Working in a museum is like helping to do a giant jigsaw puzzle.
You add a few pieces to what others have done before but the puzzle is never-ending and you’re not sure what the final picture will look like!
Take, for example, our small collection of items from Soapy Ogston’s, Aberdeen soap and candle manufacturers.
The biggest parts of the puzzle are in Port Sunlight in Merseyside, as Ogston & Tennant was acquired by Lever Brothers in 1910 and the records became part of the UniLever Archive. But our puzzle pieces fit together to show most aspects of the company’s story.
The first piece of our puzzle is a beautiful set of promotional playing cards gifted in 1985. The backs of the cards advertise Ogston & Tennant’s Boudoir Toilet Soap. This places it later in the company’s history, after Alexander Ogston & Sons (founded Aberdeen, 1802) merged with Charles Tennant of Renfrew in 1892.
There’s also a small collection of original soaps, in many ways the most tangible connection to the factory.
The Carbolated Kilty Soap has been clearly gnawed at one end – mice and rats do love the fat content, so we’re lucky to have such lovely survivals! We are very careful about preventing pest problems at our museum storage facility at Aberdeen Treasure Hub. This damage likely happened long before the soap entered our collections.
Probably the most interesting pieces of the puzzle came in 1993, when we acquired the William McKinnon archive.
These include drawings of architectural features from the 1880s, and a series of drawings, elevations and plans of the margarine works, refinery and box shop on Gallowgate and Innes Street in 1904.
And almost coming full circle, in 2018 we were gifted another piece of advertising, this time a beautiful poster for Ogston & Tennant Limited’s Celebrated Soaps. In a quirky twist of fate, it had been used as a backing for a watercolour by Aberdeen artist J. Jeffrey Grant (1883-1960), preserving it in excellent condition.
The puzzle’s not complete and I don’t think we’ve even found all the edges yet, but taken together, we do get a picture of Soapy Ogston’s.
We’re always interested in hearing from people with artefacts or information they can share about Aberdeen’s past, so we can pass the puzzle on to the next generation.