Inside the Lost Museum

Explore museum history

Navigate the timeline by clicking on any date or dragging the viewfinder at the bottom. ;xNLx;;xNLx;Click the "More -->" button for more information. Then click the "Find out more" button for links to original sources.;xNLx;;xNLx;Stories are color-coded. Museums collect (green), preserve (purple), display (gray), and use artifacts in other ways (blue). Stories in red provide context for the timeline.;xNLx;;xNLx;Want to know more? Read [;xSTx;i;xETx;Inside the Lost Museum: Curating, Past and Present;xSTx;/i;xETx;](, by Steven Lubar, published by Harvard University Press. ;xNLx;;xNLx;Special thanks to [Emily Esten]( for her work on this project.

1590-01-01 00:00:00


1600-01-01 00:00:00

Wunderkammer & Cabinets of Curiosity

1628-01-01 00:00:00

The Gallery of Cornelis van der Geest

1653-07-01 16:00:44

Archduke Leopold William in his Gallery at Brussels

1655-07-01 16:00:44

Ole Worm's Cabinet of Curiosities

1683-07-01 16:00:44

Grand Opening of the Ashmolean Museum

It was the scientific utility of the collection that Ashmole stressed in the statutes he drew for the governance of his new foundation: “Because the knowledge of Nature is very necessarie to humaine life, health, & the conveniences thereof, & because that knowledge cannot be soe well & usefully attain’d, except the history of Nature be knowne & considered … I have amass’d together great variety of natural Concretes & Bodies, & bestowed them on the University of Oxford….” The newly founded Ashmolean was presided over by Dr Robert Plot, a natural scientist and the University’s first professor of chemistry. Having supervised the transfer of Ashmole’s benefaction to Oxford in March 1683 (when the arrival of twelve cart-loads of material was recorded), Plot set about installing it. The collection itself was confined to the uppermost of the building’s three floors, the basement level being fitted out as a chemical laboratory (the first such facility within the University) and the ground floor being taken up by offices and the ‘School of Natural History’; all three elements were conceived as forming a single, unified institution, integrated under Plot’s control….in keeping with its founder’s vision, it was the Museum’s role as the centre of scientific life in the University that was considered paramount during this period.

1690-01-01 00:00:00

Cabinet of Curiosities

1710-01-01 00:00:00

Frederik Ruysch's Museum

Ruysch’s museum includes human and comparative preparations of all kinds – in fluids, dried and inflated, but the lesson it conveyed was beyond the comprehension of his technical mind. To him an animal was only the corpus vile on which to exercise unrivalled power of dissection and display. No serious attempt is made towards a scientific classification of animals or organs, or to build up a system of philosophic anatomy. In place of this the preparations are arranged, not to illustrate any principle of biological science, but to produce a picturesque effect….Instead of the joy and stimulus of scientific speculation, the museum only reminds him of the sorrows of this world and the imminence of the next.

1743-12-01 01:12:26

The Family Pact for the Uffizi Gallery

The Most Serene Electress cedes, gives, and transfers to His Royal Highness at the present moment, for him and for successive Grand Dukes, all the furniture, effects, and rarities from the succession of her brother, the Most Serene Grand Duke, such as Galleries, Paintings, Statues, Libraries, Jewels, and other previous things such as Holy Relics and Reliquaries and the Ornaments of the Chapel of the Royal Palace, so that His Royal Highness commits himself to preserve them with the express condition that nothing which is for the ornament of the State, for the use of the public, and to attract the curiosity of foreigners will be transported or taken away from the Capital and State of the Grand Duchy.

1762-01-01 00:00:00

Johann Hermann's Collections

Starting as a medical student at the University of Strasbourg, Johann Hermann had a personal affection for collecting specimens for his personal natural history cabinet. In order to catalog the natural history of the region, he often took students on cataloging excursions. Upon his death in 1800, his 18,000 natural history volumes formed the basis of the Natural History Museum of Strasbourg. His zoological and botanical collections formed the basis of the Zoological Museum of Strasbourg.

1762-12-01 01:12:26

The General Contents of the British Museum

Conscious of the Uprightness of my Intentions, meaning only to oblige the Public, I shall attempt to conduct the curious Observer through the several Departments of the British Museum, which are three in Number; the Department of Manuscripts, Medals, and Coins; that of Natural and Artificial Productions; and the Department of printed Books; besides many Articles in the Hall, in the first Room above Stairs, and other Places, which are not comprehended in any particular Department.

1780-01-01 00:00:00

John Adams on Visiting the Paris Cabinet of Natural History

My dear Portia- Yesterday We went to see the Garden of the King, Jardin du Roi, and his Cabinet of natural History, Cabinet d'Histoire naturell. The Cabinet of natural History is a great Collection, of Metals, Mineral, shells, Insects, Birds, Beasts, Fishes, and presscious stones. They are arranged in good order, and preserved in good condition, with the name of every thing beautifully written on a piece of paper annexed to it. There is also a Collection of Woods and marbles. The garden is large and airy, affording fine Walks between Rows of Trees. Here is a Collection from all Parts of the World, of all the plants, Roots and Vegetables that are used in medicine, and indeed of all the Plants and trees in the World. A fine Scaene for the studious youth in Physick or Philosophy.... When shall We have in America, such Collections? The Collection of American Curiosities that I saw at Norwalk in Connecticut made by Mr. Arnold, which he afterwards to my great mortification sold to Gov. Tryon, convinces me, that our Country affords as ample materials, for Collections of this nature as any part of the World.

1790-07-01 16:00:44

Ticket to the British Museum

The British Museum opened its doors to visitors in 1759. Only a small number of tickets were issued for each day, and visitors were taken round the Museum in groups of five.

1796-12-01 01:12:26

The Grand Gallery of the Louvre

1798-09-01 15:15:19

Early Records from the Charleston Museum

Presented 16th June 1798 by Dr. Jas Lynah— A Quiver with poisoned Arrows from Sierra Leone Part of a human thigh bone with oysters growing out of it Species of the Moss & King Crabs - from St. Domingo.

1800-01-01 00:00:00

Teylers Museum, Oval Room

6 years after the death of Pieter Teyler van der Hulst, the 'Teylers Physische en Naturalien Kabinetten en Bibliotheek' opened its doors in 1784. This is the oldest museum in the Netherlands. In the foreground, Martinus van Marum's electrostatic generator is shown.

1800-07-01 16:00:44

The Early Museum

1809-10-01 02:52:21

"The Virtuoso" by Thomas Beck

"Some spend a life in classing grubs, and try, New methods to impale a butterfly; Or, bottled up in spirits, keep with care A crowd of reptiles - hideously rare; While others search the mouldering wrecks of time, And drag their stores from dust and rust and slime; Coins eat with canker, medals half defac'd, And broken tablets, never to be trac'd; Worm-eaten trinkets worn away of old, And broken pipkins form'd in antique mould; Huge limbless statues, busts of heads forgot, And paintings representing none knows what; Strange legends that to monstrous fables lead, And manuscripts that nobody can read; The shapeless forms from savage hands that sprung, And fragments of rude art, when Art was young. This previous lumber, labell'd, shelv'd, and cas'd, And with a title of Museum grac'd Shews how a man may time and fortune waste, And die a mummy'd connoisseur of taste."

1811-01-01 00:00:00

Herbarium Labels from the Robert Dick 19th-Century Collection

Botanical Exchange club of the British Isles: A selection of herbarium labels from the Robert Dick 19th century collection

1821-01-01 00:00:00

The Artist in His Museum

Peale's Philadelphia Museum, opened in 1786, showed off both the natural world and recent American history, all arranged to show the orderliness of things.

1850-07-01 16:00:44

Suggesting Glass Boxes for the National Gallery

Your Committee examined Mr. Uwins and Lieutenant-colonel Thwaites, whose evidence confirms the Report of the Commissioners. Mr. Uwins said that many persons use the Gallery as a place for refreshment and for appointments, without any apparent reference to the pictures. The average of daily visitors is said to exceed 3,000. The dust and impure vapours occasioned by this number of persons tend not only to cover the pictures with a film of dirt, but to produce, according to the opinion of Mr. Faraday, further injury to the colour of the paintings, which will permanently diminish their value….With a view to the preservation of the pictures, the Commissioners suggested that the pictures of moderate size might be covered with glass; a mode of protecting them which has been found successful and which it appears has also been occasionally adopted in foreign Galleries. The Commissioners further recommended that means should be taken to preserve the backs of the pictures from the dust and impurities continually deposited upon them, and which, in regard to paintings on canvas, are believed to constitute another source of injury.

1850-11-01 15:53:50

Benjamin Disraeli on admitting children to the National Gallery

Have not the Trustees power to make regulations to prevent persons taking refreshments in the National Gallery? - They have the power to make such regulations; I am not sure whether there are such regulations put up in the hall. Have not they the power to make regulations to prevent the introduction of children under a certain age? - They have that power, but it has never been exercised ; on the contrary, it was the wish especially of Lord Liverpool that children of all ages should be admitted. That children in arms should be permitted? - Yes ; Lord Liverpool's reason was, that by admitting children, the parents had the power of coming; and if the children did not come, the parents could not; but if my opinion were asked, I should say, it is very injudicious, because it must be a dangerous thing to admit children ; they do mischief in various ways.

1852-01-01 00:00:00

Free Admission Day

1855-01-01 00:00:00

Curiosities at the National Institute

WINDOW OPPOSITE CASE 24./Relics from the tomb of Mrs. Washington, near Fredericksburg, Va./Lines to her grave, transcribed by Miss M.E. Summers./Portrait of William Wheelwright./Fragment of the Plymouth Rock./A piece of the tree under which Penn treated with the Indians for Pennsylva/nia, in the year 1682..../A fragment of the flag of Pizarro, the conquerer of Peru./Hair of General Bolivar./A piece of the Charter Oak./Ball made of pieces of the uniforms of Washington's staff officers whilst at/Harrisburg, Pa./Provincial money of Pennsylvania, printed by Benjamin Franklin./Continental money./An engraving showing the clemency of Napoleon.

1858-01-01 00:00:00

Exhibition of the Photographic Society of London

1860-01-01 00:00:00

Founding of Mount Vernon

The Mount Vernon Ladies’ Association has rescued the tomb and home of Washington from destruction and has restored Mount Vernon to its old-time loveliness. Washington’s home is charming to-day even as it was when weary with years of war and party strife the great man found in this loved spot the repose of private life and the tranquil retirement of a Virginia country gentleman. To preserve Mount Vernon perpetually unchanged in memory of Washington is the sacred trust of the Mount Vernon Association, and this trust is held in the name of the women of the nation who purchased it.

1862-01-01 00:00:00

John Edward Gray on Stamp Collecting

THE collecting of Postage Stamps is a fashion not confined to this country, or to a single class; for collections are frequently to be seen in the drawing-room of the luxurious, in the study of the enlightened, and the locker of the schoolboy. The fashion has been ridiculed as all fashion will be; but if postage stamps are properly studied, collected, and arranged, there is no reason why they may not be quite as instructive and entertaining as the collection of birds, butterflies, shells, books, engravings, coins, or other objects. The use and charm of collecting any kind of object is to educate the mind and the eye to careful observation, accurate comparison, and just reasoning on the differences and likeness which they present.... The postage stamps afford good objects for all these branches of study, as they are sufficiently different to present broad outlines for their classification; and yet some of the variations are so slight that they require minute examination and comparison to prevent them from being overlooked.

1867-12-01 01:12:26

Caricatures: Visiting the Egyptian Section

Honore Daumier, "The Egyptians weren't good looking!", 1867. A caricature of french working class gazing at an Egyptian frieze of gods with human torsos but heads of pigs, cocks... at the art museum.

1872-01-01 00:00:00

The Higher Education of Mechanics for their Trades

Then we sadly need good museums in all our large cities. The good such institutions effect is immense; not counting the delight afforded to the educated public. Europe is far ahead of America in this particular, though in the future we ought to have as many and as good museums, as all Europe put together now has.... Many times before coming to America, the writer visited the British and South Kensington Museums. It was constantly a delight to him to observe the orderly throngs of working people viewing everything with evident interest and respecting all they saw, as if it would be a sacrilege to touch or damage anything exhibited. That many whom I saw there carried away with them valuable ideas and suggestions, an instance that came under my own notice, will serve to show.

1875-01-01 00:00:00

The First Egyptian Room at the British Museum

This is one of a collection of photographs taken by Frederick York of Notting Hill in 1875 which shows the first Egyptian room of the Museum. Along the wall above the display cases can be seen a cast of the sculptured and painted bas relief depicting the conquest of the Egyptian king Ramses II (reigned about 1279–1213 BC) over the Ethiopians. The cast was made from the original situated at a small temple in Beit et-wali, lower Nubia (in present day southern Egypt) in 1825. Colours were added to the cast based upon those observed on site. The cases below were mainly devoted to what the guide book of the time described as the ‘civil section’, showing domestic items such as furniture and costumes. The exception to this were the cases seen in the far left of the photo, which contained religious iconography, including representations of sacred animals such as the jackal of Anubis and the Apis bull. The case in the far corner (Case 7) contained images of Anubis and Bes. The mummies and coffins shown in the foreground were displayed in two rows of angled cases along the central part of the gallery.

1876-12-01 01:12:26

Harmony in Blue and Gold

1880-01-01 00:00:00

The Brunonian on Brown's Lack of Materials

A cabinet of comparative anatomy is essential to any college....Every plant and animal is an expressed thought of God, and cannot be presented through the medium of a professor. Brown has one ghastly skeleton and two or three small charts, and a few promiscuous bones!

1880-07-01 16:00:44

Martin Brimmer on the Future of Collecting

Judgments of intrinsic merit...are nowhere infallible. They vary somewhat with individual tastes; they vary more with the shifting tendencies of the time.... What we need is a collection of permanent value, and in forming it, it will be well to avoid too strict an adherence to the theories...of the day. The function of the managers of a museum is not criticism, but the collection of materials for the criticism of others. While they should carefully guard against the inroad of pictorial rubbish, they should bring to the increase of their stores a broad and tolerant spirit.

1880-12-01 01:12:26

World's Fair

1882-01-01 00:00:00

Smithsonian Institution on Accession Cards

The Curator, after receiving an accession lot, shall, at his earliest convenience, and as a matter of urgent routine business (if possible the same day), fill up the accession card with the data necessary for the "Descriptive List of Accessions," and return it to the Registrar...

1882-01-01 00:00:00

Barnet Phillips on Smithsonian collecting

It does not, of course, behoove a great national enterprise of the character I have tried to describe to play the part of a solicitor, nor can it go from collector to collector and beg for contributions for its cases. Still, without directly asking such an enlightened mass of people as our own, it counts a great deal on private support. It believes that there are many people in this country - men of means, of intelligence - who, if they understood what is the aim of this museum - that of national education - they would gladly send to it their collections, or, knowing what particular class of objects the institution was desirous of securing, would come forward spontaneously and give it their aid.

1882-11-01 15:53:50

Smithsonian Registration Policies

The following rules for the acknowledgment of specimens will be adhered to: 1. Each contribution will be recognized by a formal written acknowledgment from the Director. 2. Each Contribution will be published in the annual reports of the Smithsonian Institution and the National Museum; and in the catalogues and other publications of these establishments in which the objects contributed may be alluded to, the name of the contributor will always be given. 3. On the label, which is invariably attached to every object, the name of the contributor will be conspicuously printed. In the case of donations the form will be the "Gift of --- ----," and where the objects have been obtained by special exertions of a friend of the Museum, who, however, is not their donor, the form will be "Obtained by--- ---," or "Collected by --- ---."

1883-01-01 00:00:00

W.S. Jevons on Children in Museums

To children especially the glancing at a great multitude of diverse things is not only useless but actually pernicious, because it tends to destroy that habit of concentration of attention, which is the first condition of mental acquisition.

1883-07-01 16:00:44

Anonymous Complaint about Curators

Leave to consult original specimens cannot be lightly granted, and the idiosyncrasies of their guardians is a large element of uncertainty in the way of those desiring to see such treasures. There are also classes of persons daily on the increase who should, at any rate, have the privilege of seeing them, though not fit to be trusted with their direct handling; and the wants of this class cannot be justly disregarded. We are therefore most heartily in sympathy with Mr. Goode in his opinion, that the highest value of original records is given to them when they are placed on exhibition; but we probably differ in thinking that this should be done in museums or collections exclusively devoted to research, and meant for the use of the special student rather than the general public.

1883-12-01 01:12:26

W.S. Jevons on Local Museum Collections

Everybody knows what a heterogeneous and absurd jumble a local Museum too often is in the present day. Any awkward article which a person of the neighborhood wanted to get rid of is handed over to the Museum and duly stuck up, labelled with the name of its donor.

1884-12-01 01:12:26

Gallery of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, Copley Square

1886-01-01 00:00:00

Room 32 in the National Gallery, London

1887-01-01 00:00:00

A Visit to the Louvre

In 1887, 23-year-old artist Bolton Coit Brown wrote to his parents of his travels in London and Paris. He illustrated the letter thoroughly, including a view of the halls of the Louvre. He gives a roll call of the artworks he saw and his impressions: "Rembrandt is the great portrait painter and technician to my mind. Rubens I can't say I like much."

1890-01-01 00:00:00

Education in the Progressive Museum

1891-12-01 01:12:26

Sir William Henry Flower on Curators

Now a curator of a museum, if he is fit for his duties, must be a man of very considerable education as well as natural ability. If he is not himself an expert in all the branches of human knowledge his museum illustrates, he must be able to understand and appreciate them sufficiently to know where and how he can supplement his own deficiencies, so as to be able to keep every department up to the proper level. His education, in fact, must be not dissimilar to that required for most of the learned professions. Skill, manual dexterity, and good taste are also most valuable. He must, in addition, if he is to be a success in his vocation, possess various moral qualifications not found in every professional man - punctuality, habits of business, conciliatory manners, and, above all, indomitable and conscientious industry in the discharge of the small and somewhat monotonous routine duties which constitute so large a part of a curator's life.

1893-01-01 00:00:00

Dahomey Village, World's Columbian Exposition

The scene outside a recreated West African village, one of many ethnographic exhibits featured on the Midway Plaisance.

1893-12-01 01:12:26

Brown University's Gallery of Classical Antiquities

A small museum of plaster casts, about two dozen busts and a few full-size reproductions of classical sculpture, including the Elgin marbles. The casts were models for art students, offering a lesson in beauty: Brown’s president Elisha Andrews declared that the casts presented “the principles for all the aesthetic developments of modern times.” They were also avatars of classical ideals. A professor at Johns Hopkins wrote that “many advantages can be gained for the higher Hellenic humanism and classical culture by a contemplation of casts of the noblest treasures of Greek art.”

1895-01-01 00:00:00

George Brown Goode on Museum Workers

No man is fitted to be a museum officer who is disposed to repel students or inquirers, or to place obstacles in the way of access to the material under his charge.

1895-07-01 16:00:44

Franklin Hooper, Mission of the Brooklyn Institute

[The museum should embrace] all known human history, the infinite capacity of man to act, to think and to love, and the many departments of science and of art which he has developed. Through its collections in the arts and sciences, and through its libraries, it should be possible to read the history of the world.

1895-12-01 01:12:26

George Brown Goode on Salaries

No investment is more profitable to a museum than that in its salary fund.

Inside the Lost Museum

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