Skeletons from the vaults!

20 March 2014

With Halloween just around the corner, how could we resist digging out some skeletons from our archive? Find out about the sessions at the Sunderland Museum in 1913, which were designed to help blind and partially sighted people experience the collections.

Here we take a peek into the "Seeing Through Touch" sessions at the Sunderland Museum in 1913, which were were designed to help blind and partially sighted people experience the collections.

Over a period of several weeks, children from the local blind school, and later blind and partially sighted adults, were invited to touch objects, skeletons, busts, taxidermy animals, pistols, and rifles. They were also invited to enjoy a variety of lectures.

The sessions were organised by John Alfred Charlton Deas, director of Public Libraries, Museum and Art Gallery, Sunderland and a pioneer in the education of blind people - "to them, their fingers are eyes" he said.

Taxidermy lionThe following image shows blind and partially sighted children interacting with the museum's collection - six young boys, all with smiles on their faces, are sitting on a taxidermy lion!



SkeletonsThe next image shows blind people exploring skeletons using their hands - there aren't any "do not touch" instructions at this collection!

Stuffed birdThe next image shows a young girl carefully exploring a stuffed bird by touch - the tactile experiences at the sessions must have been very powerful for the children.

LecturesCharlton Deas wrote several papers on the education of people who are blind and delivered a lecture 'The Use of Museums by the Blind' at RNIB in November 1930.

He also appears several times in the papers relating to the establishment of the RNIB's own museum, the Museum of Apparatus, which officially opened at Armitage Hall at the Great Portland Street building in June 1931.

These photographs originally appear in the Sunderland Museum's collection, but from what we understand, the copies in our own archives were given to RNIB to demonstrate the effectiveness of tactile interactions for blind people.

Much more information about John Alfred Charlton Deas is held in the Tyne & Wear Archives and Museums where you can explore a full set of the images.

More about RNIB's Heritage Services

We've brought together our Research Library and Archive to make their full potential available for the first time. It's open to the public, perfect if you're interested in research, history and information relating to blindness and sight loss. Our expert staff can work with you to help you find what you need or research our artefacts, photographs and documents on your behalf.

What's available:

  • historically important books
  • journals
  • early embossed manuscripts
  • artefacts.

Accessing the archives

The archive is free to access and is available at our central London offices or through a new and improved online catalogue. If you wish to visit us, we recommend that you ring first so we can help you get the most out of your visit.

Contact us

To find out more, email us at [email protected] or call us on 020 7391 2052. We respond to enquiries by phone, email, letter or in person.