Beyond learning the basic rules for working at Banting House, I ‘ve spent most of my first two weeks scouring through collections, gathering “just the right” artifacts for this year’s 100th anniversary exhibit. But gathering artifacts only goes so far. The coolest part of working with collections, the part which most museum collections staff have experienced, is when you find something hidden—something you didn’t even know you had.
Sometimes, artifacts can be found in the most unassuming places: a box with a different label or a folder with a sea of other artifacts blocking this one from view. Discovering a new artifact is especially exciting when it perfectly complements the exhibit that you’re planning, or when it turns out to be one of the most significant artifacts in the collection. Luckily, the artifact I found was especially exciting for both these reasons.
Now I can’t give too much away…yet…but for context, the 100th anniversary exhibit I’m working on is a story about a person with diabetes. It’s a story about the human element of diabetes and the reason why this discovery matters so much. This story is only possible because of the generous donation from the person’s family that contains artifacts spanning this person’s entire life—letters, photos, children’s books and games, a christening gown, diabetes log books for tracking meal portions, and so on.
But the artifact I’m most interested in (as a diabetic myself, this was actually so cool to see) is the person’s first insulin vial. It’s so neat to see how insulin vials have changed over time. Comparing it to one of mine, it’s just so different. That history and holding that artifact (with appropriate museum gloves of course) was an experience that will stick with me forever.
Cut back to the hidden artifact. As I go through the collection, I stumble onto a black box. Not much writing on it, just “Life Guards Quality Stockings” written on the top.
I opened the box, and inside there were two injection kits. While I was a little confused why they were in this box, I opened one to see what was inside:
The bottom folds up to reveal two medicine bottles, while the syringe (all caped off and enclosed) sits farther in. It looked really cool, and I thought it could be a neat artifact to put on display. Let’s look at box two now:
A quick look inside, and everything seemed normal—probably just the same as the first one. But then, as I pulled back the cloth, I saw this:
When I first saw this, I was a little confused. It looked like one of my vials, and didn’t seem to fit the period of the other artifacts. Let’s take a closer look:
The vial looked really modern. It even has a bright orange tip where the syringe goes in. When I looked even closer, there seemed to be liquid in this one:
Without giving too much away, I think there’s enough information here to get my point. Indeed, in a random black box, I found injection kits, and inside one of those, I discovered the person’s final insulin vial! We had no idea we had this artifact. We certainly wanted it—and dreamed about it—but it wasn’t mentioned when we received the collection. It was not until I did some digging that we discovered it. The artifact that completes the story—the person’s first and last insulin vial? Could we be so lucky?
Side by side, the difference is astounding. It really pulls the whole story together:
There’s another story similar to this one that actually happened on the same day, not 3 or 4 hours later. But I’ll save that one for another post, perhaps after the first version of this exhibit is finished—July 10th! That’s only 11 days away (12 including today)! Follow us for updates as we get closer and closer!
Until next time!
P.S. If you’ve ever worked in a museum, have you had an experience like this? Do you have a fun or cool story about you and an artifact? Or, if you haven’t worked in a museum, is there an artifact you’ve seen in an exhibit that really caught your attention? Let me know down below!