British Museum Opens its Doors

British Museum ticket from 1790
British Museum ticket from 1790

by Ray Setterfield

January 15, 1759 — The British Museum was opened to visitors on 15 January, 1759. But not just any visitors. Fearing damage to the collections by unruly hordes, the trustees decided that nobody would be admitted without a ticket. The problem was that only a few tickets were issued each day and even then a number of obstacles had to be surmounted before prospective visitors could receive their prize.

They had to go to the museum and apply to the porter for a ticket. If approved, they then had to go back on another day to collect it, and then go back again at an appointed time to be allowed in.

All tickets, like the one shown above, issued to a Mr Masefield, were free, but designated for a particular time. Visitors were taken round in groups of five, each group guided by one of the under-librarians. They were taken round the building very quickly to make way for the next party.

The early trustees would no doubt recoil in horror at the sight of today's ticketless crowds wandering at will around the building, disdainfully snapping with 'selfie' phones. But at least there are no longer any servants who might be expecting a tip!

Published: April 24, 2016

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