Sex, Disease and Digitisation

As specialists in digitising rare and unusual items, TownsWeb is often approached to scan collections that no-one else is able to digitise. For example, in my time here items that we have digitised have ranged from vintage comic artwork, to x-ray images, to luxury wallpaper samples.

But for me, the most unusual (and graphic) content that TownsWeb has digitised is The Royal College of Surgeon’s (RCS) London Lock Hospital Collection of illustrations of sexual diseases…

RCS Syphilis one

RCS Syphilis two

The London Lock Hospital Collection

The unique Collection features almost 600 detailed, full-colour illustrations showing patients suffering with a variety of venereal diseases, at different levels of severity. Some less graphic examples from the collection, showing several stages of syphilis symptoms, are displayed above (Image refs: MS0022/6/6/013; MS0022/6/6/026).

The illustrations were hand-drawn and painted during the 19th and early 20th centuries by artists employed by the Hospital, and many actually feature the signature of the artist alongside the image. Before the proliferation of photography, drawings like these were used to illustrate medical textbooks on the appearance and visible symptoms of the venereal diseases.

Why did RCS digitise the collection?

Archivist for RCS, Louise King, approached TownsWeb to digitise the collection in order to improve access and minimise handling of the delicate original items. She explains:

We decided to digitise the drawings because they were a popular collection. Despite being encapsulated in melinex sleeves, the illustrations’ large size meant that we were still concerned by the risk of over-handling them.”

Louise continues “The digitisation has allowed us to make the 19th century images available for students and researchers to view as lo-res jpegs via our online catalogue. Meaning far less handling for the fragile originals and improved access. The 20th century images remain closed however due to their sensitive nature.”

Outputs of the digitisation

Our digitisation operators scanned each of the drawings to produce 300dpi uncompressed Master TIFF and surrogate jpeg digital files, using our unique planetary scanning equipment, and each file was named to reflect RCS’s physical archive references.

Parts of the digitised London Lock Hospital Patients collection are now live and available to search on RSC’s official website.

Just click to find out more about TownsWeb’s image digitisation services and the various formats that we are able to scan.