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‘Very proper to the place’

Curious Objects

Whilst the arrival of a mummy in the Library in 1743 was welcomed by Conyers Middleton as ‘very proper to the place’, his correspondent Horace Walpole considered it ‘a most unnecessary present for a University’. Other objects are less unexpected and provoked less debate—the early collections included coins, medals, portraits, prints and an anatomical model, many of which would have been used for study alongside books. Not all of these remain in the Library today. The coins were transferred to the Fitzwilliam Museum in 1856, for example, having fallen into disarray by the end of the seventeenth century at least.

Some objects, such as the cloth of gold carried over Elizabeth I during her visit to Cambridge in 1564 or the Lithuanian boot presented by the Widow Ramsay in 1707, came as relics or curiosities. Others extended still further the role of the Library as a place for objects as well as books. John Woodward’s collection of fossils arrived in 1728 and 1729 under the care of Middleton, who in 1731 was elected the first Woodwardian Professor of Geology alongside his role as Principal Librarian.