Colonel Mendes Israel Cohen documented his purchases in Egypt in his Catalogue of Egyptian Antiquities: Consisting of Mummies, Funereal Vases, Idols, Amulets, Gems, etc. etc. Collected Chiefly on the Spot. Cohen spent four months traveling in Egypt in 1832, but this version (one of three) of the catalog was published somewhat later, likely between 1846 and 1879. His catalog entries are surprisingly detailed, typically describing the object’s appearance and material, giving its “locality” or where he purchased it, and its dimensions in inches. While some of the vocabulary that Cohen uses is not always easy to recognize (for example, “porcelain” for what we would now call Egyptian faience), the catalog has been an invaluable resource for trying to understand and reassemble Cohen’s original collection.
The individual we refer to as the “Cohen mummy” is one of several individuals purchased by Cohen during his time in Egypt. While this practice may seem strange to us today, there is an unfortunately long history of collecting mummies, and Cohen was likely following trends set by other collectors. From his catalog entries, it is unclear whether the “Cohen mummy” listed as No. 568 “Mummy of a youth, wrapped and bandaged; in perfect preservation” and purchased in Thebes, Egypt, was once placed in No. 569, a “Mummy case in wood, painted with verticle [sic] line of hierog[lyphs] in front” which was also collected in Thebes. Given the relative sizes of the individual and the coffin, and their close association in the Cohen catalog, it is possible that they belonged together, but the mystery of whether they were intended to be together in ancient times.