Aug 22, 2022 - News

Mütter unveils rare books and deceptively realistic wax molds to public

A photo of wax molds of human limbs made by an artist for doctors to study smallpox infection and vaccination.
Preserved wax molds showing the progression of smallpox infection, which museum staff are cataloguing as part of the "Insides Out" exhibit. Photos courtesy of the Mütter Museum

Medical mysteries and oddities previously hidden from public sight are now on display at the Mütter Museum.

What's happening: America's oldest independent medical library, which has lived above the museum since 1908, is open to the public for the first time in more than 200 years, the College of Physicians of Philadelphia announced last week.

  • The Historical Medical Library — established in 1788 — was previously open to researchers by appointment only. Now, with weekend admission to the museum, anyone can explore the library's more 300,000 books, scrolls, stone tablets and artwork.
Two individuals wearing masks look at a large book of a skeleton.
Photo courtesy of the Historical Medical Library of The College of Physicians of Philadelphia

What else: Museum visitors also get a rare glimpse into staff's work as of this summer. While the museum's storage spaces are being rebuilt, staff members are cataloging Mütter's over 170-year-old collection of roughly 30,000 objects and specimens in front of visitors.

  • "This is very much an experiment for us," Nancy Hill, the museum's exhibit projects manager and content developer, told Axios of the "living exhibit" called "Insides Out." "We're excited for visitors to see some of the inner workings of a museum and some lesser-known items from our collection."

For example: The preserved wax molds (pictured above) were created by an artist at Guy's Hospital in London some time after 1826 — before the invention of color photography. The anatomical models were used to teach future doctors about the stages of smallpox progression and vaccination, according to the museum.

What's ahead: Museum staff are working with researchers, artists and community partners to create a new online portal where people can more easily search the museum's collection.

  • The museum expects the first batch of objects to be available online this fall. The full database should be complete by next summer.
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