Heritage Open Days – What’s In The Box?

Part 3: Mr Elf

In our third ‘What’s In The Box?’ blog for this year’s Heritage Open Days Festival, we are continuing the theme of ‘Creativity Unwrapped’ and looking at the last of the featured items from our Natural Movement Archive.

Mr Elf (Ref: NM/O/3) was used by Madge Atkinson (the founder of Natural Movement) as a teaching aide to help young children learn music notes in the 1900s. We don’t know what the children thought about Mr Elf but for some of our team he is the stuff of nightmares, we have seen no evidence of him coming to life after we shut the doors at the end of the day, but you never know what he might get up to ……….

Mr Elf’s clothing is made from brown and green suede, and he wears a leather cape. His arms and legs can be manipulated to sit in a certain position and hold music note cards.

The music note cards contain a crotchet, a semibreve, a minim, a quaver, a semiquaver, ‘bumpety notes’ (a semiquaver and an augmented quaver attached), and a triplet of quavers with a note written on the back explaining that ‘Mr Crotchet’ gives the three quavers ‘special permission to be played in the same time as two’.

To help preserve Mr Elf (so he can continue to either amuse or horrify people in the future, depending on your point of view) he is stored in his own box so he can’t be damaged by the movement of other objects.

A layer of inert foam sheet has been placed in the base, which has then been covered in a layer of Tyvek (a nonwoven, lightweight, breathable material). A sheet of inert foam sheet, which has the outline shape of Mr Elf cut out, has been placed on top to help keep him in place when the box is moved. Acid free tissue puffs have been used to pad out the spaces in the box and to support his arm. Finally, a layer of tissue has been placed on top.

This time lapse video shows how Mr Elf is packaged for storage:

If this glimpse of Mr Elf has inspired you to find out more about our collections or if you are interested in seeing any of the items we have featured in person do get in touch as we would be delighted to book you in to visit our research room, just email archives@surrey.ac.uk or check out the information on our website https://www.surrey.ac.uk/library/archives-and-special-collections or on    https://www.instagram.com/uniofsurreyarchives/

Don’t forget to look out for Part 4 of the blog series to find out more about the paint box of illustrator E.H. Shepard.