By Dr Rupert Cole, Associate Curator of Chemistry at the Science Museum
When I’m asked ‘what do I do’ as a curator, the answer can be quite long. There is sometimes an assumption that a curator’s job is mainly to pick things to go on display. Although that is certainly one (fun) aspect, the role is way more varied.
A key part is looking after and developing a collection of objects – in my case the circa 10,000 objects that make up the chemistry collections.
This might include rectifying horrible documentation messes from a former curatorial epoch or thinking about what we should be collecting now to represent chemistry in 2018.
I regularly get offers of objects from members of the public and institutions. The majority end up result in a ‘thanks but no thanks’. But recently a real gem popped into my inbox.
It was an offer of a jelly strength tester.
After some googling and back-and-forth with the potential donor, Dennis Little, I discovered this kind of instrument was used to quality test the density of fruit jelly!
And not any fruit jelly, but fruit jelly made by Bard Brothers, who had a jelly factory in the East End of London from 1916 to 1996.
The next step was to go and visit this jelly tester. Dennis kindly invited me and a conservator colleague to his home in York where the tester has been living since he rescued it when the factory closed down.
Dennis and his wife Beryl were fabulous hosts, enthralling us with stories of the factory. Visits like these are one of things I love most about the jobs: meeting interesting people.
We were also introduced to another piece of Bard's jelly apparatus. A device to measure the specific gravity of jelly, complete with a red-jelly stain on its glass.