Sandwell Community History and Archives Service (which will from now on be referred to as CHAS) took a chance on me with my appointment as Project Archivist almost two months ago at the end of July. Since then I have been trying to get my head around the collection and the history of the company. From its inception in 1824 as a humble manufacturer of crown glass for windows, Chance grew to become one of the premier glass manufacturers in Britain. In his Walks in the Black Country and Green Borderland (1868), Elihu Burritt comments on the Chance glassworks that, “In no other establishment in the world can one get such a full idea of the infinite uses which glass is made to serve as in these immense works”. This entirely sums up my impression of Chance since starting my research. Chance produced crown, sheet and rolled plate flat glass; a very thin glass for use in microscope slides; laboratory glass; ornamental coloured glass; decorative domestic glass; optical glass and perhaps most famously, lenses and apparatus for lighthouses all around the world. The list is endless, making for an extremely rich collection, which will appeal to a myriad of users both locally and internationally. It also makes for an extremely complex collection to catalogue (and a headache for the archivist!)
The collection is around 30 cubic metres in total and consists of minutes, letterbooks, financial and share records; employment records including salaries and pensions; legal records associated with patents, trademarks and agreements; catalogues and other publicity material; and extensive production records, such as mixing books and drawings. The first step before any cataloguing can take place is to list all of the material. This involves going through each of the approximately 300 records management boxes and 400 ledgers transported over from Pilkingtons to see what items/information they contain. Whilst this can be a time consuming activity it does enable me to get physically stuck in to the collection and find some really interesting items.
Over the next year I intend to use this blog to report on my experience cataloguing the collection and I hope it will be of interest to anyone who happens to stumble upon it. I will highlight any interesting records I come across, describe the process and challenges of cataloguing and comment on any events that take place associated with the project. So if you're interested in the history of the company, glass production in general, lighthouses or fiestaware please do take a chance on this blog.