By Kenneth Hudson
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Extra info for A Social History of Museums: What the Visitors Thought
While he had the bones in his possession, Peale put them on exhibition in his gallery and was surprised and pleased to discover that the number of visitors considerably increased as a result. His brother-in-law, Colonel Nathaniel Ramsey, thought there was nothing remarkable about this. 'Doubtless', he said, 'there are many men like myself who would prefer seeing such articles of curiosity than any paintings whatever. It would be little trouble to keep them, and the public would be gratified at the sight, at such time as they came to see the paintings.
The initiative came from the Charleston Library Society, which had come into being in I 748. The Society collected, and lent out, scientific instruments as well as books, and a museum was a logical development of its activities. The Society set out its plans and appealed for gifts of suitable exhibits in an advertisement published in the South Carolina newspaper during March and April, I 773- This read: Taking into their Consideration the many Advantages and great Credit that would result to this Province, from a full and accurate Natural History of the same, and being desir- 32 A Social History of Museums ous to promote so useful a Design, have appointed a Committee of their number to collect and prepare Materials for that Purpose.
The gallery was advertised in the press as being for 'the reception and entertainment of all lovers of the fine arts', and it attracted what Peale had hoped for, more visitors and more 34 A Social History of Museums commissiOns. It would probably not have developed any further, however, if Peale had not been asked, in 1784, by a German scholar to send him some drawings of what were described as 'mammoth bones'. While he had the bones in his possession, Peale put them on exhibition in his gallery and was surprised and pleased to discover that the number of visitors considerably increased as a result.