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By Will Dave on

Surprises in the collection

Hear more from the volunteers in the inventory team who are busy cataloguing the collection.

At the Blythe House object store in London, over 50 colleagues are working hard to study, record, digitise, pack and transport over 300,000 items from the Science Museum Group Collection to their new home at the National Collections Centre in Wiltshire, which will open regularly to the public from 2023.

This blog series goes behind the scenes with the teams making this ambitious project happen.

We, Kate, Stella and Catarina, are volunteering with the inventory team.

Every day we are busy labelling objects so that they are ready to be photographed and can be properly identified after they’ve moved to their new home. This job allows us to get hands-on with the collection (with the obligatory nitrile gloves, of course) and reveal some surprising finds.

We hope this shows you just how varied the collection really is.


‘My personal interest lies in curios—objects that intrigue and astonish, the likes of which would have been found in Renaissance Wunderkammers. These cabinets of curiosity were precursors to the modern museum, and the wonders in the collection at Blythe House have not disappointed.

In a few short weeks I have found: a tinder box made out of a crocodile’s tooth and another made out of a porcupine’s tail; antique apothecary scales with weights called Drams and Scruples; and my favourite so far, a silver vinaigrette (or perfume bottle) in the shape of a skull, with a stopper made of its neck vertebrae.

Silver vinaigrette in the form of a skull.

These are just a few inspiring pieces and I honestly cannot wait for what I’ll find next!’


‘It’s been a great experience and I love that no two days are the same. I am constantly learning new facts and skills. Plus, I have the privilege of holding significant historical pieces in my hands!

An artefact which stood out to me is a gold medal, no larger than a five pence piece. To my surprise the face of Queen Elizabeth I was on the medal.

Oval gold medal, in extremely good condition, commemorating the recovery of Queen Elizabeth I from smallpox.

Through the museum database, I was able to establish that it was struck in 1572 to commemorate the recovery of Queen Elizabeth I from smallpox in 1562. Back in the 1500s, smallpox was a potentially life-threatening disease and Elizabeth I’s face was scarred as a result of the disease, which is why she painted her face white throughout her reign.’


‘My typical day as a packing volunteer starts with putting on my blue gloves so that I’m ready to handle many surprising objects. One curious object I handled was a baby gas mask used during World War II.

Baby’s gas mask, WWII (1939-1945).

I was surprised to find out that during World War II the baby gas masks were issued by the Government to protect children of up to two years old in case of attack. It was reported that these masks had the potential to cause asphyxiation but, fortunately, the masks were not used in real life.’

Surprised by some of the objects we’ve shared? Take a look at our Random Object Generator or Museum in a Tab extension for Google Chrome, and glimpse over 70,000 different items from the collection, with new additions each month. If you’re keen you can also set this as your screensaver.

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