This question was provoked by the Wellcome Collection’s request to borrow Eric John Dingwall’s ‘Haunting and Poltergeist Investigation Toolkit’ from Senate House Library for their exhibition. It’s a fascinating object which shows how science was used to investigate claims of the paranormal. It contains a notebook; coloured, silver and tissue papers; luminous strips and cards; luminous pins; string, threads and wire; a tape measure; a compass; tweezers; wax; chalk; pencils; bulbs; a brush; seeds; weighing measure, various bottles and cotton wool. Also included is a black and white photograph of medium Willi Schneider dated 1924 and a note by Dingwall including the comment, "This is E.J. Dingwall's box of necessities for haunting and poltergeist investigations, an idea later borrowed by Harry Price who pretended it was his idea.....".
This item was the world’s first ‘ghost detective kit’ and was entrusted to Senate House Library, University of London, by none other than Eric John Dingwall himself. Dingwall was a mid-twentieth century British anthropologist and psychical researcher. Dingwall was seen as a controversial figure because he also worked as assistant keeper in the British Museum cataloguing material on erotica (and wrote popular books on sexology, resulting in the nickname ‘Dirty Ding’). There was much competition between him and his contemporary Harry Price (as you can see from the description of the note in the ‘ghost detective kit’), who was also a British psychical researcher and whose collection was donated to the university in 1936, provides the content for the Staging Magic exhibition.
The fascinating history of this unique item, means that it is of great interest and demand but the concern about lending the item stems more from its condition. The leather case is suffering from ‘red rot’ and the lid is completely detached. However, the inside of the box and contents is in good condition and has not been disturbed. So, although the leather box is in poor condition, it performed its role and protected what was contained within.
It is a fact that items are most vulnerable when handled and moved, whether an item is in good condition or not. However, does this mean that should not be handled and moved at all? Collections will last longer and be safer if we put them in a dark, cool and dry (relative humidity of 40 ± 5 %) environment, and even better if the storage condition has low oxygen. But then what is the point of having these items? In the end, a collection only has value if the collection can be viewed and researched by public. Additional value for the collection can be gained by lending items to other organisation, further justifying the collection’s existence and its significance in a wider heritage setting.