Glimpses of Early Museums

The genesis of the habitat group

Picadilly Museum

View of the Exhibition of Ancient and Modern Mexico, Bullock’s Picadilly Museum

Something more than two thousand years ago King Solomon wrote, “Is there anything whereof it may be said, See this is new! It hath been already of old time which was before us.”

And some of our younger museum men, installing their striking habitat groups, do not realize that these were foreshadowed a century or more ago nor give the earlier men credit for what they did in the face of many obstacles. What would the present generation accomplish if it had to work in rooms that relied upon fireplaces for heat and candles for light?

So a few words about Bullock’s museums that flourished in London from 1795 to 1824 may serve to show how many things were thought of and how much accomplished more than a hundred years ago.

I am indebted to Major W. H. Mullens for the loan of the original engravings from which the illustrations were made and have drawn my information from his account of Bullock’s Museum published in Volume XVII of the Museums Journal.

“In 1801 Bullock had housed his museum at 24, Lord Street, Liverpool, and in the Companion issued in that year he described himself as ‘William Bullock, Silver Smith, Jeweller, Toyman, and Statue Figure Manufacturer.’ In 1804 or 5 Bullock removed with his rapidly increasing collection from Lord Street to ‘premises at the corner of Church Street and Whitechapel [Liverpool] that had been just erected on the site of the old poorhouse, where he had fine apartments fitted up for the museum.’ (G. H. Morton.)

“In 1809 Bullock finally removed his museum from Liverpool to London; this date can be definitely fixed from the fact that he published two issues of the seventh edition of the Companion in that year. The first describes the museum as being at ‘The House of William Bullock, Jeweller and Silversmith to his Royal Highness the Duke of Gloucester, Church Street, Liverpool,’ while the second informs us that it was ‘now open at 22, Piccadilly, London.’ This, however, was but a temporary resting place, and in the twelfth edition, 1812, it is described as removed to the Egyptian Temple, Piccadilly—known afterward as the Egyptian Hall—which had been ‘just erected for its reception.’

“In December, 1822, Bullock, accompanied by his son, sailed from Portsmouth, via Jamaica, to Mexico, remaining in that country some six months, and on his return landing at Portsmouth November 8, 1823.

“In Mexico Bullock was well received by the authorities, and with their assistance he took over possession of the abandoned silver mine of Milan, or Del Bada, near Themascaltepec, and with the aid and sanction of the Mexican Government, he collected many valuable curiosities both ancient and modern, including ‘Original Specimens of Ancient Sculpture and Paintings; of Casts of the Enormous and monstrous Idols of the supreme Temple; of the grand Altar or Sacrificial Stone, on which thousands of victims were annually immolated; of a Cast of the famous Kallender Stone (commonly known as Montezuma’s watch); of a model of the immense Pyramid of the Sun; of the original map of the ancient City, made by order of Montezuma for Cortez; of remarkable Manuscripts and Picture writings; and of Antiquities in Arts, Manufactures, etc., etc., of this Aboriginal People.’

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