Wednesday, May 25, 2022

Love thy brother and sister and fellow human

my daughter and me at the first Black Lives Matter 
protest in our Maryland town, 6/2/20

Sunday, May 8, 2022

Bill Finger’s scarab paperweight: mystery solved

In 2006, a beetle landed on my desk. It was not alive, and it came not from nature but rather another writers desk and, before that, the Museum of Natural History in New York.

This paperweight was a gift from writer Charles Sinclair, who inherited it from his friend (and Batman co-creator) Bill Finger, who in the late 1960s or early 1970s had received it as a gift from his second wife Lyn Simmons. That’s already a lot of backstory for a little bug, and the Bill connection was all I needed for it to be culturally valuable. 

So I never considered that there could be more to it.

This week I heard from Alex Cash, who will soon be launching a Batman podcast called Bat Lessons.

He informed me that Bill’s scarab was likely from a batch made by Alva Studios, a company that produced replicas of ancient jewelry and sculpture which were sold at museum gift shops starting in the late 1940s.

This particular replica commemorates Amenhotep III, a pharaoh of the 1300s BCE (18th dynasty). In particular, it glorifies the pharaoh’s hunting skills. The hieroglyphics on the bottom tell how Amenhotep III slayed 102 lions. (That crushes my record.)

To date, 123 of the OG scarabs have been excavated. They are made of a metamorphic rock called steatite, or soapstone, which is a variety of talc. The Global Egyptian Museum, the British Museum, and the Met each have at least one of the originals.

To quote Alex, referring to the scarab at the British Museum: “Note that it is written right to left, while Bill’s replica reads left to right. Hieroglyphics can be written and read either way. Animals and humans always face towards the beginning of the line. Size (and therefore line length) also varies from scarab to scarab. ‘102’ is on its own line, but on Bill’s, it is with the final line of text.”

These scarabs even have a Wikipedia entry hiding in plain sight, where you can read the full translation of the hieroglyphics.

Thank you again, Alex!

In sum, going backwards in time:

backstory 1: Charles gave the paperweight to me.
backstory 2: Charles got the paperweight from Bill, presumably after Bill died.
backstory 3: Lyn gave the paperweight to Bill after purchasing it at a museum.
backstory 4: The paperweight was produced by a company that specializes in replicas of pre-CE craftwork. 
backstory 5: Amenhotep III of Egypt was revered for killing lots of big cats.

(I am confident that this post has more hyperlinks than any other post about a paperweight in the history of the internet.)