Science of the Great Exhibition, Robert Hunt’s 1851 Essay

Crystal Palace 1851 interior (British)

London in 1851 was site of the Great Exhibition. Formally, it was titled, “The Great Exhibition of the Works of Industry of All Nations“. The press focused attention on the giant glass house containing the exhibition, dubbing it “Crystal Palace”.

The core of the Great Exhibition was a series of exhibitions associated with specific British manufacturing industries that were producing precision science and engineering equipment, consumer goods, and fine decorative objects. Additional exhibitions provided international comparison both for quality of manufacture and for the supply of goods and raw materials from colonial networks. The modern approximation of such an event is a major trade show in a large exhibition centre.

By design, the Great Exhibition lasted for a single season. As the summer came to a close, many exhibits were sold. Others were returned. The glasshouse was sold, too. It was disassembled and transported to Sydenham in south London where it formed the centre point for the newly formed Crystal Palace Company’s pleasure gardens.

Hunt’s “The Science of the Exhibition”

The Art-Journal: Monthly Journal of the Arts produced a richly illustrated catalogue of decorative arts objects on view at the Great Exhibition. The Art-Journal claimed a circulation of over 30,000.

Introductory materials in the catalogue included short essays from associated experts. The chapter was written by Robert Hunt (1807-1887),  Hunt was Keeper of Mining Records at London’s Museum of Practical Geology.

Hunt, Robert. 1851. The Science of the Great Exhibition. in Aj (ed.). Industry of All Nations Exhibition: The Art Journal Illustrated Catalogue. London, The Art Journal: pp. 1-16.


The full citation is:

  • Hunt, Robert. 1851. The Science of the Exhibition. in Art-Journal (ed). 1851. Industry of All Nations Exhibition: The Art-Journal Illustrated Catalogue (London, The Art Journal), pp. 1-16.

Other essays in the introductory material for this volume include:

  • History of the Great Exhibition
  • The Machinery of the Exhibition, As Applied to Textile Manufactures, by Lewis D. B. Gordon (Regis Professor of Mechanics, University of Glasglow)
  • Prize Essay: The Exhibition As a Lesson in Taste, by Ralph Nicholson Wornum
  • On the Vegetable World, As Contributing to the Great Exhibition, by Edward Forbes (Professor of Botany, King’s College, London)
  • The Harmony of Colours, as Exemplified in the Exhibition, by Mrs Merrifield

Decorative Arts in the Great Exhibition

Below are sample pages from the catalogue itself.

1851 Art-Journal Illustrated Catalogue from Great Exhibition, sample pages