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The Wellcome Historical Medical Museum displayed the private collection of Sir Henry Solomon Wellcome (1853-1933) of objects relating to the history of medicine. After his death the lengthy process of dismantling the collection began and took 50 years. In 1968 the Wellcome Historical Medical Museum and Library were renamed the Wellcome Institute for the History of Medicine. The Horniman Museum received objects from both these organisations.

Sir Henry Wellcome was a pharmacist and benefactor who made the largest collection of objects relating to the history of medicine of his day. The collection, estimated on his death to be over one million items, was housed in a network of warehouses across London with a fraction of the collection being put on permanent exhibition at the Wellcome Historical Medical Museum on Wigmore Street, in London from 1913-1932. The museum showed the evolution of medicine as well as non-medical items with the ultimate goal of the collection being a ‘museum of man’ that would cover all periods in all areas of the world. On Henry Wellcome’s death, the Wellcome Foundation trustees decided that it was necessary to dismantle his collection. This was an arduous task that began in 1936 and was not fully completed until 1983. The Wellcome Historical Medical Museum was finally dissolved in 1985 when all the distributions of material had been finalised.

The main ethnographic collection was distributed to interested museums between 1949 and 1954 in ten batches. The distribution of the 1300 cases of ethnographic material occurred at the British Museum with a number of specialist museums including the Horniman Museum participating in the process.

The later distribution of ethnographic material in the 1980s occurred during the transfer of the remaining history of medicine collection to the Science Museum. Surplus material was identified and transferred from the Wellcome Institute for the History of Medicine to appropriate institutions with the Horniman Museum again receiving a large collection of ethnographic material. This chiefly comprised archaeological objects and material from the Americas together with natural history specimens.

Henry Wellcome obtained these objects from a variety of original sources, for example the paddle from British Columbia in Canada (object number 7.45) and the specimen of Ningyo mermaid, also known as Feejee mermaid or merman from Japan (object number NH.82.5.223) were both purchased from the auction house of J.C. Stevens. Much research has been done in recent years to correlate the Horniman Museum’s Wellcome acquisition records with Wellcome’s catalogue cards and object numbers. This process has provided greater detail regarding the original origin of many of the objects.

http: library.wellcome.ac.uk/about-us/history-of-wellcome-library/


museum (1913 - 1932)
1913, London, England, UK, Western Europe, Europe  —  1968, London, England, UK, Western Europe, Europe
British  museum (1913-1932)
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