The collections of the Royal College of Physicians (RCP) relate to the history of the medical college and the physician’s profession, from its foundation in 1518 to the present day. They include; portraits, silver, medals, medical artefacts and instruments. They are on display throughout the RCP building.
The RCP holds a wide range of events for adults, schools and families, including workshops, lectures, open days and temporary exhibitions, which include the award winning, ‘Curious anatomys’: an extraordinary story of dissection and discovery.
Also on show is a rare set of six anatomical tables, which were the centrepiece of the recent ‘Curious anatomys’ exhibition. The tables are visually spectacular. They display human veins, nerves and arteries dissected at Padua’s famous anatomy theatre in the 17th century, skilfully arranged on varnished wooden panels. For the first time in their history, the tables are on permanent public display. 'Curious anatomys' won first prize as the best small exhibition on the history of science and medicine, 2012. Awarded by the British Society for the History of Science.
‘There is a definite gruesome parallel with the formaldehyde-preserved sharks of Damien Hirst.’ Francis Wells, consultant surgeon at Papworth Hospital, Cambridge
The portrait collection forms a record of the most eminent figures in the history of medicine. We hold 350 oil portraits and 4000 prints. The collection includes outstanding pieces such as the busts of Baldwin Hamey Junior (1600-1676) by Edward Pierce and Richard Mead (1673-1754) by Louis François Roubiliac. Major painters represented include Godfrey Kneller, Joshua Reynolds, Thomas Hudson, Johann Zoffany and Thomas Lawrence.
The Symons collection of medical instruments began as a group of objects relating to self-care in Georgian times and expanded to include items that would have been used by physicians when treating patients in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.
The silver collection reflects events in the medical college’s history as well as the lives and generosity of its fellows and members. Many pieces of silver are ‘working’ objects and are used to this day for formal occasions in the College. Special objects include the President’s staff of office, the silver caduceus and the silver-gilt College mace.
The Victor Hoffman collection is the largest collection of apothecary jars in private ownership in the country. The jars give a fascinating insight into the ingredients of medicines prepared and sold over 300 years ago.
The RCP has had a medicinal garden since 1965. It was extensively replanted by Mark Griffiths in 2005–6, with sponsorship from a generous grant from the Wolfson Foundation. Head gardener, Jane Knowles, has vastly expanded the number of plants and we now have over 1300 from the history of medicine.
The RCP building is itself notable. It was built by Denys Lasdun in 1964 and has since been recognised as a building of national importance through its Grade I listing.
Visit us or book a tour to explore RCP history and our museum, medicinal garden and architecture.
Opening hours: Monday to Friday 9am - 5pm (excluding public holidays)
Please note: The 'Mirror of Health' exhibition will be closed to the public from Monday 29 July to Monday 2 September due to essential maintenance work.