James R Ogden founded his jewellery business Ogden of Harrogate in 1893, requiring him to travel widely to obtain jewels, for which the business became renowned.
When Howard Carter discovered Tutankhamun’s tomb, he invited James to the Valley of the Kings to value and weigh the gold, including Tutankhamun’s coffin. The Harrogate jeweller was one of the first people in more than 3,000 years to enter the tomb.
He was captivated by the incredible archaeological finds of the day from the Middle East and this developed further into a deeper understanding of archaeology.
Ogden of Harrogate continues to succeed under the direction of JR Ogden’s great, great grandsons Robert and Ben Ogden.
Robert Ogden said: “The history of our business is our corner-stone and we have recently been cataloguing our archive, where we have a vast collection of JR Ogden’s memorabilia, including a remarkable collection of 10,000 lantern slides of his travels to Tutankhamun’s tomb, and artefacts from his expeditions to Ur, Babylon, Palestine, Syria, and Assyria.
“There are also hundreds of letters that are fascinating glimpses of the key characters of that time, and their explorations.”
James R Ogden got to know Howard Carter, Lord Carnarvon, Max Mallowan (Agatha Christie’s second husband) and worked especially closely with the archaeologists Leonard and Katherine Woolley.
Some of these artefacts and letters will be displayed for the first time in the special exhibition. It includes the previously unseen letters of Katherine Woolley, a pioneering female archaeologist, that are of particular interest, as on her death she asked that all her personal documents be destroyed.
James became a collaborator and fundraiser for leading archaeologists of the day, including the Woolleys, using his knowledge of the working of gold to help interpret the material found at digs, and becoming a restorer and replica maker.
James made many replicas of the artefacts found at Tutankhamun and Ur and donated them to the British Museum. He gave lectures showcasing his slides to audiences across the UK. The 1923 discovery of Tutankhamun captivated imaginations across the world.
The event provides an insight into the social and political context in which archaeology was performed at that time. JR Ogden collected hundreds of newspaper clippings about archaeological digs, some of which will also be on display.
Robert said: “The Ogden archive will be made available to historians for further study. Who can’t be captivated by the adventures of these pioneers of archaeology and the mysteries they discovered?
“Like fine jewels, there are no doubt more romantic and enchanting stories waiting to be unearthed.”
Egypomania, an expedition in three parts: Tutankhamun, Expeditions in Ur and historic jewellery sales in the 130 years, runs at Ogden of Harrogate on James Street, Harrogate from Thursday, September 7 to Thursday, September 21, 2023.