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Biomedicine in museums

Collecting medical artefacts as a public-private enterprise

By October 13, 2008No Comments

During the medical garbage collecting day in late May, we brought in a number of wonderful and interesting medical artefacts to our collections, including this plastic mannequin from the Department of Odontology (it’s Camilla to the left).

Now Vanessa tells us that Steve Erenburg (a.k.a. radio-guy), a New York based artefact dealer, has this dental mannequin called Dentman — an aluminum head sitting on a cast iron lab stand — for sale for $750!

Those $750 would have financed the whole medical garbage collection day!

Which gives me an idea. The Ministry of Science in this country wants its universities to engage more in private enterprise. So maybe we should begin to think in terms of collecting medical items for sale!

Actually, as a university museum under the Ministry of Science, Medical Musieon is not formally regulated by the Danish museum law (which is a Ministry of Culture thing). So we could easily begin a two-tiered acquisition strategy. Some artefacts could be collected for lofty heritage reasons, others for the medical antiquities market.

Maybe it’s time to start a Medical Museion Medical Antiquities shop as a PPP (public-private parnership) on the premises here in Bredgade?

The other side of the story is that private dealers in medical antiquities constitute a huge unexplored source of artefacts for medical history museums. The growth of an internet-based medical-historical artefact market is a new situation for our kind of museums. Are medical history museums moving towards a situation like that of art museums, which have always lived in the shadow of private dealers, collectors and galleries? For better or for worse, blogs like Vanessa’s certainly contribute to this tendency.

Thomas Söderqvist

Author Thomas Söderqvist

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