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Unearthing the Artifacts of Spencer Penrose

By Samantha Knoll, Assistant Curator- Penrose Heritage Museum

In August of 2019, R. Thayer Tutt Jr., Vice Chairman and Chief Investment Officer of El Pomar Foundation, made a rare discovery in a forgotten storage space in one of our office buildings. He uncovered a box labeled “Spencer Penrose Hats.” In the box we found a fez, a couple of helmets, several top hats and hat boxes, a salakot (see image below), a derby hat and jungle hats.

This same storage space also held a giant canvas bag and a briefcase. The canvas bag, which we later discovered was a mail bag, had Spencer Penrose’s initials on it. In the bag we found canvas gun cases, puttees (see image below), belts, a watch clock and a rain slicker. At Penrose Heritage Museum, we house and showcase artifacts known to have belonged to Spencer and Julie Penrose. This rare discovery made for an exciting addition to our collection.

After obtaining these new artifacts, we started the intensive process of cataloging these items and entering them into our database. This entailed creating detailed descriptions of every object, doing research, taking measurements, analyzing the condition of each piece to gauge its stability, taking pictures and carefully cleaning all of the objects. We then wrapped each item in acid-free paper and stored them in archival boxes to keep them in a stable condition and prevent further deterioration. Several of the artifacts were classified as unstable, which means it is unsafe for the item to be on display due to its deteriorating condition.

El Pomar does not have many of Mr. Penrose’s personal artifacts like clothing or accessories. After recognizing several of these hats in historical photographs of Mr. Penrose, we fully realized the significance of this unexpected discovery. With such personal items, we can learn more about Mr. Penrose and share this knowledge with the community that he loved and helped develop.

This luggage tag lists the contents of the canvas mail bag. It helped us identify artifacts we could not easily recognize. For example, we had what looked like shin guards. When we researched “puttees” from this list, we discovered that this is another word for canvas shin guards. They are worn over shoes (like today’s “gaiters”) to keep out debris and to provide leg support. Once we knew what they were, we noticed Mr. Penrose wearing puttees in almost all of his photographed outfits. In this historic photograph of Spencer and Julie Penrose, these leather puttees make Mr. Penrose’s shoes look like boots.

This is a derby or bowler hat. You can see Mr. Penrose wearing a derby in this historic photograph. Mr. Penrose is driving a llama-drawn sulky (on display at Penrose Heritage Museum) while protesting prohibition.

This hat is called a ‘salakot’ and is local to the Philippines. On display at Penrose Heritage Museum are two carriages the Penroses purchased from the Philippines. Unfortunately, this is one of the artifacts we had to classify as unstable. The rattan weave is crumbling, and the paper insulation of the hat is brittle and falling apart. It is likely that we will not exhibit this hat due to the severity of its condition.

This historical image shows a type of salakot in use. The image was retrieved from Wikipedia.

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