The term talisman is a rather curious artifact designation that appears occasionally in accession records. It applies to objects of power, either ceremonial or superstitious.
These rabbits’ feet in the North Carolina Museum of History entered the collection in the 1957—the year of their owner’s death. They belonged to Robert Gregg Cherry, Governor of North Carolina from 1945-1949. According to superstition, rubbing a rabbit’s foot conveys good luck. As an orphan, a World War I veteran, and a seasoned politician, Cherry had many hard knocks as well as victories. Perhaps these feet look so different from the furry rabbits’ feet sold today because they were such well-used good luck charms for Cherry.
Their example illustrates the occasional trickiness of nomenclature in artifact registration practices. Registrars designated them as “charms,” in the “Jewelry” classification of the “Personal Artifact” category. “Charm” in common parlance is a term that has both sacred and profane meanings; the rabbits’ feet could have been used both as good luck charms and as types of pendants. According to The Revised Nomenclature for Museum Cataloging, however, the “adornment/ jewelry [classification] lacks the communicative aspect of objects listed in ‘Personal Symbol’ classification.” “Talisman” would have been another nomenclature option for these artifacts, within the “Personal Symbol” classification of the “Communication Artifacts” category, and the term has much a more specific, magical connotation.
Talismans can be funky or spooky and may reveal beliefs about the person who collected them or the culture that produced and/ or used them. The talismans in one Southern museum’s collection include a lock of hair from a revered Confederate general and the bark of a tree from the scene of Bonnie and Clyde’s death. Does your collection contain any objects recorded with the term “talisman?” We’d love to share talisman images and stories from your collection!
Posted on October 28, 2011, in collections access, collections management and tagged good luck charm, Governor Robert Gregg Cherry, nomenclature, North Carolina Museum of History, rabbits' feet. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.