Francis Grew

Senior Curator of
Archaeology

1 January 2019

Curators' choice: favourite objects from the Museum of London's stores

As the Museum of London prepares to move to a new home at West Smithfield, we asked curators to pick their favourite objects not currently on display. Will these treasures star in the new Museum of London?

The Museum of London's collection is constantly growing. We currently hold over seven million items that bear witness to the lives of Londoners, past and present. Their bones. Their written or spoken words. The photos they took, and the drawings they made. Whether Victorian Valentines, or a tiny flask for tears shed at a Roman funeral, the London Collection inspires, moves and entertains.

We can only display a tiny fraction of the London Collection in our museums. We've asked some of the people who work at the museum to select their favourite objects not on display, to give a glimpse of the remarkable things we hold in our stores. As we plan the new home for the Museum of London at West Smithfield, these objects inspire us to tell the stories of all Londoners.

Photographic archive of Christina Broom, early 1900s

Believed to be the UK’s first woman press photographer, Christina Broom documented Suffragettes and First World War soldiers, besides royal and sporting events.

Photographic archive of Christina Broom, early 1900s

With curator of photographs Anna Sparham

Chosen by Anna Sparham, curator of photographs

Believed to be the UK’s first woman press photographer, Christina Broom documented Suffragettes and First World War soldiers, besides royal and sporting events. The London Collection includes over 300 glass negatives donated by her daughter Winifred. Over 3,000 photographic postcards and prints were later acquired in 2014.

Valentine cards donated by Jonathan King, 1800s

Mr King and his wife owned a stationery and valentine card workshop in Islington. In the 1920s the King family presented the museum with a unique collection of over 1,500 sample valentines, along with sheets of decorations and lace paper used to create the elaborate cards.

Valentine cards donated by Jonathan King, 1800s

With curator Beverly Cook.

Chosen by Beverley Cook, Curator of Social and Working History

Mr King and his wife owned a stationery and valentine card workshop in Islington. In the 1920s the King family presented the museum with a unique collection of over 1,500 sample valentines, along with sheets of decorations and lace paper used to create the elaborate cards.

Mask from the Opening Ceremony of the London 2012 Olympic Games

This mask, made from a re-purposed crash-helmet and plastic supermarket bags, was worn in the sequence Frankie and June say ... Thanks Tim – a tribute to Sir Tim Berners-Lee, inventor of the World Wide Web. The performer played a punk rocker pogo-dancing to the Sex Pistols’ track, Pretty Vacant.

Mask from the Opening Ceremony of the London 2012 Olympic Games

With by fashion curator Tim Long.

Chosen by Tim Long, Curator of Dress and Textiles

This mask, made from a re-purposed crash-helmet and plastic supermarket bags, was worn in the sequence Frankie and June say ... Thanks Tim – a tribute to Sir Tim Berners-Lee, inventor of the World Wide Web. The performer played a punk rocker pogo-dancing to the Sex Pistols’ track, Pretty Vacant.

Salamander brooch from the Cheapside Hoard, late 1500s to early 1600s

The cache of 500 Elizabethan and early Stuart jewels discovered by workmen in Cheapside in June 1912 is the largest collection of its kind in the world. This gold brooch is set with Indian diamonds and Columbian emeralds. Salamanders were symbols of resurrection.

Salamander brooch from the Cheapside Hoard, late 1500s to early 1600s

Chosen by Catherine Nightingale, Conservation Manager

The cache of 500 Elizabethan and early Stuart jewels discovered by workmen in Cheapside in June 1912 is the largest collection of its kind in the world. This gold brooch is set with Indian diamonds and Columbian emeralds. Salamanders were symbols of resurrection.

Skull of a man, who died in the 1820s

Contained within the bones of past Londoners are clues that reveal how the environment altered their lives. Clues that may help us live healthier lives today. Here a researcher from the Museum of London’s Centre for Human Bioarchaeology uses digital radiography to examine the skull of a man who died in the 1820s.

Industrialisation, environment and the health of Londoners

Human remains being X-rayed by osteologist Jelena Beklavac.

Chosen by Jelena Bekvalac, Curator, Human Osteology

Contained within the bones of past Londoners are clues that reveal how the environment altered their lives. Clues that may help us live healthier lives today. Here a researcher from the Museum of London’s Centre for Human Bioarchaeology uses digital radiography to examine the skull of a man who died in the 1820s. We're currently performing major research into London's industrialisation and its impact on the health of Londoners.

Miniature glass ‘tear-catcher’, AD 200-250

This tiny flask, just 15mm high, is believed to have contained the tears of mourners at a Roman funeral. Archaeologists discovered it in a stone tomb at Keston, in the borough of Bromley, near the south-eastern boundary of Greater London.

Miniature glass ‘tear-catcher’, AD200-250

Chosen by Roy Stephenson, London’s Historic Environment Lead

This tiny flask, just 15mm high, is believed to have contained the tears of mourners at a Roman funeral. Archaeologists discovered it in a stone tomb at Keston, in the borough of Bromley, near the south-eastern boundary of Greater London.

Battersea Power Station XVIII, 2004, Vera Lutter

Over two metres high, this is the largest photograph in the London Collection. The dramatic negative image was captured in a shipping container, converted into a giant pin-hole camera. The light-sensitive photographic paper was exposed for several days.

Battersea Power Station XVIII, 2004

Vera Lutter. Acquired with help from The Art Fund, the Arts Council England/Victoria and Albert Museum Purchase Grant Fund, and the Heritage Lottery Fund.

Chosen by Francis Marshall, Senior Curator of Paintings, Prints and Drawings

Over two metres high, this is the largest photograph in the London Collection. The dramatic negative image was captured in a shipping container, converted into a giant pin-hole camera. The light-sensitive photographic paper was exposed for several days.

Acquired in 2015 with help from The Art Fund, the Arts Council England/Victoria and Albert Museum Purchase Grant Fund, and the Heritage Lottery Fund.

2,444 buttons rescued from the River Thames, late 1300s to late 1800s

For 40 years Mr Pilson was a Thames ‘mudlark’, picking up antiquities on the Thames foreshore. His collection of 2,444 buttons, cufflinks and studs is the largest such collection in England. He presented it to the Museum of London in 2009.

Buttons collected by Mr Tony Pilson, late 1300s to late 1800s

Chosen by the late Mr Tony Pilson

For 40 years Mr Pilson was a Thames ‘mudlark’, picking up antiquities on the Thames foreshore. His collection of 2,444 buttons, cufflinks and studs is the largest such collection in England. He presented it to the Museum of London in 2009.

Photograph by William Henry Fox Talbot, c. 1845

Fox Talbot (1800-77) was one of photography’s most important pioneers. This salt print, made from a Calotype negative, is the earliest of the 150,000 photographs in the London Collection. It shows Brunel’s elegant Hungerford Bridge, crossing the Thames at Charing Cross, soon after it opened on 1 May 1845.

Photograph by William Henry Fox Talbot, c. 1845

Old Hungerford Bridge. An original, uncut proof, Calotype by Henry Fox Talbot, of Old Hungerford Bridge c1845. In 1845, Isambard Kingdom Brunel designed this suspension bridge between Hungerford Market and Lambeth. It was taken down in the early 1860s following the sale of the bridge and the market to the South Eastern Railway Company. A new railway bridge was built, though Brunel's brick piers were re-used. The suspension chains from the old bridge were sold for £5,000 and employed to complete the Clifton Suspension Bridge. This is the earliest photograph in the Museum's collection.

The photograph by Fox Talbot

ID no. 47.25

Fox Talbot (1800-77) was one of photography’s most important pioneers. This salt print, made from a Calotype negative, is the earliest of the 150,000 photographs in the London Collection. It shows Brunel’s elegant Hungerford Bridge, crossing the Thames at Charing Cross, soon after it opened on 1 May 1845.

Popularity: The Stars of the Edwardian Music Hall, 1901-3, Walter H Lambert

Chosen by Thomas Ardill, Curator of Paintings, Prints and Drawings

This crowded group portrait features 231 stars from the Golden Age of the Music Hall. At the left-hand end of the vast 3.75m-wide canvas, trick-cyclist, Jack Lotto, is shown reading a newspaper. On his right are the Cockney comedian Albert Chevalier and, beside him, the much-loved singer, Jenny Hill.

Find out more about our extensive collections and our plans for a new home for the museum at West Smithfield.