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Collecting the World

Written by Lakshini Mendis |


A voracious collector of items and objects relating to the history of science, Sir Henry Wellcome, had amassed 125,000 medical objects (and more than a million objects in total) at the time of his death in 1936.


An American by birth, Sir Henry Wellcome moved to the UK as a 27-year-old, founding a pharmaceutical company with his old college mate, Silas Burroughs. The pair soon grew the company into a multinational enterprise. Wellcome used the wealth from the companies success to found scientific research laboratories. The scientists he funded developed antitoxins for tetanus, diphtheria, and gas gangrene during his lifetime. They also isolated histamine, which led to the production of antihistamine production, and standardised insulin and other medicines. The Wellcome Trust continues to fund great ideas that improve health today.

During this time, Wellcome also pursued his other interests, dabbling in archaeology and aerial photography, and started collecting medical and anthropological curios around the world.

Wellcome built his collection "to illustrate the development of the art and science of healing throughout the ages"

The Wellcome building, which was built in 1932, according to Sir Henry's precise specifications, now houses the Wellcome Collection. The eclectic collection features artefacts that range from Sri Lankan exorcism masks, to Nightingale's moccasins, to Napolean's toothbrush, to Darwin's walking stick.


One thing is certain, however, Wellcome's vision continues to be realised, with thousands of visitors reflecting on the connections between science, medicine, life, art, and what it means to be human.

The image above illustrates a collection of pharmaceutical jars of various shapes and colours. Explore more curios from the Wellcome collection here.

Learn more about Sir Henry Wellcome and the Wellcome collection below. For more information about the exhibits click here.


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