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250 × 190 × 35 mm
400 pages
177 illustrations, 116 in colour
15 Nov 2018

Company Curiosities Nature, Culture and the East India Company, 1600–1874 Arthur MacGregor

For nearly three hundred years the East India Company dominated British trade and relations with Asia. It made handsome profits for shareholders but also provided collectors in Europe with natural specimens and man-made rarities that were prized for their scientific, aesthetic or cultural value. An array of administrators, soldiers, surveyors spent much of their lives attempting to inventory and to comprehend India’s vast country, its teeming populations and its myriad rituals and wildlife.

Company Curiosities: Nature, Culture and the East India Company, 1600–1874
offers the first-ever overview of the remarkable role of the East India Company and its servants in collecting and showcasing a treasure-house of natural specimens and man-made objects – craft materials, paintings and sculptures, weapons, costumes, jewels and ornaments – that established the look and the feel of India for those who had never ventured abroad. Arthur MacGregor tells the stories behind the remarkable discoveries and collections, and those responsible for them, and their impact on natural science, commerce and industry, and personal taste.

‘For nearly two centuries, much of what the West knew about Asia came through the East India Company, the British corporation (1600–1873) that exercised a monopoly on trade with India and Southeast and East Asia. Company Curiosities showcases specimens that the company collected there, including crafts, weapons, jewelry and ornaments.’ — Wall Street Journal

‘MacGregor has bravely and broadly charted this immense territory, creating an indispensable map, guide and first port of call . . . At a time when the director of the Victoria & Albert Museum is calling for a return to the original aims of the museum, as a source and inspiration for manufacturers, he would do well to read this book, to see how well the East India Company accomplished this aim, if not through its own museum, then through its legacy of involvement with temporary exhibitions and other institutions.’ — Journal of the History of Collections

‘Arthur MacGregor’s engaging and informative text opens up a fruitful new aspect of our shared history, enriched with unfamiliar images and intriguing documents, illuminating the complex and deeply entwined visual and cultural histories of India and Britain.’ — The Arts Scholar

Company Curiosities is an ambitious book. It seeks to give an overview of the collecting and related activity of the East India Company and its servants from the seventeenth century to the company’s final days in the aftermath of the Indian Mutiny. No previous study has attempted this comprehensively . . . The book lives up to its promise to examine the whole of the company’s collecting . . . MacGregor's book is strong on illustrative detail, and he obviously has a wealth of material at his disposal. Happily, he does not get bogged down in the detail, deploying specific examples to good effect in thematic chapters and sections . . . The prose is lively and interesting . . . well produced, with nearly 200 illustrations, many in colour.’ — The Antiquaries Journal

Company Curiosities is the insightfully told story of how natural history, but also archaeological and ethnographical, collections from South Asia became accumulated and cultivated by the EIC, and how these collections informed the public, shaping the Britons’ views of India’s potential and exploitability, but also its beauty, nature and heritage . . . a handsomely designed, well-bound and lavishly illustrated volume in royal octavo format: a pleasure to read.’ — Archives of Natural History

‘MacGregor has taken on a huge task in endeavouring to cover every aspect of the Company’s ‘cultural wing’ as it would be called today. Some of the commissioned or collected items mentioned have generated their own scholarly research fields including early photography of India’s ancient monuments, and botanical and animal paintings. It is good to have them all together in a single, if large volume with copious notes and illustrations. This is a welcome antidote to writers who have chosen to concentrate on the Company’s misdeeds, rather than acknowledging what was perhaps the largest ever concentrated effort by one country to understand another.’ — Asian Affairs

‘MacGregor is preeminently qualified as a specialist in collection history. Numerous monographs, journal articles, and museum and exhibition catalogs have highlighted aspects of this fascination with India, but Company Curiosities covers the whole . . . The book includes a large number of well-chosen quotes and contains 178 illustrations . . . it is a rich, very informative, readable book, based on extensive literature.’ — Isis Journal

‘This book makes clear the sheer scope and diversity of East India Company collecting. In treating the collection of natural history specimens, antiquities, art, material culture and ethnographic objects as part of a larger and interrelated story, Company Curiosities significantly enhances our understanding of colonial collecting in India and the presentation of these collections in Britain. The book is profusely illustrated with artworks and objects drawn from an impressive variety of museum and gallery collections, many never before published. Making this collection more widely available is a major contribution in itself. This book will be a key resource for historians of collecting and historians of South Asia, as well as appealing to a more general readership.’ — Professor Felix Driver

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Arthur MacGregor is a former archaeologist and was Senior Curator at the Ashmolean Museum, Oxford. He is a founding editor of the Journal of the History of Collections and the author of Bone, Antler, Ivory and Horn (1985), Curiosity and Enlightenment: Collectors and Collections from the Sixteenth to the Nineteenth Century (2007) and Animal Encounters (Reaktion, 2012).

Preamble: The East India Company, 1600–1874

Part I: The Company Collects
Part II: India viewed from England

Photo Acknowledgements