The Museum has many different countries represented in its collections, and sometimes this means playing detective to figure out what a word or phrase on an object means. Sometimes this is the key to figuring out what the object is, and sometimes it makes for an amusing anecdote in the description and nothing more. For the last week or so I’ve been working in our European collections, where my Arabic isn’t very useful. When I came across a snuffbox with a French phrase painted on the back, I asked Amanda, the Collections Assistant, who speaks French, for a translation. The snuffbox in question had a man in a hat on one side and a rooster on the other.
Le Coq as it is called in French, is the national emblem of France, and the phrase, Quand ce coq chantera, mon amour finira, means “When the rooster crows, my love will end” or “my friend will leave”. Since this particular rooster will never crow, these were very popular gifts, implying that the friendship between the giver and the receiver will never come to an end.
Over in Germany I had less luck. Relying on Google translate, I determined that Erinnerung an Deutschland, the phrase printed on the ceramic pipe bowl of one our Bavarian “coffeehouse” pipes, was the name of a waltz by Johann Strauss I (number 87 as a matter of fact). If you’ve ever heard the “Viennese Waltz”, you’ve heard some of Strauss’s work.
The title translates to “Memory of Germany”, fitting since the other words on the pipe are the first and last name of the donor’s father, along with the year that he was given the pipe, presumably as a memento of his time in Germany.
Sometimes in Collections we get lucky, and sometimes we get by with a little help from our friends. Either way, we’re bound to come across something every day.