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Topic section: Collecting to make a museum
TOPIC SECTION:
Collecting to make a museum
There are some museums which have started with nothing but the will to build up a collection and display it, but not many. For most, the
Image: The British Nave of the Great Exhibition 1851
The British Nave of the Great Exhibition, 1851, held in a giant glass building called the Crystal Palace
Credit: Science & Society Picture library
ir beginnings arose from collections created by some other stimulus. This might have been an international exhibition, such as t
Success begets success. In the late 1970s the Science Museum planned a new museum devoted to the history of photography
he Great Exhibition of 1851, or perhaps a great private collection. When the South Kensington Museum opened in 1857 there was not much in the way of a science display. Engineering and industry were, however, well represented by a collection brought together by Bennet Woodcroft of the Patent Office. In 1884 ownership of the Patent Office collection was transferred to what is now the Science Museum. It provided the foundation of the present mechanical engineering collections.

Woodcroft’s greatest successor in the twentieth century was probably Sir Henry Wellcome, the f
Making the Modern World Gallery, opened in 2000
Making the Modern World, opened in 2000, deliberately recalled the Great Exhibition of 1851
Credit: Science & Society Picture library
ounder of the great pharmaceutical company Burroughs Wellcome. During his lifetime Wellcome gathered together an enormous collection of artefacts on the history of medicine. Initially passed to a trust, the collection, comprising about 100,000 items, came to the Science Museum on loan in 1976.

Sometimes we take on entire museums. The nationalised transport industry built up a very large collection of railway artefacts in the 1950s which was hous ed in a museum in Clapham, south London. Ownership was transferred to the Science Museum in 1968 and in 1975 the collection was reborn in York as the National Railway Museum.

Success begets success. In the late 1970s the Science Museum planned a new museum devoted to the history of photography. It was to be located in Bradford, West Yorkshire, an area requiring regeneration following the contraction of the textile industry. This opened in 1983 as the National Museum of Photography, Film & Television. Initially it exploited the Science Museum’s large holdings of photographic equipment, but has since also built up world-class collections on cinema history and television.

The creators of the original museum at South Kensington would probably be astonished at the changes to their vision of 1857. The collections they started remain, however, at the heart of the Science Museum’s activity. We, too, would no doubt be amazed at the uses to which those same objects will be put another hundred years hence.
 
 
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Topic section: Collecting to make an exhibition
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Collecting for display is where the roots of the museum’s collections lie and for many years it was possible to show in the museum galleries everything that was acquired  > more

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Topic section three: Collecting then and now
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It was not until the 1950s that the concept of collecting for posterity, as distinct from display, began to be part of the Science Museum’s philosophy. The collecting policy is now at the heart of all acquisition. Consider the diversity of the objects acquired starting with those in 2004  > more
 
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