Collections at the Museum

The life and earth science collections of the Museum comprise 80 million specimens or items, gathered over 400 years. The collections cover virtually all groups of animals, plants, minerals and fossils from all across the world, and even the universe. Find out how the collections started, who looks after them and how they affect our everyday life.

  • Spirit Collection Tours
    Introduction to our collections

    Discover key facts and figures about this impressive data source and how it serves as a window to both our past and future.

  • Hans Sloane's Nautilus shell
    Museum treasures

    Explore exceptional objects and specimens from the collections at the Museum, and uncover the fascinating stories behind them.

  • A drawer dating back to before 1753 from the Sir Hans Sloane collection.
    Who were the first collectors?

    The Museum owes its beginnings to Sir Hans Sloane, an 18th century collector. He acquired over 80,000 items, forming the single largest collection of any individual in Europe.

  • A collection of illustrations in the Museum's Rare Book Room.
    Why are the collections important?

    The Museum's collections serve many purposes, from educating and inspiring visitors to solving problems in agricultural, medical and forensic science.

  • Museum scientist writing a specimen label for a specimen held in spirit.
    Our curators

    Once specimens arrive at the Museum, they need to be prepared and labelled by curators. But the majority of a curator's time is spent maintaining and documenting existing collections.

  • The second phase of the Darwin Centre, which holds the Museum's entomology and botany collecctions.
    Collections in the future

    As the Museum's collections continue to grow, it is necessary to improve and expand our storage facilities. Find out more.

  • Books from the Natural History Museum's collection
    Virtual library

    Read parts of ground-breaking works like On the Origin of Species or browse images of pressed flowers collected by 16th century explorers, all from the comfort of your own computer.

  • Botanist annotating herbarium specimen sheet at the Museum.
    Making it part of the collection

    Watch these videos, which highlight some of the ways specimens are prepared for our collections, such as plant mounting, pinning and slide preparation.

  • wallace collections books
    Wallace Collection

    The Wallace Collection brings together a remarkable selection of digitised letters, notes, articles and insect specimens collected by Alfred Russel Wallace himself.

  • Eighteenth century studies of the natural world
    Slavery and the natural world

    Find out what the Museum's collections reveal about the links between slavery and the natural world.

  • Derek Frampton preparing specimens for Gallery 6 at Tring
    Taxidermy at Tring

    Derek Frampton talks about how he became a taxidermist and the secrets of his craft.  Watch the video.

  • Butterfly specimens
    Keeping and caring

    How does the Museum organise, preserve and conserve its 60 million life science specimens?

  • Common poppy specimen from our botany collections.
    Common poppy herbarium sheet

    View this herbarium sheet in high resolution and find out more about poppies in the UK.

  • Welsh groundsel specimen from our botany collections.
    Welsh groundsel herbarium sheet

    View this herbarium sheet in beautiful detail and learn about this new species of plant.

  • Sandfly specimen from our entomolgy collection.
    Sandfly specimen

    View this sandfly in high resolution and discover how different species are identified and about the spread of disease.

  • Flint hand axe uncovered in 1859 that helped reveal the very ancient age of humankind.
    The axe that revealed the age of humankind

    How long have humans been living on Earth? A 400,000 year-old hand axe in the Museum's collections was one of the first archaeological finds to offer an answer.