Curiosities from the collection of Sir Hans Sloane (1660-1753)

It was the collection of Sir Hans Sloane (1660-1753), one of the great collectors of the eighteenth century, that helped to found the British Museum. During his lifetime Sloane amassed a huge number of natural specimens, hand-made items and a large library. In assembling these items Sloane favoured the rare, the exotic and the exceptional as examples of the mysteries of nature. Many of the natural history specimens were in their original state, but Sloane also collected examples that had been made more beautiful or more curious through human ingenuity.

One of these was a glove knitted from the silky filaments produced by a species of large mussel. It was one of a pair which Sloane described as being 'made of the beard of the pinna marina in Andalaousia in Spaine sent me by his Grace the Duke of Richmond'.

Another of these curiosities was a nautilus shell carved with a scene of the 1639 defeat by the Dutch Admiral Martin Tromp of the Spanish off Dover. Sloane thought that the shell was wonderful because of its natural, geometrically perfect proportions. But he also valued it as a crafted object that commemorated a historical event.

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Curiosities from the collection of Sir Hans Sloane (1660-1753)

© 2003 The Natural History Museum

  • Nautilus shell

    Nautilus shell


More information


K. Sloan (ed.), Enlightenment. Discovering the (London, The British Museum Press, 2003)

A. MacGregor (ed.), Sir Hans Sloane, collector, sc (London, The British Museum Press, 1994)


Museum number

On loan from the Natural History Museum .


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