The Story of the British Museum, £8.99
Admission ticket to the British Museum
London, England, 3 March AD 1790
Issued to Mr Masefield, for 'a Sight of the British Museum'
The British Museum opened its doors to visitors for the first time on 15 January 1759. The Trustees decided from the first that the Museum should be open to the general public as well as to academic visitors. However, they were afraid that the collections would be damaged if large crowds of people were allowed into the building. They therefore ordered that visitors should not be admitted unless they held tickets, and that only a small number of tickets should be issued for each day.
Like every other visitor, Mr Masefield had to go to the Museum to apply to the Porter for his ticket, which was free of charge. He then had to go back on another day to collect it, and then go back again at an appointed time, to be allowed in. At that time the Museum was open from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. and was not open at all at the weekend. This meant that working people, who had no free time during the day, were unable to visit.
Like this ticket, issued for 1 p.m., all tickets were issued for a particular time. Visitors were taken round the Museum in groups of five, each group guided by one of the Under-Librarians. They were taken up the Great Staircase, through the upper rooms and down again to the ground floor. During their tour they were shown the collections of manuscripts, medals, antiquities and natural history. Each group was taken round the building very quickly to make way for the next party.
M. Caygill, The story of The British Museu (London, The British Museum Press, 1998)