Ferreting (2)

Following on from my previous post, my last bit of ferreting around last month was in support of the Strictly Science exhibition, organised by colleagues at the MRC Clinical Sciences Centre. This high-profile exhibition is open (free) until 14 April, at the Imperial College foyer in Exhibition Road. It features three laboratories – yesterday, today and tomorrow. The lab of yesterday is based on a typical lab from 1913 or so and focuses on three historical MRC scientists – Henry Dale, Almroth Wright and Harriette Chick. The first two worked at my Institute, in its very early days, and Dale later became its first Director. The team putting the exhibition together have sourced laboratory artefacts from all over the place, including a few items from my collection. They came over recently to pick up the items they had selected: a sign, that has a nice period feel, a weighing balance, and the first volume of our Visitors’ Book, with a lovely embroidered cover. The latter deserves a separate blogpost one day as it is stuffed full of signatures of eminent scientists from years past.

Lab sign


Visitors’ book

There was a slight mix-up over one other item, an old microscope from ca. 1915, that I had not been able to locate initially. At the last minute we discovered where it was and I hand-carried it down when I attended the exhibition opening on 5 April. It was good to see everything assembled in one exhibition, and there was a wealth of information about the early MRC. The whole thing was nicely designed and proportioned so that it was not overwhelming. The estimable Tilli Tansey gave a fascinating lecture about the Institute and its early development as the MRC’s flagship.

When arranging for the items to be collected the curator also asked whether I could help source some images from an old MRC Special Report: number 77 published in 1923. Well, of course I could. The MRC Special Reports are our pride and joy. This one was a report on rickets in Vienna, with a chapter by Harriette Chick who spent time there at the Kinderklinik. Sewn into the front and back of the report are about a dozen pages of very shiny plates, containing many X-rays of cases of rickets. I think they are some kind of silver-based images, and look quite advanced for that date. The curator wanted two particular X-rays that had been cited in a later research article, and sent me the low-quality images that he had from that later article. But to my inexperienced eye one bone X-ray looks much like another, and as there were about 90 of them altogether it was like looking for a needle in an ossuary. Further research revealed that the images were on Plate 4 and I was able to identify them.

Xray of rickets

Also in the same chapter of the report are many photos of babies, presumably suffering from rickets. When I opened up the book it fell open on these pages, and it was a delightful surprise to see these photos of (mostly) smiling babies from 90 years ago.


About Frank Norman

I am a retired librarian. I spent 40 years working in biomedical research libraries.
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