As the one responsible for the archives at Ashburton museum, it is my job to assess, catalogue, and preserve documentary material that holds historical significance to our town and district.
I spend some days answering requests from the community regarding family history, while the rest of my time comprises of caring for the collection, working on digital projects, and of course, dealing with donations.
Everything that crosses the counter and comes into my office is important to somebody, whether we accept the items or not. Everything has some inherent value to somebody – whether it be the museum, a person and their family, or another New Zealand institution.
2020 started off very well for Ashburton Museum with one particular donation, which museum staff consider to be a very special treasure.
A Stroke of Luck
Last year we were contacted by Ian Proctor, Assistant Curator of Documentary Heritage at Auckland War Memorial Museum, regarding a photo album that his museum was holding in temporary custody – an album which belonged to the Friedlander family.
In a letter that accompanied the album, Erna Tidy, Collection Technician explained that the album had been passed on to Auckland Museum by Valerie Sherwood, who had managed to save the book from becoming just another amusing antique at a sale. The book was offered to St. Andrews Church in Epsom, for sale at a book fair in 2016. Valerie took possession of the book and handed it on to Auckland Museum.
After some research and correspondence, Ian Proctor at Auckland Museum believes that the album belonged to Hugo and Isabel Hart. It was then passed down to their son Eric Friedlander, and from him to Peter, who attended Saint Andrews church.
Peter sadly passed away in 2016, and Valerie remarked “I was very fond of Veronica and Peter Friedlander. Had I told them at the time of the album I had rescued from the tip, the mystery of its past owners would have been easily solved.”
The photographs within the album are quite expressive – as expressive as Victorian cabinet card photos can be. Each subject is eye-catching and interesting, and through each spotty, faded, browning card peers a member of the Friedlander family long gone.
The physical album itself too deserves some admiration, as its hard covers and sturdy pages have kept the photographs in surprisingly good condition given their age and nature. Corners of brass or copper adorn and protect the front cover, accompanied by intricate, regal designs with inset enamel stylings.
The page edges are gilded, which may have prevented paper-hungry bugs from causing damage to the precious pictures within. The spine of the book is all but missing however, rendering the item very delicate despite its robust makeup.
We are extremely grateful to Valerie Sherwood, as well as Ian Proctor, Erna Tidy, and the rest of the team at Auckland Museum for this wonderful piece of Friedlander family history now in our care. This book is also a timely reminder of Ashburton’s past Jewish families. The Friedlanders were a well-known local family, and Hugo Friedlander was a past mayor of Ashburton.
The discovery was timely as when it was received the Ashburton Museum was opening the Children’s’ Holocaust Memorial exhibition. This moving tribute featured over a million buttons collected by school children in Wellington, in memory of the one and a half million children killed in the Holocaust.
By Connor Lysaght
This article was modified for this blog and was originally published in the Ashburton Guardian, 18th February 2020.
- The designs adorning the front cover of the album bear signs of corrosion, bending, and loss.
- We were surprised that the colourful, natural designs that surround many of the photographs have remained so vibrant.
- My personal favourite photo – this kid has an attitude and style!
- Various chemical processes and materials comprise the photographs in the album, as demonstrated here – the bottom left one is spotty, and the top two are sepia.
- Sometimes we forget just how emotive and detailed Victorian-era photographs can be.