Wednesday, July 4, 2012

The gold coins, almond oil laxative and the uterus in a jar

Let's hear it for the hoarders.

Thanks to a pair of all-star Glaswegian packrats, Elizabeth and I will have plenty to talk about from our first stop in Scotland.

Upon a recommendation from our server at the coffee shop this morning, we decided to take a detour from our day's plan to walk through the grounds of the University of Glasgow. The Victorian architecture of the main building was spectacular enough to make the side trip worth it.

You can almost see Filch in the window. 
Then it got even better. We found the Hunterian Museum inside.

William Hunter was quite the Renaissance man. Born in 1718, he was a doctor, coin collector, medical teacher, art collector, extreme bibliophile with more than 10,000 books, midwife to the stars (including the royal family) and connoisseur of all things biologically ... um ... odd.

By that, I mean stuffed conjoined baby animals, such as pigs:

... a jar with a pickled split penis (ugh)and a preserved uterus with a fetus.

In fact, Dr. Hunter was so proud of the canned uterus, he had his portrait taken with it. And yes, that's also in the museum.
Photo from Hunterian Museum

You see, Dr. Hunter was the preeminent obstetrician of his time who figured out how to turn around breech babies to keep women and babies from dying like the pair forever immortalized in the specimen jar.

And the guy literally wrote the book on the human uterus. 

The above drawing is among many of the graphic illustrations in Hunter's giant picture book of the uterus. It was a big hit in the medical community. But I'm pretty sure it would have led to a huge drop in procreation -- and put those obstetricians on the street -- had it gone into wider circulation.

Beyond Hunter's medical legacy, he also left to the University of Glasgow a slew of books, manuscripts and gold coins that he collected from across the world, including one of the most extensive collections of ancient Roman money on earth.

(As if Hunters stuff wasn't cool enough, the Hunterian Museum also featured some of the inventions of physics genius William Thompson, a.k.a. Baron Kelvin, among other Scottish investors. That section includes some interactive exhibits. For instance, one lets visitors make the top of a wine glass wobble using sound from a speaker -- an experiment Elizabeth already has banned me from trying at home.)

Hunter, however, isn't Glasgow's most lucrative hoarder. His museum is free to the public, but you have to pay 6 pounds to see the stuff of Ms. Agnes Toward.

Toward, a 20th century secretary for a coal exporter, kept her flat largely unchanged from the 1930s until her death in 1975 and left all the furniture she accrued. The National Trust for Scotland took over the apartment in the 1980s and turned it into a four-room museum that shows how non-rich people lived a century ago. Among the amenities: coal stove, a hideaway bed in the kitchen so she could stay warm and old-school laxatives of various origins such as almond oil.

Photo from the Tenement House
So the big lesson we've learned so far in Glasgow: maybe we'll be able to charge admission for people to see our basement.

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