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Collections and Objects

Our world-class collection forms an enduring record of scientific, technological and medical achievements from across the globe. Come behind the scenes as we explore new object acquisitions and meet the conservation team.

Just short posts this week, as I’m mostly out and about. The first proper motorway in Britain opened fifty years ago this month – the M1. It’s hard to imagine life without motorways – those snaking ribbons of tarmac, the service stations, the blue-and-white signs and the seemingly endless congestion. Do we love them today? Probably not, if asked, but back in 1959, the M1 was magical. People queued up to see the modern way to travel… Part of the […]

Following my two recent posts about the merchant navy war memorial in London, my thoughts (like so many people) turned again this week to our war dead. At a moving Armistice Day ceremony this week, the Science Museum’s director laid a poppy wreath at our own modest memorial commemorating Science Museum staff killed in the two world wars: We must keep memories alive by telling stories, so here’s one that follows from my recent post on Rolls-Royce cars.  In 1915, the steamship Persia […]

We curators field lots of questions from the public about the Museum collections. One of the most common ones is when visitors remember seeing something when they came as a child, and now, back with their children, or grandchildren, want to know why they can’t find it again. Sometimes the answer is simple (the dinosaurs are next door!). At other times, galleries have closed, or objects been taken off display – and this is the fate of our shrunken heads, or tsantsas. […]

In a previous couple of posts I introduced Malcolm Campbell, who broke land and water speed records in the 1920s and 30s using vehicles named ‘Blue Bird’. One of his successful record-breaking attempts took place in February 1931 when he topped 245 miles per hour. Here’s our model of his car: Later that year, he decided to go for a ride in a somewhat slower car – a 1905 Rolls-Royce numbered AX148. This venerable old motor, with a top speed […]

Museum objects are not always what they seem, as this intriguing embroidery – currently on display in our Cosmos & Culture exhibition  – shows. The label on the frame says that it shows an astrologer forecasting the birth of a child to King Charles I and his Queen, Henrietta Maria. It’s also been suggested that the face rising from the frames is a tad beardy for a newborn and that the scene may forecast Charles’s execution. The astrologer is surrounded […]

Just a quick one today. Last time, I showed you our lovely Heathrow airline coach from the fifties. By the 1960s, these buses were transporting passengers to the latest airliners in the British European Airways (BEA) fleet – the Hawker Siddeley ‘Trident’. These three-engined jets were built by Hawker Siddeley to BEA’s specifications. We acquired ours in 1987, at the end of its 16-year lifetime. By then, BEA had become British Airways and the new firm was re-equipping with American-built Boeing aircraft (although Tridents […]

Ah, the half-term holidays. It was great to see so many visitors to the Science Museum last week – hope you had a good time! Others may perhaps have jetted away with the kids for a relaxing overseas break. Did you use Heathrow Airport? These days there are several ways to get there: car, taxi, train, Tube or coach. But for many travellers back in the 1950s, coach was the only option: That’s our AEC ‘Regal IV’ airline coach from […]

A couple of Sundays ago, I was waiting to cross the road when a pack of bikers rode past on Triumph motorcycles. I assumed they were off to a rally until I saw on the news later that Edward Turner, Triumph designer, was being honoured at a blue plaque unveiling in Peckham, London. That explained it. Turner designed the Ariel ‘Square Four’ motorbike in the late 1920s, released at the 1930 Motorcycle Show. It was a very popular bike and stayed in production […]

November 2 is the Day of the Dead, a colourful Mexican festival where people remember friends and family members who have died. A perfect day to have a look at some of our objects which represent the dead … First off there are death masks, used both to commemorate the famous and the criminal. This death mask of Benjamin Disraeli was taken six hours after he died in 1881. We’ve also got some slightly gruesome anatomical models:  Such models would normally be made as educational tools, but […]

On Saturday I visited the Kingsway tram tunnel in central London. This wonderful piece of Edwardian transport infrastructure opened in 1906 to allow electric trams to traverse central London without being held up by the horse-drawn congestion above ground: It was initially built for single-deck trams (compare my pic with this period photo from the London Transport Museum), but the tunnel was enlarged in the 1930s to accommodate double-deck vehicles similar to this one in our reserve collection, originally from Glasgow: However, by the second […]

The National Railway Museum has a very odd-looking device buried in its collections: a working model of a gyrostatic monorail car invented by Louis Brennan in 1907. I don’t feel able or qualified to explain the physics of gyrostats here. Suffice to say, Brennan’s vehicle ran on a single rail, stabilized by ingeniously-designed spinning fly-wheels so that it stayed upright even when fully loaded. Ingenious inventions like the gyrocar were all the rage in Edwardian Britain. On my shelves at home is a copy […]

I’m just back from a conference in Dresden. The Deutsches Hygiene-Museum, home to the wonderful transparent man (and woman), hosted a conference looking at wax moulages. Moulages are based on casts taken directly from patients, which are then moulded in wax to present case studies of particular diseases, especially dermatological conditions. Each one has its own medical and cultural story to tell, at once a medical specimen, an individual’s history as a patient, and cultural artefact.   These examples are from […]

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