Royal College of Physicians

William Harvey (1578-1657) discoverer of the circulation of blood, donated his own library and collections to the College in 1656 creating the Musaeum Harveianum – possibly the earliest named ‘museum’ in England.

The collections at the Royal College of Physicians relate to the history of the College, and the history of the Physician's profession. They help to place the history and development of medicine and health care in its widest context. The collections include: portraits, silver, medical instruments, the Symons Collection, commemorative medals and anatomical tables.

The collection of c. 250 portraits provides a pictorial and sculptural record of presidents, Fellows and other physicians associated with it from its foundation in 1518 to the present day. It includes pieces by well-known artists, such as a bust of Baldwin Hamey Junior (1600–1676) by Edward Pierce and one of Richard Mead (1673–1754) by Louis François Roubiliac. There are portraits, such as Richard Hale (1670–1728) by Jonathan Richardson. In 1964 a volume on the Portraits of the College was published by Gordon Wolstenholme in which they were described by David Piper.

The silver collection has few pieces pre-dating the Great Fire of London (1666) because of a robbery during the previous year. Baldwin Hamey's inkstand bell and William Harvey's demonstration rod are two that survive. Many pieces of silver are used to this day for formal occasions in the College. Special objects include the President's staff of office, the caduceus and the silver-gilt College mace.

The College also owns six 17th century anatomical tables, probably made by drying and mounting the actual blood vessels and nerves of the human body onto blocks of wood and then varnishing them. They would have been used as a teaching aid for teaching anatomy, because it was difficult to obtain cadavers for dissection.

The Symons Collection of medical instruments is displayed within the College building. It began as a collection of objects relating to self-care in Georgian times and expanded to include items that would have been used by physicians when treating patients, mostly in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.


Look out for…

  • The anatomical tables—preserved dissections of viens and the nervous system from around 1640

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