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Natural History Museum



Reference code(s): GB 0060 DF MIN

Held at: Natural History Museum


Date(s): 1796-1990

Level of description: Collection (fonds)

Extent: 29 series

Name of creator(s): Department of Mineralogy | Natural History Museum


Administrative/Biographical history:

The Department of Mineralogy has its origins in the Department of Natural and Artificial Productions which was set up at the foundation of the British Museum in 1756. In 1806 it was renamed the Department of Natural History and Modern Curiosities and was under the keepership of George Shaw (1751-1813) and later Charles Dietrich Eberhard Konig (1774-1851). In 1837 the Department was divided into three branches, of which Mineralogy and Geology was one, and in 1856 the branch became a Department in its own right, almost immediately being divided into the two departments of Geology and Mineralogy. The first Keeper of Mineralogy was M H N Story-Maskelyne (1823-1911), a lecturer and later Professor at Oxford, a Member of Parliament, and an agriculturalist and country gentleman. Thomas Davies (1837-1932) joined the Department as an attendant in 1858 and took charge of the rock collection. A chemical laboratory was provided in Great Russell Street in 1867, and Walter Flight (1841-1885) was appointed analyst.

By the time the Department moved to South Kensington in 1881, it had a staff of ten, and was responsible for a huge collection of rocks, minerals and meteorites. In South Kensington the Department initially developed around the collections of minerals, meteorites and rocks. Cataloguing and curation of the mineral collection, with the development of crystallographic and chemical techniques involved a large number of staff, including Lazarus Fletcher (1854-1921), Leonard J Spencer (1870-1959) and Jessie M Sweet (1901-1979). The meteorite collection was looked after by successive keepers, including Fletcher, George T Prior (1862-1936) and W Campbell Smith (1887-1988), while the rocks were worked on by Prior, Campbell Smith and Stanley E Ellis (1904-1986). The chemical laboratory, staffed by Prior, Max H Hey (1904-19..) and Alan A Moss (1912-1990), was involved in work on all these three collections. Many staff worked in more than one of these areas, and the Department was not formally divided into sections until the 1950s.

Two important developments came with the appointment of Frederick A Bannister (1901-1970) in 1927 to develop X-ray crystallography, and the formation of an Oceanography Section under John D Wiseman in 1935, following the transfer of the John Murray Collection from the Department of Zoology. New methods of rapid mineral analysis were developed in the 1950s, and the department's first electron microprobe was delivered in 1964.

By 1975 the Department had a staff of 37 and was divided into nine sections, including General Mineralogy, Petrology, Meteorites, Oceanography, Chemistry and the Departmental Library.


Scope and content/abstract:

Papers of the Department of Mineralogy including: DF1 Mineralogy Departmental Correspondence; DF2 Registers of Mineralogy Departmental and Other Correspondence; DF3 Mineralogy Departmental Correspondence, Individual Collections; DF4 Mineralogy Reports to Trustees and Other Official Documents; DF5 Authorisations from Trustees Meetings; DF6 Keeper of Mineralogy's Staff Files; DF7 Keeper of Mineralogy's Subject Files; DF8 Correspondence and Papers of W Campbell Smith; DF9 Mineralogy Publications Correspondence and Artwork; DF10 Collection Notes, Reports and Correspondence; DF11 Reports and Correspondence on Collecting Expeditions and Other Visits; DF12 Mineral Gallery and Exhibits; DF13 Keeper of Mineralogy's Accommodation Files; DF14 Mineral Library, Correspondence and Papers; DF15 Keeper of Mineralogy's Internal Correspondence; DF16 Mineralogy Annual Reports of Progress; DF17 Correspondence and Papers of L J Spencer; DF18 Keeper of Mineralogy's Papers on Staff and Staffing; DF19 Laboratory Notebooks and Registers of Apparatus; DF20 Official Diaries, Correspondence and Papers of Scientific Staff; DF21 Mineralogy Invoices and Accounts; DF22 formerly Department of Mineralogy: Leave and Absence Books. Destroyed 1996; DF23 Mineralogy Departmental Visitors Books; DF24 Pass Books; DF25 Parcel Books; DF26 Requisition Books; DF27 Laboratory Order Books; DF28 Oceanography Section, Correspondence and Papers; DF29 Outgoing Mineralogy Donations Books; DF30 formerly Department of Mineralogy: Photographic Requisition Books, destroyed 1996; DF31 Mineralogy Specimen Loan Books.


Language/scripts of material: English

System of arrangement:

Arranged in sections as outlined in the Scope and Content.

Conditions governing access:

By appointment with the Archivist, by email to or by post to the Museum Archivist, Natural History Museum, Cromwell Road, London SW7 5BD.

Conditions governing reproduction:

At the Archivist's discretion. Photocopying service available. Digital photography (without flash) permitted for research purposes on completion of a photography permit form.

Finding aids:

Detailed catalogue



Archival history:

Immediate source of acquisition:

Transferred from the Department of Mineralogy.


Related material:

Most of the records from 1756-c1850 remain in the archives of the British Museum.


Archivist's note: Entry copied from the Natural History Museum online catalogue by Sarah Drewery.
References: Stearn, W T, 1981. The Natural History Museum at South Kensington London: Heinemann. Chapter 15.
Campbell Smith, W,1982. 'Seventy years of research in mineralogy and crystallography in the Department of Mineralogy, British Museum (Natural History), under the keepership of Story-Maskelyne, Fletcher, and Prior, 1857-1927'. Bulletin of the British Museum (Natural History). Historical Series. 10(2).

Rules or conventions: Compiled in compliance with General International Standard Archival Description, ISAD(G), second edition, 2000; National Council on Archives Rules for the Construction of Personal, Place and Corporate Names, 1997.

Date(s) of descriptions: Sep 2008

Museum collections | Museum facilities

Personal names

Corporate names
Natural History Museum