A few days ago I was idly browsing instagram (my instagram feed is full of posts from various archive services) when I came across the item above.
It had been misclassified as a packet loose tea – when it in fact was a packet of loose rough cut cigarette tobacco or makhorka (Махорка).
There’s also a bit of a give away in that the labelling includes the word табакъ (tabak or tobacco). We can also confidently date the packet to a date before 1918 as the word табакъ includes a hard sign character (ъ), something that was done away with in the 1918 spelling reforms
Makhorka is made from the dried leaves of Nicotiana rustica – a different species of tobacco from the one used in the west.
Nicotinia rusticana grows freely over most of Russia, meaning that it for the peasants it was essentially free as it could be grown behind the chicken coop in the back yard.
It also has great cultural significance – it was issued to the Red Army during the second world war, and Russian novels are full of descriptions of peasants hand rolling cigarettes made of newspaper and makhorka and held together with a bit of spit.
Okay, so I know something that the person who catalogued the packet didn’t. That’s not a crime, and I’m painfully aware from my work cataloguing Dows Pharmacy just how easy it is to misclassify objects. In fact I’ve gone back on several occasions and corrected entries in the light of new knowledge.
And equally, I’ve been very dependent on the work of others who have traced and documented objects for much of my documentation work. Standing on the shoulders of giants etc.
And, to be fair the archive site, responded when I told them and said they would check it out – perfectly fair – they don’t know me from Adam and I could have been talking out of my bottom for all they know.
However I think what this little story does show is the power of opening up one’s collection online and allowing comments, which indirectly may help improve the quality of the archive.
Yes, it’s only a minor correction but it is a correction …