General Aztecs Maya Tocuaro Kids Contact 28 Feb 2021/5 Monkey
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Real or fake?
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Cuming Museum interior

The Cuming Museum, London

Between 1780 and 1900 Richard Cuming (1777-1870) and his son Henry Syer Cuming (1817-1902) collected over 100,000 artefacts from around the world. This forms the nucleus of the Cuming Museum’s collection, which also includes many objects relating to the rich history of the Borough of Southwark.

Mexican snake figure, Cuming Museum
Mexican snake figure, Cuming Museum (Click on image to enlarge)

The Cumings’ Mexican objects were collected between 1830 and 1850. The Cumings were collecting in a period when not much information was available about Mesoamerican cultures and the descriptions they gave the objects may well be inaccurate. Four of the terracotta figurines are detailed as coming from Panuco, in the State of Veracruz. Some are labelled ‘Tepitoton or Penates’, probably a reference to the word in Náhuatl for little household god figures. A few objects were described as found by Charles B. Young Esq. in the city of Guasteca in 1844. (If any one has any information about a certain Charles B. Young in Mexico in the 1840’s it would be gratefully received.)

Mexican Earthenware figurehead, Cuming Museum
Mexican Earthenware figurehead, Cuming Museum (Click on image to enlarge)

The interesting thing about the collection is that many are in fact fakes. The fakes are fun in them selves and part of the story of European collectors being sold artefacts by locals who saw an opportunity to make a quick peso and threw something together from the materials at hand. You will see from the images that they are a great mix of imagination and Indigenous and European Baroque elements. Not all are on display, however, and we have more on loan to another museum. The story of the Cumings unwittingly collecting Mexican fakes is ironic in view of the effort they made to expose faked antiquities appearing in the London Market. Follow the links on the Cuming Museum web page to the ‘The Cuming Collection’ find out more about the notorious ‘Billies & Charlies’ forgeries. LOOK at a selection of the Cumings’ objects and see if you can tell which are fakes and which are real - click on ‘The Cuming Challenge’ on the right...

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