75 years of the Wellcome Trust

Today marks the 75th anniversary of the death of Sir Henry Solomon Wellcome (1853-1936). As part of his will, the Wellcome Trust was founded. The Trust is now the largest independent funder of medical research in the UK. 

Henry Wellcome, 1906 ( Wellcome Images )

 Henry Wellcome was a prolific collector of all things medical.

“Medicine has a history which has touched every phase of life and art and is to a large extent, bound up with records of human existence from earliest times.” – H. Wellcome

On his death there were over a million objects in his collection. Here at the Science Museum, we are privileged to look after some 100,000 objects from the Wellcome collection while the remainder were dispersed to museums on the four corners of the globe.

While it would be impossible to pick just one favourite object (mine changes on a weekly basis), I’ve done a survey of the medical curators’ office and here’s what we’ve come up with….

Amulet and charm to protect against plague, 1690-1710 ( Science Museum, London )

Not only a stunning object to look at, this amulet is covered with religious symbols and saints. Its one of the many religious items in the collection, a side to the Wellcome collection many are surprised to see. Religion and faith is just one response to epidemics of plague, alongside medical treatments and theories of disease.

Claxton ear cap, 1930s ( Science Museum, London )

Worn by babies to prevent ‘ugly ears’, the Claxton ear cap is an object just within living memory. What makes this object so appealing? It’s all about the body beautiful and how attitudes change rapidly over time.

And for something completely different, which you may remember from an earlier post. Food is an essential part of the human experience of life and death.

Ship's biscuit, 1875 ( Science Museum, London )

And finally, the thing Wellcome was famous for, his pharmaceutical company, Burroughs Wellcome & Co. These are just two of the many medicine chests Wellcome donated to explorers, politicians and celebrities of the day for advertising.

Medicine chests used on Everest expeditions, 1920s ( Science Museum, London )

To celebrate the medical curators will be giving free tours of the Science and Art of Medicine gallery on the 5th floor of the museum. Click here for more information.

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