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‘To shew the library to strangers’

Curious Objects

A Cambridge guidebook for 1763 records that Lewis’s cabinet was housed in the recently constructed ‘Dome Room’ with the mummy, the manuscripts and ’other valuable Books’. It was a noted attraction—the novelist Maria Edgeworth was shown it in 1813 and lifted up the ‘Indian idol’ to feel its weight. Over the years it became home to other manuscripts and curiosities. Later guidebooks record additions as various as the jaw of a shark, tusks of wild boars and a Queen Anne farthing.

More objects were acquired in the early 1800s, notably during Edward Daniel Clarke’s librarianship, including marbles obtained by Clarke himself during his travels in Greece. The second half of the century saw most of the Library’s objects, portraits and prints transferred elsewhere—partly to release space, partly as a ‘rationalisation’ of the collections with the emergence of new disciplines and the setting up of the new University museums. As a result, the provenance and context of many of the objects were obscured, but some remained in the Library and more would join them, either as single gifts or part of larger, mixed collections.