Two tiny shoes

Throughout my childhood, two tiny silver slippers sat on my bedroom dressing table. When I moved out of the family home they remained there, until my parents downsized, and the slippers were included in the boxes of ‘treasures’ they sent to me. The silver slippers were ‘favours’ from wedding cakes of two of my Scottish family, and I remember the display of these small shoes being a source of childhood familial pride and a connection to my Scottish heritage.

However, to anyone else, they may seem like insignificant pieces of mass-produced plastic and it may be a mystery why I carefully store them. This is where an ‘object biography’ is useful to document the details of valued possessions to ensure that current and future generations understand the background and/or significance of family objects.

Object biographies can range from formal written documents, such as I did for one of the tiny shoes above, which examine the life story of an item – its origins, how it was made, its purpose and how that purpose may have changed or been interpreted over time, through to more informal video object biographies, with the owner discussing the object and its significance, ensuring there is a permanent archived record of the item’s story.

In each case, biographies can include information about the object’s:

  • manufacture – what materials were used, how they were sourced, techniques and processes used in making
  • purpose – both practical and symbolic
  • ownership – the chain of ownership from manufacturer/creator through to current day, and the means by which ownership has been transferred
  • condition – damage, repairs, alterations, identifying marks
  • significance – what does this object mean to the owner, why, and was that was the intended effect?

What are the stories of your favourite things?