From the Palaeolithic to post-Medieval Britain, our archaeology collection has developed since the late 1800s. It includes several complete large-scale excavation archives, and contains internationally important finds which reveal how our ancestors once lived.
The most important is the Whitehawk Neolithic Causewayed Enclosure which shows the first evidence for settled communities in Brighton, 5,500 years ago.
Another important discovery was the Brighton bypass excavation hoard, which offered archaeologists a unique opportunity to collect evidence about early settlements on the Downs and land use from the Mesolithic to Medieval times.
The unique 3,500 year old Bronze Age Hove Amber Cup is a significant highlight of the collection. It was discovered in 1856, in what is believed to be the grave of an important person of the time. The cup is one of Britain’s most important Bronze Age finds and could signify trade links to the Baltic region. Other important artifacts were found alongside the Amber Cup, including a whetstone, a dagger and ceremonial axe.
The collection also holds a regionally important collection of stone tools relating to prehistoric man and the Ice Age.
The collections are frequently used for academic research enquiries, whether relating to particular site assemblages or individual tools, vessels or finds.
Our superb Decorative Art collection features a huge range of furniture, ceramics, glass, metalwork, furnishing textiles and a paper archive with items dated from around 1750 to the present day. The collection has been Designated of National Importance by Arts Council England.
Two galleries in Brighton Museum are dedicated to these collections, but some items can also be viewed in Hove Museum and Preston Manor.
The collection illustrates many of the major design styles from c1880 to the present including:
• Arts & Crafts
• Art Nouveau
• Art Deco
• Post-War Design and Contemporary.
Key pieces include Art Deco objects by Rateau (1882-1932) and Lalique (1860-1945) as well as the very popular Surrealist Mae West Lips sofa, 1938, designed by Salvador Dali and Edward James.
The contemporary craft collection contains almost 300 exhibits by leading national and international craft makers who have been influential in the development of British contemporary craft including Grayson Perry’s vase ‘Difficult Background’ (2002).
The city’s ‘jewel in the crown’ is the Royal Pavilion which is furnished with some significant Chinese export wares including extremely rare late 18th century wallpaper hanging in the Adelaide Corridor.
The Pavilion also houses the Regency collection which includes examples of late Georgian cabinet-making by designers and manufacturers such as Elward, Marsh and Tatham, Thomas Hope, Sir John Soane, Louis Le Gaigneur, and silver-gilt collections by celebrated goldsmiths such as Paul Storr, Robert Garrard.
The Willett Collection of Popular Pottery includes 2000 Georgian and Victorian ceramics illustrating British history through a range of quirky, unusual ornaments once used to decorate the homes of ordinary people.
Brighton & Hove Museums’ comprehensive costume collection is of considerable national significance. It embraces men’s, women’s and children’s dress and accessories from the 16th century to the present day. Its geographical extent ranges from the British Isles and Western Europe to North America, and its social context cuts across class, status and function.
The collection spans European national costumes, bridalwear, ‘wardrobe’ collections, bathing costumes, renegade street fashion and 20th century designer couture.
The first donation to the collection in 1897 was a blue silk umbrella. Since then, as interest in costume history and the evolution of fashion design has grown, the collection has continued to expand at a remarkable pace. Today it contains some 10,000 items.
Women’s wear dominates the collection: silk crinoline dresses from the 1860s; Edwardian evening gowns; beaded flapper dresses from the 1920s right through to 1980s Armani ‘power’ dressing. Collections from many of the major 20th century designers are represented by the likes of Dior, Hartnell, Givenchy and Mary Quant, plus Ossie Clark, Issey Miyake, Shirin Guild and Catherine Walker. Designer wear is complemented by ready-to-wear high street fashion, while pieces from local designers, dressmakers and niche boutiques represent the geographic, social and cultural evolution of Brighton & Hove’s own community.
The collection contains a number of key items of international fashion and style significance. The 1933 collection of sets, costumes and props from the short-lived but highly influential company Les Ballets is rare and exceptional. The Messel ‘wardrobe’ collection offers a unique insight into the evolution of fashion and style across six generations of women from one family. Other highlights include the collection’s earliest objects – a pair of kid leather gloves circa 1595–1605 and a young boy’s silk brocade suit of 1741–45. Two outfits from the coronation procession of George IV in 1821 recall one of the great eras of ostentation and decadent style. Intricately hand-worked silk bridal lingerie by Hermine for Lady Holman’s second marriage in 1940 make up part of a significant collection of 20th century lingerie, corsets, girdles and cage crinolines.
European old masters in particular from the Italian, Netherlandish, German and French schools, 18th-20th century British watercolours, 17th-20th century European prints, 16th century –present day British oil paintings, and the Heyer Bequest of 20th century American Post Abstract Expressionist paintings.
Also includes Regency drawings, watercolours and caricatures in
relation to the Royal Pavilion and topographical material relating to the history of Brighton, Hove and the immediate locality, including renowned personalities and events.
The geological collections contain specimens in the following forms:
- Chalk fossils and samples from Sussex
- Mineralogical and petrological slides
- Rock samples of sedimentary, metamorphic and igneous rocks
- Maps, catalogues and diaries of geological collectors.
They have been obtained by various collectors from around the world. The specimens include collections from:
- George Bax Holmes’ Horsham focused collections including a large amount of Iguanodon fossil material.
- Sir Alexander Crichton’s mineralogical collections from Russian and Eastern Europe.
- Type specimen chalk fossils from a variety of locally based collectors.
- Fossil insect collections from Dr Andrew Ross, now at Edinburgh Museum.
The museum holds chalk fossils and sub-fossils from the elephant beds which represent the ice age and late cretaceous environments of Sussex.
Discover more about the vibrant history of Brighton & Hove, and the surrounding county of Sussex, with our Local and Social History collections.
This collection contains a wealth of items which tell the story of the people, the politics and the culture of this diverse and beautiful area. They can be found on display at several of our museums, but have dedicated galleries in Brighton Museum and Hove Museum.
Brighton’s development as the UK’s premier seaside resort is represented by a significant collection of objects, records and personal testimonies relating to the tourist trade across the centuries. The collection not only tells the tale of Brighton’s rise to pre-eminence, but also marks the wider popularisation and democratisation of the British seaside.
Items include early souvenir wares and seaside ephemera, plus a substantial collection documenting the first great Victorian pleasure pier: Sir Samuel Brown’s 1823 Chain Pier.
One highlight is a fascinating collection of costume, portraits, books and curiosities relating to the pioneering Indian entrepreneur Sake Dean Mahomed, ‘Shampooing Surgeon’ to King George IV.
Wider aspects of the city’s social and economic history are represented by everyday Brighton-based objects acquired from local people and collectors through the ages. These range in scope and significance from a complete kitchen unit from Embassy Court (Wells Coates’s pioneering modernist seafront development), to the football shirt worn by Brighton & Hove Albion goal scorer Gary Stevens during the 1983 FA cup final.
The Local and Social History collection includes items dating from the 18th through to the 21st century including prints, photographs; pamphlets and maps. We also hold British domestic and agricultural tools and equipment dating from the 18th to the 20th centuries, and even a fire engine. It also includes the Sussex Collection of reference material, books, journals, newspapers, ephemera and documentary archives.
Our comprehensive local history collections are as diverse as they are extensive. Together, the objects and ephemera form a substantial record of the social, political and cultural development of Brighton, Hove and the surrounding region.
These collections are regularly used by academic researchers, university students, and school groups. They are also often used by individual researchers requesting access to items of personal significance.
Many items from the local history collections are now stored at The Keep.
The glamorous world of cinema and TV wouldn’t be the same without the impact of the Brighton School of film pioneers based in Brighton and Hove in the 1890s and early 1900s.
The Film and Media collections contain objects from 1896 to 1970. Many of these focus on the work of early innovative film-makers such as George Albert Smith and James Williamson. These men, along with other Brighton School pioneers, worked with the exciting new technology of the day to create some influential films which are still fascinating to watch today.
The collection records the history of image-making through the magic lantern, early photography, and other optical equipment which led to the development of the moving image. We hold an amazing 10,000 magic lantern slides, magic lanterns, stereoscopes and early still cameras and photographs.
The collection also includes film-making apparatus, such as moving image cameras and printers from as early as 1896 that were made in Brighton and Hove. These objects are supported by a large collection of photographs, journals, books and other ephemera pertaining to the Brighton School. The collection also charts the history of cinema in Brighton & Hove with objects such as seating, projectors, and ticket booths from local cinemas.
Highlights of the collection include:
- Biunial magic lantern, 1850
- Experimental cine camera of 42mm gauge by Alfred Darling & Sons Ltd, Brighton, 1896
- The Biokam, the world’s first amateur film camera by Alfred Darling & Sons Ltd of Brighton, 1899
- Special Effects cine camera for capturing reverse motion and close-up shots, by Alfred Darling & Sons of Brighton, 1900
- Kinemacolor cine camera, the world’s first commercially viable colour cine film process developed by George Albert Smith of Hove and made by Moy & Bastie, 1910.
- A collection of cartes de visite photographs by William Friese-Greene
- Aerial camera used for military reconnaissance by the RAF, made by Williamson Kinematograph Co., 1917.
The musical instrument collection contains approximately 900 instruments from all over the world, including an important collection of 19th century western instruments and over 400 diverse types of whistles. They mostly come from private collectors who later sold or donated their instruments to the museum.
The Spencer Collections
A collection of 120 instruments, mostly of western origin, demonstrating technological changes to brass and woodwind instruments in the first third of the 19th century. The Spencer collection has a strong link with the Royal Pavilion, as the time period covered by the collection shows the kind of instruments the musicians in the King’s band would have played for concerts in the Royal Pavilion.
Albert Charles Spencer was born into a musical family and played in a family band until WW1. In 1931, he married Gladys, a fellow musician with whom he collected musical instruments. Mr Spencer sold his collection to Brighton Museum and Art Gallery in 1968, after having loaned it to Worthing museum for display from 1957.
The Willins Collection
A collection of over 400 whistles dating from between 1780 and 1934. The whistles come from a variety of places as diverse as Java, Japan, Switzerland and even Brighton. The whistle collection includes tourist souvenirs, working whistles such as policemen’s and boatswain’s whistles, novelty whistles, whistles shaped as other instruments like trumpets and horns, children’s toys and a small kettle.
A J Willins was an avid collector and the collection was donated to the museum by Mary Willins, his wife, after his death in 1950.
Other collectors sold or donated smaller numbers of instruments or single instruments to the collection. This part of the collection adds up to around 350 instruments, which come from all over the world; including a mandolin collected by Baroness Zouche of Harringworth, a collection of Angolan instruments collected by WC Horton and a collection of instruments from several African countries collected by a Mr Byrne. Many of these instruments were collected prior to 1912.
Explore the collection
Many of the instruments have been photographed and researched as part of the MINIM project. Run by the Royal College of Music, MINIM aims to create a wide-ranging database of historic instruments held in museum collections across the UK.
Some of the instruments from Sierra Leone were also photographed and researched as part of a wider Sierra Leone Heritage project.
Our Natural Science collections range from geology to specimens of animal life. They are of international scientific significance and are a Designated collection of national importance.
There are three major collections housed at the Booth Museum. The earliest date from the Brighton and Hove Natural History Society formed in 1854. More recently these have been boosted with items previously held in other Sussex museums.
The major collections housed at The Booth are:
- Edward Booth’s British bird collection, which also include the building he built to house it.
- The Brighton Museum collection, which include significant collections of worldwide insects.
- The Frederick Lucas osteology (bone) collection, originally housed in his home museum in Rottingdean.
The collection covers all aspects of the natural sciences. There are large numbers of type specimens (specimens that the species was named from) which are of huge scientific importance to both biologists and palaeontologists.
The Booth Museum has been described by the Smithsonian Institute as the ‘home of the diorama’. The listed building houses Booth’s remarkable collection of British bird taxidermy, which were the first examples of birds displayed in their natural habitats.
The collections have been used by researchers worldwide, including scientists from Russia’s Palaeontological Institute; Alberta’s Royal Tyrell Museum; the Natural History Museum, London; Stanford University, California; and Cheetah research in Kenya. They have also been used by numerous undergraduate and postgraduate studies from local, national and international universities.
We are also used on a weekly basis by students, artists, fashion designers and photographers as inspiration for their work. The Booth Museum is also used as a location for photography and video shoots, or studying our specimens for artistic purposes.
We collect items from historical and current scientific collectors from the local area. We also collect historically or scientifically important collections from local private collectors – recent examples include insect collections bequeathed by local entomologist AW Jones, and plant collections from the wildlife recorders for Sussex. We are also the only legal place in the area to dispose of historical egg collections.
‘Numismatics’ is the word used for the collection or study of coins and medals. Our numismatics collections include not only coins and medals, but also paper money and trade tokens.
Our coin collection contains approximately 6,000 coins. The earliest are classical Greek and Roman coins. The collection also includes examples from the Roman, Celtic, Anglo-Saxon and Medieval eras. Many of our coins were used in Britain, but others were used in Britain’s colonies.
There are some spectacular examples of coin discoveries in the collection including the Beachy Head coin hoard and the Hove hoard of 455 Roman coins. More recently acquired, through a grant awarded by the Heritage Lottery Fund, is the High Weald Roman coin hoard of 2,895 silver radiate coins dating from the third century AD. Discovered by a metal detectorist on land in the Weald, about 30 miles north west of Brighton, it is one of the largest collections of Roman coins ever found in the county.
The Daniels Collection is particularly significant as it contains coins minted in Sussex , the Iron Age to late Medieval times. but also a large number of local trade tokens from the 17th through to the 19th centuries, hop tallies, and local commemorative, scholastic, political and exhibition medals.
The Daniels Collection also includes a large number of Sussex trade tokens from the 17th through to the 19th centuries.Trade tokens are substitutes for coins, made and used by tradespeople. Although not recognised as legal tender, they were sometimes used by traders when official coins were in short supply.
The medal collection includes military insignia, conduct and commemorative medals from Sussex, the majority of which relate to Brighton & Hove. Some are British service medals, but others are commemorative medals. Some mark events of national importance, but many are local awards, such as medals marking achievements in education.
A small number of items from our numismatics collections can be seen in Brighton Museum & Art Gallery and Hove Museum of Creativity.
Kids of all ages will be able to relive their childhood through our extensive toy collection from around the globe.
More than 20,000 objects are in the collection ranging from ancient Egyptian marbles to modern favourites like Barbie, Star Wars and Dr Who toys.
Highlights include an extensive doll collection featuring:
- Pierotti portrait dolls of the British royal family from the early 1900s
- an 18th century wax doll in its original clothing
- Bébé Jumeau dolls and German bisque dolls from the late 19th century until the 1920s.
We hold over 500 types of dolls from the 19th and 20th centuries and some important doll’s houses, of different architectural styles and ages.
The playthings range from brand new box-fresh products to threadbare and much-loved children’s favourites.
We have a fine selection of 19th century German constructional toys and their more modern Lego and Meccano equivalents plus toy and model trains including a rare German push-along train dating from 1845, early steam trains and Hornby classics.
The toy collection also features an excellent collection of mechanical toys from the late 19th century including examples of mechanical bugs by Lehmann as well as a lovely mechanical engine and circular saw powered by steam.
Another fascinating object is a German Noah’s Ark decorated with coloured straw from the 1850s.
We have Victorian toys for teaching children their ABC, counting, geography, botany and skills as well as teddies from the early 1900s including some rare Steiff bears.
The collection also includes a large library of books about toy making, history and collecting for reference.
The toy collection features an excellent collection of mechanical toys from the late 19th century including examples of mechanical bugs by Lehmann as well as a lovely mechanical engine and circular saw powered by steam.
The World Art collection contains more than 13,000 objects from Africa, Asia, the Pacific and the Americas.
Many of these items were collected by British people in the period 1860-1940. Some of these people were travellers, some were missionaries; many were involved in some way in Britain’s colonial activities. For this reason, much of the World Art collection reflects places where Britain had a colonial presence, for example India and West Africa.
The collection spans many time periods, from prehistory to the present day. It includes many different kinds of objects: masks, sculpture, textiles, domestic tools, agricultural tools, hunting and fishing implements, religious artefacts and more.
The World Art collection has been Designated as a collection of National Importance by Arts Council England. While the collection spans many time periods, cultures and media, highlights include:
- A range of objects reflecting traditions of masquerade and puppetry around the world. This includes puppets (rod puppets, marionettes and shadow puppets) from Vietnam, China, India, Burma (Myanmar) and Indonesia, and masks and masquerade costumes from Nigeria, Sierra Leone, Côte d’Ivoire, Mexico and New Ireland (Papua New Guinea).
- An extensive collection of historic African textiles, including a group of ‘kpokpo’ woven textiles created in Sierra Leone around 1880; a ‘batakari’ gown covered in leather amulets, taken during the British Punitive Expedition to Kumasi (Ghana) in 1874; embroidered men’s gowns, or ‘riga’, from Nigeria; examples of hide clothing and beadwork collected in southern Africa around 1890; and a large collection of late 19th / early 20th century beadwork representing Zulu and Xhosa makers in South Africa.
- Textiles and accessories representing ethnic minority groups living in South East Asia, particularly in Burma (Myanmar), such as the Kachin, Chin and Shan, and groups such as those that make up the Miao community in South West China.
The zoological collections contain specimens in the following forms:
- Taxidermy mounts and study skins
- Entomological (insects) pinned specimens
- Osteological (skeletal) material
- Spirit preserved and histological specimens.
- Shells, corals and sponges
- Microscope slide preparations
They have been obtained by various collectors from around the world. The specimens include some major individual collections that have historical importance to Brighton and Sussex. These include:
- Edward Thomas Booth’s birds and dioramas. These were the original contents of the Booth Museum, and made up the displays in Booth’s Museum of British Birds (predecessor to the current museum).
- Arthur Hall’s collection of Central and South American lepidoptera, including many type specimens (the firsts scientifically described example of those species).
- Fredrick W. Lucas’ Osteology. These skeletal collections were the contents of Lucas’ personal museum based in Rottingdean in the early 20th Century. They were given to Brighton Museum between 1918 and 1920 when he moved away from the region.
Though the majority of the specimens found at the Booth are birds, the museum holds specimens from all the major groups of vertebrates. Birds form the core of our taxidermy mount and research skins. The mammals make up the majority of the skeletal collections, and most of the reptile and amphibian specimens are preserved in liquid.
The vertebrate collections are used for exhibitions and learning. They help to tell the story of how these animals have evolved and adapted to survive in their environments and the changing modern world. They are also used in current scientific research, including:
- The distribution and genetic makeup of Peregrine Falcons.
- The taxonomy and distribution of lepidoptera in Guyana.
- The species genetics of cheetahs.
- The distribution of shorebirds in Scandinavia.
- The evolution of myxomatosis resistance in rabbit populations.
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