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UCL Culture Blog


News and musings from the UCL Culture team


Bentham’s Day Out

By Subhadra Das, on 9 November 2012

On Thursday November 8th, 2012, the UCL Teaching and Research Collections team arranged for the Auto-Icon of Jeremy Bentham to be removed from its box for cleaning. These pictures document adventures and experiences on the day.


Council of War. When it comes to doing anything to what is arguably UCL’s most iconic object, it is best to have a plan.








Bits and pieces. Alongside the Auto-Icon itself are a number of Bentham’s personal effects, including a wooden cane, which he called ‘Dapple’.

Bits and pieces









Ready to go!

Ready to go















Out of the box.

Out of the box









Off we go…

5_Off we go

























Jeremy gets a lift.

7_Jeremy gets a lift















Jeremy takes in his new surroundings.

7_New surroundings

























More cleaning…

9_More cleaning










Even more cleaning…

10_Cleaning the hat















A conservator’s eye view…

11_A conservator's eye view









Conservators make detailed notes of the condition of museum objects. Every part of the object, including any evidence of damage or change, like the nail hole in the leg of this chair, tell the story of the object and contribute to plans for its future care.

Say “Utilitarianism!”

12_Say 'Utilitarianism!'















The Auto-Icon is one of the most popular attractions at UCL. In the four hours it was available to view by the public, it received over 350 visitors (almost all of whom had their picture taken with it).

Cleaning the box.

13_CLeaning the box















There would be no point in cleaning the Auto-Icon and other objects in the box without cleaning the box itself. Here, Curator Nick Booth leaves no stone unturned in the fight against dirt and dust, with the final result that the box is…

All clean!

14_All clean















Bentham’s (Paper) Head in the box.

15_Bentham's (paper) head in the box









For a while, the poorly taxidermied head of Jeremy Bentham (which had been intended to be part of the Auto-Icon) was stored in the box along with the rest of the body. This is an homage to that method of display, using a paper lantern head of Bentham, part of a major fund-raising initiative being run by UCL.

All aboard.

16_All aboard















This is a purpose-built solution to the very particular problem of transporting a very particular object.

Final photo call.

17_Final photo call















Back we go…

18_Back we go















Good as new!

20_Good as new















Checking light levels.

Checking light levels















Regular cleaning is only one part of a program for the long-term care of the Auto-Icon. We will also be monitoring the environment of the box for light (being measured here), temperature, relative humidity and pests.

Team Clean Bentham

Team Clean Bentham















All smiles… until we do it again next year!


5 Responses to “Bentham’s Day Out”

  • 1
    Hayley Kruger wrote on 16 November 2012:

    I have to ask…does he smell? (I know that I should know better than to ask given where I work!)

  • 2
    Subhadra Das wrote on 16 November 2012:

    His clothes smelled a little musty when we first opened the box, but that’s hardly surprising.

    The Auto-Icon is Bentham’s skeleton preserved in his clothes, so their isn’t any embalmed skin, etc. that might smell of embalming fluid.

    I’m pleased to report the mustiness is a thing of the past, now that he’s had a good clean and airing!

  • 3
    Transcribe Bentham » Blog Archive » Progress update, 10 to 16 November wrote on 16 November 2012:

    […] cleaning the box and so on). You can read about the day and have a look at some photographs on the Museums Blog, and watch a video of the auto-icon being taken from the box and moved upstairs in a lift (like a […]

  • 4
    Is the auto-icon wearing underwear? | UCL UCL Museums & Collections Blog wrote on 30 March 2015:

    […] to inspect the auto-icon again, and following the levels of¬†interest last time (see ‘Bentham’s day out‘), we have again decided to make the event open to the […]

  • 5
    Elizabeth m wrote on 13 April 2015:

    Does the taxidermy head need maintenance as well?

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