Reviews / Comptes rendus - Olive R. Jones and E. Ann Smith, Glass of the British Military, ca. 1755-1820, and Olive Jones and Catherine Sullivan et al., The Parks Canada Glass Glossary

Reviews / Comptes rendus

Olive R. Jones and E. Ann Smith, Glass of the British Military, ca. 1755-1820, and Olive Jones and Catherine Sullivan et al., The Parks Canada Glass Glossary

Judith Tomlin
Canadian Museum of Civilization
Olive R. Jones and E. Ann Smith. Glass of the British Military, ca. 1755-1820. Studies in Archaeology, Architecture and History. Ottawa: Parks Canada, 1985. 143 pp., 137 ill. ISBN 0-660-11921-8. $7.95 paper, $9.55 outside Canada. En vente en français sous le titre: La verrerie utilisée par l'armée britannique de 1155 à 1820. ISBN 0-660-91591-X.
Olive Jones and Catherine Sullivan et al. The Parks Canada Glass Glossary. Studies in Archaeology, Architecture and History. Ottawa: Parks Canada, 1985. 185 pp., 152 ill. ISBN 0-660-11775-4. $12.25 paper, $14.70 outside Canada. En vente en français sous le titre: Glossaire du verre de Parcs Canada. ISBN 0-660-91430-1.

1 Reviewing these two publications together may be somewhat inappropriate as, despite a common research subject and similar composite authorship, each will appeal to a different audience. However, both stem from the same source: the hard-working archaeological researchers at Parks Canada in Ottawa, and anyone who is interested in the history of glass objects in this country should thank the patron saint of researchers that the Archaeological Research Division has been able to keep up its fine programme of research publications through these times of cut-backs and restraint.

2 Glass of the British Military is the more immediately accessible of the two books, with its cartoon cover of carousing redcoats and many illustrations of fine glassware. The glossary is far more the textbook, spiral-bound and obviously expecting constant handling, written in manual format and illustrated mainly with simple line drawings. Neither book is cheap in price or quality, but neither are they expensive by today's standards. It is encouraging to see that Parks Canada has not eliminated its series of research-oriented publications in order to support high-priced "popular publications" for the more general reader. There is certainly a place for this type of glossy publication with lots of photographs and little technical detail; but the publication of more technical and scholarly reports is still the foundation of a research institution's reputation.

3 Using a catalogue format, Jones and Smith have produced a very informative study of the glassware used by the British forces in Canada as interpreted though everyday activities: eating, drinking, health care, grooming, etc. It makes for enlightening reading. The amount and variety of alcoholic beverages consumed by both officers and enlisted men would seem to be appalling by today's standards, although I suspect the average reader's shock would have more to do with a lack of understanding of long-standing military traditions rather than any contrast one could make with current levels of consumption among the armed forces. In any event, the subject here is not alcoholism as a social problem, but the variety of beverages consumed and types of vessels used to ship, store and serve them. The authors are most careful to differentiate between the habits of the officer and the common soldier. Inevitably, however, one obtains a more detailed picture of the life of those of the officer class, if only because their lives are more documented and it is their artifacts that have tended to survive. The glassware is nearly all English with only a few American or French examples used where appropriate. Several public and private collections have provided pieces to illustrate objects for which only archaeological evidence remains. The sherds of glass found on Parks Canada sites still form the foundation upon which this project has been constructed, but the judicious use of whole, unworn artifacts makes the publication far more attractive. Jones and Smith are meticulous in presenting their information, very careful to point out where examples of glass made or decorated in a certain fashion were found, how the piece illustrated may differ from the archaeological evidence, and where they can only speculate that a certain form may have been used.

4 As befits its significance to life in the military in the late eighteenth century, glass bottles and tablewares for alcoholic beverages are the subject of about fifty per cent of the book. Chapters on eating, grooming, health care, and lighting devices make up the remainder, with examinations of the use of articles such as looking glasses, portable canteens and medical kits, and toiletry, drug and condiment containers. Throughout the book the authors walk a very fine line between fact and speculation and succeed in keeping their balance most admirably. Sometimes they might be considered to totter a little; for example, is it wise to give such prominence (a full-page photograph) to a smelling bottle from the Northampton Museums and Art Gallery when one can only say that it "may resemble" ones available for sale in Halifax in 1784? On the other hand, perhaps it is more valuable for the researcher to know these bottles were advertised for sale in Halifax at that time and what they tended to look like. This is simply to point out that the book takes careful reading. A browser could occasionally be led to believe a photographed item has a Canadian provenance when it does not. This would be quite risky in a publication aimed at the general public. However, as we all know, material history researchers read every word and understand all the nuances of terms like "attribution" and "resembles."

5 The Parks Canada Glass Glossary is quite a different type of book. As a cataloguer's manual, it provides no story-line, although there is an abundance of historical data. The glossary's purpose is outlined in its Introduction, which also provides a brief explanation of one of the most revolutionary events in recent museological history: the computerization of cataloguing data on the Canadian Heritage Information Network (National Museums of Canada). I am not sure why CHIN is referred to here by its former name, the National Inventory Programme, but it may have something to do with the fact that the manuscript was submitted for publication in 1981 but not published until 1985. At its best, CHIN is a wonderful tool for storing information, but as with all computer systems, it is only as good as the information entered (GIGO —garbage in, garbage out). The classification of all types of information is required before it can be entered, and the Glass Glossary, with its emphasis on the types of classification required to use the CHIN data base successfully, is a most valuable resource for research cataloguers of glass objects.

6 In content, the glossary is very comprehensive, covering bottles for food, beverages and medicine, tablewares, commercial containers, and flat glass. It includes many charts and diagrams to aid in the identification, naming and classification of various parts of glass objects. One also finds brief histories of the invention, production and use of each type of ware, plus information on decorative techniques and where and when they were commonly used.

7 There is one further point upon which to recommend Glass of the British Military and the Glass Glossary: both have been published simultaneously in English and French, making them accessible not only to museums and collections throughout Canada, but also to all personnel at once in our many bilingual institutions. In fact, the glossary by its very nature is also a French-English dictionary of highly technical terms and so will be of benefit to technical writers, editors and exhibit preparators.

8 Parks Canada Archaeological Research Division is to be congratulated for the results of its teamwork in producing both these publications.

Judith Tomlin