On occasion objects come into the archive collections which are labelled and usually these labels are taken at face value unless there is good reason to believe otherwise. However, we recently examined an object label which caused us to question the accuracy of the information on the label.

Through a chance set of circumstances two particular boxes of objects were brought back to the IET Archive Centre from storage at the same time. Once those boxes had arrived it was noticed that the online catalogue showed two items with a different reference number, supposedly one in each box, and each with an identical description.

The description for both items was ‘gavel set presented to the IEE by the Institution of Electrical and Electronics Technician Engineers upon the centenary of the IEE in 1971’.

The first thought was that there must be some duplication in the catalogue and there was an expectation that upon examining the contents of the boxes we would find that only one gavel existed. However, when we opened the boxes we did find a gavel set in each box.

The first gavel (new reference OPC/1/161/7) is shown below:


The wood for the gavel and stand match (wood colour and grain) and there is a metal engraved plate which says ‘THE INSTITUTION OF ELECTRICAL ENGINEERS – CENTENARY YEAR. Presented by the Institution of Electrical and Electronics Technician Engineers, 17 May 1971′

The second gavel (new reference OPC/1/161/9) is shown below:


The mount (in 2 sections), with typed label glued to the base, and its associated gavel appear to be a second gavel gift set (the set is the same colour and wood grain – though these are different from the first gavel set) presented by the Institution of Electrical and Electronics Technician Engineers to the IEE upon its centenary in 1971.

Which is the real gavel presented by the IEETE to the IEE in 1971?

Whilst it is possible that the IEETE gavel the IEE two sets of gavels and stands this would be highly unusual. If the IEETE only presented one gavel set then the question becomes which set is likely to be the genuine set? Our belief is that the top gavel set is the original as someone has gone to the effort of having a metal plate engraved and this would be an appropriate treatment for a centenary presentation gift from one professional body to another. It is also unlikely that an organisation would stick a typed label to such a high profile gift.

Our guess, and it is no better than a guess, is that the second gavel set was discovered without a label at some point after 1971 and that it was assumed to be the IEETE’s gavel gift. The 1970s was a period well before the advent of archive cataloguing software and tracking tools such as barcodes and even the IEE’s Archives only came into existence after 1970.

The catalogue entries for these two gavel sets have now been amended to refer to each other and to mention the uncertainty about the provenance of the second gavel set.

Note: The IEETE and the IEE are both predecessor organisations of the IET. The IEETE, after a number of mergers and name changes, was one of the organisations that merged to form the IIE in 1998, which itself merged with the IEE in 2006 to form the IET.