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. 

NC Museum of History #1957.50.69

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!


About collectionsconversations

This blog will contain posts from the C2C project staff on a variety of topics related to collections care and disaster preparedness. Enjoy the posts and let us know if you would like additional information or have a topic you would like for us to address.

Posted on October 28, 2011, in collections access, collections management and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 2 Comments.

  1. I am studying museum nomenclature and have been stuck on a small ‘ordinary’ stone that has cultural significance, and is given to someone as a sign of honor. This article helped me get closer to answering my questions. Thank you for sharing!

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