Roger Fenton, The Mineral Gallery, a photograph
London, England, AD 1857
An image of The British Museum showing the traditional method of museum display
In 1857 the Mineral collection of The British Museum was displayed on the top floor of the North Wing. They remained there until they were moved as part of the Natural History collections to a new museum in South Kensington during the early 1880s. The rooms shown here are now used to display antiquities from Egypt.
This photograph shows the room at the eastern end (now Room 65) as it was in 1857. In the doorway stands a Museum Attendant holding his rod of office, used to point out objects to visitors. On his left the Keeper of Minerals, Nevil Maskelyne, is seen at a case arranging the collections. Between them a jade terrapin stands on an ornate table. This was the only item from the Mineral collection to remain at The British Museum. It is now in the Department of Oriental Antiquities and can be seen in the John Addis Gallery of Islamic Art (Room 34).
These photographs of the Museum galleries were originally produced as stereoscopic views and were on sale to the general public. If looked at through a special viewer, these images appear three-dimensional. From the late 1850s until well into the twentieth century stereoscopic views were very popular.
C. Date, 'Photographer on the roof', British Museum Society Bulle-1, 61 (Summer 1989)
M. Caygill and C. Date, Building the British Museum (London, The British Museum Press, 1999)
C. Date and A. Hamber, 'The origins of photography at the British Museum, 1839-1860', History of Photography, 14: 4 (1990)