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Hans Sloane's specimen tray

© 2003 The Natural History Museum

 

Depth: 45.000 cm
Width: 45.000 cm
Height: 4.500 cm

On loan from the Natural History Museum SLi

Enlightenment: Natural world

    Hans Sloane's specimen tray

    England, first half of the 18th century

    This drawer was once part of the materia medica - a sort of pharmaceutical cabinet - in the collection of Sir Hans Sloane (1660-1753). The cabinet had several drawers, each carefully constructed to keep out destructive insects. Some drawers had small compartments like this example, others contained glazed boxes with seeds, fruit, bark, roots, gums and resins inside. Each had a label written by Sloane with a catalogue number. The botanical or medicinal name of the subtance, where it came from and who collected it were then recorded in his catalogues of his collection.

    As a physician, Sloane was interested in the medicinal properties of the substances he collected. He was also interested in historical and folk remedies. His catalogue of the collection give us a fascinating glimpse of some of the remedies used in the first half of the eighteenth century. For instance, they include ground mummies' fingers as a cure for bruises and rhinoceros horn as an antidote to poison.

    As Sloane's interest in natural history grew along with his income, he was able to widen the scope of his collection from being primarily medical to being more encyclopedic, representing the widest possible variety of substances and artefacts for his own reference and for others to consult.

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

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