Amongst our collections is an invitation to a dinner party with a difference....
The dinner was held by Benjamin Waterhouse Hawkins, a sculptor with an interest in Natural History. In 1852 Hawkins had been appointed to build authentic models of prehistoric animals to be displayed in the grounds of Crystal Palace. With advice from Professor Richard Owen on the anatomy of the creatures, Hawkins built life size replicas of animals such as the Pleisiosaurus, Ichthyosaurus, Megalosaurus and the Iguanodon.
These models were to become influential in the popularisation of palaeontology, and in particular of dinosaurs. Although the models are now known to be scientifically inaccurate, at the time they were the most realistic representations of dinosaurs ever produced.
To celebrate the forthcoming opening of the exhibition, Hawkins hosted a dinner for Owen and twenty prominent scientists of the day. The dinner took place on New Years Eve 1853 inside the almost complete shell of the Iguanodon. The invitation, inscribed on the wing of a Pterodactyl asks for the guest’s “Company at Dinner in the Iguanodon”.
The Iguanodon that served as a party venue, along with the other prehistoric animals recreated by Hawkins were officially unveiled to the public on 10 June 1854 when the park opened to 40 000 visitors. To this day they are still enjoyed by many in their original home in Crystal Palace Park.