Collections

What’s in the collections

Our collections are an incredible resource for all kinds of research, whether you are an artist or writer looking for inspiration, an academic researcher, or just curious about something in our exhibitions. 

They contain an array of topics relating to health and the human experience in many forms, from recently published books to historical manuscripts and objects. And we’re still adding to our collections in order to encompass a greater diversity of voices and lived experiences.   

Visual culture

Photograph of a close-up of a woman gently holding an open archive folder in which is a large colour etching of several historical figures.
Wellcome Collection, Photo: Thomas SG Farnetti. Source: Wellcome Collection. Attribution 4.0 International (CC BY 4.0).

Our collections are particularly strong in visual culture, with over 250,000 prints, paintings, drawings, photographs and digital images from the 14th century to the present. You’ll also find examples of visual culture in our ephemera collections, including stamps, advertising, trade cards and public information leaflets. 

Our audio-visual collections include 20th and 21st-century public health information films, surgical training films, interviews, oral histories and broadcast radio and television programmes.  

Books and journals 

Photograph of two people sat in a library at a table surrounded by floor to ceiling book shelves, filled with different coloured books. Another library user is approaching them with a book in their hands, blurred in the photograph by their movement.
Wellcome Collection, library, Photo: Thomas SG Farnetti. Source: Wellcome Collection. Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International (CC BY-NC 4.0).

We have an extensive collection of books on the history of modern health and medicine, as well as historical textbooks in fields such as anatomy, herbal medicine, surgery and subjects allied to health and medicine. You’ll also find many unexpected topics, from alchemy to witchcraft, in the collections. Our published books include over 5,000 pre-16th-century texts. 

We subscribe to many contemporary journals relating to the history and culture of health and medicine. And our historical journals are a valuable source of information about daily health and medical practice in the past, as well as being examples of the development of fields such as graphic design and advertising. 

Archives and manuscripts 

Photograph of a group of people gathered around a large table which is laid out with several old and fragile manuscripts resting on book supports. The person in the centre of the frame is touching one of the manuscripts and appears to be explaining something to the surrounding group.
Wellcome Collection, Medieval Poetry Workshop, Photo: Thomas SG Farnetti. Source: Wellcome Collection. Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International (CC BY-NC 4.0).

In our archive collections you’ll find unpublished drafts, notebooks, letters, photographs, personal papers and official records of over 800 people and organisations connected to health. 

The bulk of our collections are in English, but the collection is global in scope and contains over 20,000 unpublished manuscripts in over 50 languages, including Latin, Sanskrit, Arabic, Persian, Japanese and Chinese dialects. 

Unpublished material also includes examples of everyday items such as medical and culinary recipe books and precious objects such as medieval astrological tables.  

Objects 

Photograph of a man in a dark gallery space in front of a display case, pointing towards an object inside. He is surrounded by a small group of people who are listening to what he has to say.
Wellcome Collection, Festival of Minds and Bodies, Photo: Steven Pocock. Source: Wellcome Collection. Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International (CC BY-NC 4.0).

The majority of objects in the collections are medical or ethnographic and reflect a diversity of cultures and traditions from around the world. You’ll find objects from the collections on display throughout the Wellcome building and in our exhibitions, but the majority of objects from the collections are held by the London Science Museum and many are on display in their Wellcome Medical Galleries. 

Contemporary collecting 

Photograph of a wooden tabletop with a light green edge, from directly above. One the table are 5 zines on the subject of menstruation with titles such as, 'Bloodyhell', 'Lady Bits', 'Damn bloody rite' and 'Not a bloody luxury'.
Wellcome Collection, selection of zines, Photo: Benjamin Gilbert. Source: Wellcome Collection. Attribution 4.0 International (CC BY 4.0).

Lots of voices are absent from the collections either because they were excluded from practising healthcare and medicine or because they were thought not to matter. There are many stories yet to be discovered and restored within the collections.  

Our contemporary collecting policy aims to redress the balance by seeking out a greater diversity of voices, including the patient’s voice, which is so often missing from histories of medicine and health. By collecting contemporary materials such as zines and artists’ books, we are trying to capture the experiences and understandings of health and humanity beyond the expert and the privileged.