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John Benjamin Stone, known as Benjamin, was born in Birmingham on 9 February 1838. He was the son of a local glass manufacturer and took over the business after his father's death. He was a staunch conservative and soon entered local politics, eventually serving as MP for Birmingham East from 1895 to 1909. He was knighted in 1892.


Stone was also keenly interested in anthropology and science. He was a member of many learned societies. He wanted to make a record of his life and times and so collected photographs and postcards. Then he decided to learn to take photographs for himself, employing two men full-time to develop and print his plates. Stone was one of the first photographers to switch from wet to dry plates.


This meant the plates no longer needed to be developed on the spot, as soon as they had been exposed. It made photography much easier, and the equipment lighter to carry around. Stone went on to make 26,000 photographs documenting daily life, local customs and his travels throughout the British Isles, Spain, Norway, Japan and Brazil.


Stone's interest in science means it's no surprise that he visited the Natural History Museum and photographed both the galleries and the staff.


The museum wardens - all men - are pictured outside the museum wearing smart military-style uniforms complete with peaked caps. In the nineteenth century similar uniforms were common in many large museums. Nowadays visitors to the NHM recognise the front of house staff by their purple shirts emblazoned with the museum's logo. messenger.jpg


Stone's photos show the curators and scientists dressed in frock coats and top hats as if for a smart dinner party. Today these staff are indistinguishable from the visitors except for the all-important security pass, and perhaps a white coat for laboratory work.

Meanwhile, some of the galleries are completely different, but some have hardly changed.

This is the Hintze Hall in 1907 - the statue of Darwin is in the same place now, but the elephant display has been replaced by Dippy the Diplodocus.


Here's Dippy as he appeared in the reptile gallery in 1907.


Stone reached the peak of his photographic career when he acted as official photographer for the coronation of King George V in 1911. Stone died a few years later, on 2 July 1914.


The majority of Stone's photographs are housed at the Library of Birmingham, and you can browse many of them online. His photographs are also in the collections of the V&A, the National Portrait Gallery, and the British Library.


While searching through correspondence sent from Tring Museum, I came across this sales catalogue, bound into a volume. It offers a wonderful glimpse into a lost world.


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The Natural History Museum acquired some of its collections at auction houses in the nineteenth century. Many private collectors and museums bought and sold in this way.


The sale took place at Steven’s auction house, which operated from 38 King Street, Covent Garden. The house was well-known for selling items of ethnographic, scientific and zoological interest. Orchid sales were regularly held there during the 19th century, as well as sales of other exotic plants. Stevens also sold Egyptian mummies, taxidermy, ‘mermaids’, and oddities from all over the British Empire. These good were very fashionable. They were a way for collectors to show off their education, taste and connoisseurship. 


Amongst the good on offer at this sale was a Great Auk Egg. Steven’s sold so many stuffed auks and auk eggs that at one point their telegram address was actually changed to ‘Auk’. The desire to possess these rare artefacts helped to make the Great Auk extinct.


Also on offer were some items from South Africa, previously exhibited at the Colonial and Indian Exhibition. This exhibition was held in South Kensington and was intended "to stimulate commerce and strengthen the bonds of union now existing in every portion of her Majesty's Empire". The exhibition received 5.5 million visitors, which shows the Victorians’ fascination with global cultures.


The company closed following the Second World War.  Economic circumstances had changed and the British Empire was drawing to an end. International ‘curiosities’ were no longer fashionable or relevant in a globalised world. But judging from the numbers of visitors to the Natural History Museum, people are still just as interested in the curiosities of the natural world!


The World Cup has triggered an outbreak of football fever amongst some of the staff at the Museum. With perfect timing, the Museum Archives have just catalogued a treasure trove of sporting memorabilia relating to the Museum’s very own sports clubs.

There are some wonderful images of Museum footballers through the ages.


Here’s team NHM in 1921/22 (you may have already seen this if you follow us on Twitter @nhm_library !)


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And here we are at a very elegant kick-off in 1925.


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During the 1970s the team struggled to find enough players, and didn’t seem to do that well…


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These reports of NHM disasters triggered nostalgia in some of our staff. They felt the match report painted an unfair picture of the team’s prowess, and commented:


“We weren’t the worst team ever - sometimes we even won! I seem to remember our biggest win was against the Museum of London. The score was something like 24-3 to us! The match was played in the pouring rain on a pool of mud. Our captain at the time wanted us to get out early, get warmed up and not hold proceedings up, so we went out and promptly got wetter than wet! Except for Mick Webb, who organised the match and stayed in the dry until the last minute, as did the opposition. At that time we had cotton shirts which simply soaked up the rain, so it was difficult to run when carrying the extra weight of the shirt. The sleeves expanded downwards so that we probably had something of a Neanderthal appearance. Nonetheless we racked up goals. We even gave them some of our players to make a bit of a game of it. In the end our players scored all ‘their’ goals.”



On the other hand, they both agreed that back in the 70s and 80s:


“We played seriously but only occasionally, and it didn’t matter whether we won or not. We always avoided playing in leagues, as that allowed an element of rivalry and win at all costs to creep in; we preferred friendlies against similar organisations. “


So it’s not the winning that really matters – it’s the taking part that counts. England fans take note!