Category Archives: MHS News

In Print Exhibition Now in the Entrance Gallery

The In Print exhibition, currently in the entrance gallery, is a selection of the interesting prints we’ve come across as part of the Making Prints Public project. This exhibition is one of two print related exhibitions in the museum at the moment, with Comets, Meteors and Fireballs in the basement gallery.


If you come to see In Print you may be initially surprised by what appears to be holes in the top of the prints in the tall glass cases at the front of the exhibition. This is the first time that the museum has used a magnet-mounting technique (instead of framing the prints). The holes are actually tiny neodymium magnets which we have used to clamp the prints against custom-made steel paper covered mounts. Magnetic strips were also used to hold on display labels.

The Making Prints Public project has been cataloguing, digitising and tweeting the museum’s print collection over 7 months. Many of the prints were taken from R.T. Gunther’s own personal collection, the Hope Portrait Collection, the Gabb collection and the Radcliffe Observatory collection. There were also items donated by John de Monins Johnson (1882–1956), printer, ephemerist, and classical scholar, and by Lewis Evans (1755–1827), mathematician, astronomer and sundial enthusiast.


A digital version of In Print can be found here. It closes on 11 June 2014.

Prints collection project update… over 1200 items catalogued!


German woodcut, cutting from book.

The researcher-cataloguer team at MHS have now finished cataloguing the prints collection, thanks to funding from the Arts Council England under the Designation Development Fund. We are now putting together an exhibition for the museum for early 2014.

Engraved by W. Bromley, London, 1797

Joseph Priestley, engraved by W. Bromley, London, 1797

We’ve been excited and amused by much of what we’ve uncovered while cataloguing over 1200 prints in the collection. It includes a range of popular techniques for making prints from the fifteenth to nineteenth centuries, including woodcuts, different styles of engravings, made using copper and steel, in line and stipple treatments, lithographs, and methods of hand and machine colouring in using inks and watercolours.

The prints collection was physically curated by our archivist, Tony Simcock, into subject-based folders over the years. Themes included astronomy, architecture, aeronautics, medicine, chemistry, pharmacy. You can see from looking in each folder how subjects have been depicted and treated in illustration over time, such as the depictions of laboratories from satires of an alchemist’s lab to a modern chemistry lab.

William Harvey,  engraved by J. Houbraken after Bemmel, Amsterdam, 1739

William Harvey, engraved by J. Houbraken after Bemmel, Amsterdam, 1739

Within the prints collection, there is a special collection of portraits of scientists. Many of these are engravings, mainly in line and stipple, created after older portraits and likenesses. Seventeenth- and eighteenth-century portraits of natural philosophers, astronomers, astrologers, antiquaries, surgeons, botanists and alchemists are often line engraved and represented in cartouches or as busts surrounded by representations of their subject (such as William Harvey Inv. No. 14459). Some of these include allegorical imagery, as the example of Joseph Priestley shows (Inv. No. 97347).

John Evans, engraved by Godfrey after Bulfinch, London, 1776

John Evans, engraved by Godfrey after Bulfinch, London, 1776

Some of the likenesses are less flattering: the example of John Evans (Inv. No. 33472), a seventeenth-century astrologer who was as famous for his debauched lifestyle as he was for his skills in mathematics, and can be seen here in an early nineteenth century stipple engraving.




Before the exhibition we will sharing interesting items on Twitter – do take a look via the new @MHSCollections account!

The acquisition of a WWII nursing handling collection

By Michelle Holloway, Education Officer

Michelle and a colleague model the Indoor and Outdoor nurse unifoms from the new handling collection

Michelle and a colleague model the Indoor and Outdoor nurse unifoms from the new handling collection

I was very excited when I heard that we had the opportunity to acquire some new objects from the Balfour Museum at the British Red Cross Offices in Winchester, which are to be closed down and the Museum with them. I had been looking for ways to build a Primary school session around our penicillin collection, and the possibility of acquiring some handling objects seemed an ideal way to shape a session, as well as adding to the existing session for secondary schools about the development of Penicillin. The WW2 connection is a great context for the climax of the story of penicillin. Handling objects are useful anyway, for any number of reasons, and education departments are always keen to acquire them, particularly when they are being offered free of charge.

At the end of December 2012, our long list of requested objects was de-accessioned from the Balfour, and found its way to the University of Oxford Joint Museum Education Service. While we will share all the objects (in fact, there is often lending and borrowing between the education departments of all the University Museums), a selection have found their way here, to serve as inspiration and motivation for the creation and promotion of a WWII session for primary schools.

We have been lucky enough to acquire two full indoor and outdoor uniforms, and when one of each came out of the box in the office, how could we resist trying them on? The result can be seen in the photograph above.

The process of acquiring the objects began in October 2012, when I went with a colleague from the Oxford University Joint Museums Service to the Balfour Museum where we found a small room packed with a huge assortment of objects and uniforms, mostly from the period around the Second World War. Armed with a list of the items on offer we viewed a table full of objects selected by the Balfour Collections Manager.

The room was very quiet and we were shy to reveal how many of these objects we would love to have, but just as we were in whispered conversation about how many would seem too greedy, the kind Collections manager piped up from the corner with “Everything here has to go, so please feel free to take anything that you might like”. It then became a question of reigning ourselves in, and remembering how we were hoping to use the objects for education.

While it was exciting to be choosing objects to take away with us, the rows of uniforms hanging in translucent dry cleaning bags, booklets on topics from first aid to how to deal with gas attacks, bandages, feeding cups, bedpans, first aid kits and myriad other miscellaneous objects hit me with a poignancy that I had not expected.

It was the drawers full of hundreds of medals for service (sometimes engraved with the names of the individuals who had earned them) which particularly struck me. Each of these represents an individual, most likely a woman, and also likely very young, who had no idea of the outcome of the war, nor how long it would ultimately last, nor what post-war England would bring in terms of rationing and hardship.

In a small, blue “British Red Cross Society First Aid Manual No. 1”, inscribed in pencil on the overleaf with “H.G.Rutherford, spring 1939”, I discovered a clipping from a newspaper:

Sniff and Snatch it?

Yes, I mean a gas mask. A hundred letters a day and they all ask me how they’ll know the kind of gas.  Here’s a reader’s way.

’Ware Gas!

If you get a choking feeling

And a smell of musty hay,

You can bet your bottom dollar

That there’s PHOSGENE on the way.

But the smell of bleaching powder

Will inevitably mean

That the enemy you’re meeting

Is the gas that’s named CHLORINE.

When your eye begins a-twitching

And for tears you cannot see,

’Tisn’t mother peeling onions

But a dose of C.A.P.

If the smell resembles pear-drops,

Then you’d better not delay,

It’s not the youngster sucking toffee,

But that tear gas K.S.K.

Should you sniff a pungent odour

As you’re going home to tea,

You can safely put your shirt on it

They’re using B.B.C.

If you see an oily liquid

On the road – be on your guard;

It isn’t where a bus was parked,

But that wicked gas MUSTARD.

Peaceful geraniums may

Look pleasant in a bed.

Dodge their scent in wartime;

It’s LEWISITE! You’re dead!

Thank you, Mr. Staniforth, of Nottingham

And grateful thanks must go to the Balfour Museum for their generosity in donating these exciting new objects to our handling collection, and for delivering them to us here in Oxford.