The archive of the former Wellcome Historical Medical Museum (WHMM) includes accession and transfer records that researchers can use to identify an object and trace its history in the museum collections, from acquisition to transfer to another institution. In most cases, there will be information about an object in a number of records.
The records vary in the amount of detail they contain about an object. Earlier records tend to be less detailed and less systematic than later ones, reflecting the development of museum methodology. All the records are accessible via the Archives and Manuscripts catalogue.
Accession records may provide some or all of the following information about an object:
- details of transfer or disposal
- method of acquisition
- name of the donor or vendor of the object
- place within the collections
- price or value
Three distinct series of accession numbers were used:
- ‘A’ numbers [e.g. A2310]
- ‘R’ numbers with a date suffix [e.g. R5736/1936]
- an annual series of numbers with a date suffix [e.g. 3370/1939].
The easiest way to find information about an object is if you already have an accession number.
I know the accession number
The accession number can be used to locate entries within several series of archive records:
Some objects were re-assigned new numbers in the 600 000 range at a later stage; these higher accession numbers do not appear in the collection management records.
Any names of vendors or donors identified from accession records can be used to search the correspondence files [WA/HMM/CO] in the catalogue. Donor or vendor correspondence may give further information on the provenance or history of the object, or the existence of other similar objects.
I don't know the accession number
If you don’t know the accession number, you can try searching the accession registers by date to find an entry for the object.
In the early days of the museum, objects were not always accessioned on arrival due to the fast growth rate of the collections. It was only after Wellcome’s death in 1936 that accessioning was systematically tackled.
After 1936, objects were grouped into categories in the accession registers; for example, scientific instruments may be entered in sequence. If you know the type of object you are looking for, this can help to speed up browsing the register. Once you find an object entry, use the accession number to track down related records.
From the 1960s-1980s WHMM staff compiled a series of collection dossiers [WA/HMM/CM/Col]. These files are a valuable source of information about the major collections acquired by the Museum. They include original and copy records and correspondence extracted from elsewhere in the archive, as well as inventories, published catalogues and research notes.
Soon after Henry Wellcome’s death in 1936, most of the objects in the WHMM collections were transferred to other institutions. The process was finally completed in 1985. The transfer records [WA/HMM/TR] recording this process vary in their level of detail. Early records often provide scant information, however, in the 1980s an attempt was made to collate information about the earlier transfers of collections, from1936 to 1977. If the name of the receiving institution or dealer and date of transfer is known, access to the records is relatively straightforward. Transfer information can be found in several sequences of records:
The files and cards together act as points of entry into other series of transfer records reflecting distinct periods of transfer activity:
Search the correspondence files [WA/HMM/CO] for the names of individuals or institutions identified in the transfer records.
A history of the transfer process, including appendices of materials sold at auction, receiving institutions, and subject or collection listings with their receiving institutions is available in:
To contact us for more information about the Wellcome Historical Medical Museum archive, email firstname.lastname@example.org or phone +44 (0)20 7611 8899 during Library opening hours.