Thursday, March 26, 2009

"Medicine Cabinet of Curiosities," Fortean Times "Dead & Buried?" Issue

Friend of Morbid Anatomy Ky Olsen has just sent me a wonderful link: it seems the Fortean Times (in this month's "Dead & Buried?" issue!) has published a story about "Blythe House"--the storehouse that holds artifacts of the Henry Wellcome collection not currently on display at either the Science Museum or the Wellcome Collection. Called "Medical Cabinet of Curiosities," the piece is a sort of lyrical ode to the overstuffed storehouse, also memorably paid homage to by The Brothers Quay in their short film "The Phantom Museum." I only wish there were more photographs of the backrooms to accompany the piece, but alas. Words will have to do.

Here are some of those words, from the article (with the original links intact):

Most of the medical history objects crammed into Blythe House’s cupboards and jostling for space on its shelves come from the collection of the pharmacist and philanthropist Henry Wellcome (1853-1936), and the air of barely contained chaos seems somehow to bear the echo of his exuberant, omnivorous delight in things. In the surgery room, lines of near-identical scalpels and tonsil guillotines are marshalled in drawerfuls of menace; nestling nearby are materials and skull fragments used in experiments by an English doctor interested in Neolithic trepenation; German WWI cotton wool is bundled in corners; surgeons’ ornate walking sticks hang over high shelves, lasting testimony to the status anxiety of their owners. Locked up in the drugs room are the antidote cases and medicine chests sent by the publicity-savvy and lionizing Wellcome on famous adventurers’ expeditions to Everest or Brazil or the Antarctic, and thousands of jars of exotically strange natural medicines collected from around the world and inscribed with apothecary-evoking legends like ‘East Indian Blistering Fly’ or ‘Dragon’s Blood’. The room of x-ray machines crosses an eccentric inventor’s workshop with a torture chamber, and contains oddities like the Pedoscope, left-over from the days when irradiation seemed a fun way to fit shoes, and early MRI brain scan equipment disguised as Jedi helmets so as not to scare the children...

Click here to read the whole article--well worth checking out! Click here to see David Pescovitz's post on Boing Boing about the article. Visit the Science Museum's infinitely browsable "Brought To Life" website, which makes this entire collection available via beautiful photos and accessible information (and from which the above image is drawn), by clicking here. For more about the Science Museum and the Wellcome Collection, see a recent Morbid Anatomy post by clicking here.

Image: Set of 60 miniature heads used in phrenology, Manchester, 1831
The heads were made by William Bally who studied phrenology under Spurzheim from 1828 onwards. The heads may have been used to teach phrenology but were probably made as a general reference collection. A wide range of different heads are present. For instance head number 54 is that of a scientific man, and head number 8 is recorded as the head of an ‘idiot.’ © The Science Museum

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