning from the Benin Expedition, amassing a large quantity of material that was carefully recorded in his catalogues. In 1904 his marriage broke up and he separated from his wife and two daughters and lived with his housekeeper, Eva Cutter. His collection was sold in a London-based auction that took place over five days. He died from alcoholism in Effingham in 1913, and is reportedly buried at Kensal Green Cemetery.
Julien Leen is a Dutch collector, who is less a specialist of Webster than particularly preoccupied with trustworthy reference material
Of course everyone knows the Oldman catalog and collection; it contains some excellent material! I think that Kevin Conru recently wrote a very nice book about it.
It was while reading the book “Provenance: Twelve Collectors of Ethnographic Art in England 1760-1990” by Hermione Waterfield that he discovered that Oldman wasn't the only one who published sales catalogues in the Kate XIXth and early XXth century. As they weren't available he thought he might issue a small number of reprints for himself and maybe for a few friends.
Because the catalogues were very old they had become yellowed (or even brown) and the plates were particularly degraded. The originals were scanned and improved using a host of computer software, and when the first proofs came back the improvement…was not as notable as he had hoped, as the densities of the backgrounds had served to disguise numerous stains and marks that were now painfully clear.
Attempt two saw him editing every single page in photoshop to improve image quality and amend the backgrounds. Unfortunately not every page could be saved, but the ones that were are wonderful. The text was cleaned up using Adobe Acrobat OCR. It almost drove him mad, editing 10-15 pages per day for week after week, but I think you will agree that the results are really remarkable.
Having completed the pages he then created a universal page numbering system, and then a revised index by country as well as by object type. And then a few other means of dividing the collections occurred to him and he had to start all over again 4 times!
I would say, however, that all his labour was definitely worth it, as one can – for example – ask “do we have a shield from the Solomon Islands?” And you can answer that by looking up both the site and the object type. It makes it a very efficient, easy-to-use resource for collectors and curators alike, and anyone who wants really good reference material on ethnographic items. And it might be useful in case you come across a Webster piece in an auction, as not everything in these catalogues is in a museum (although most of the Benin pieces are).
No further catalogues are planned, simply because Julian Leen doesn't have the compete editions of the originals. They are in any case drawings rather than photos, and a different strategy might be required to reproduce them.
That's about it 🙂; consider this as a little time machine !
The Book is available on Amazon
But I have a better deal for you, since I twisted Julien Leen's arm.
If you buy it at Createspace
I have an exclusive coupon code giving you 50% off. Use the following code 83JPCV78 (but keep it to yourself and keep in mind the coupon is extremely limited in number and can be withdrawn at any moment)…
“W.D. Webster Illustrated Catalogue of Ethnographical Specimens 18 – 31” by W. D. Webster
Coupon code 83JPCV78
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