Wellcome Collection is built on collections assembled by Sir Henry Wellcome. In the early 20th century Wellcome founded a private historical medical museum closely linked with his pharmaceutical business. His staff collected vast quantities of objects, images, archives and books from all over the world, to achieve a better understanding of what he thought of as the "art and science of healing throughout the ages".
His museum, in common with others of the time, followed a late-19th-century European model of cultural hierarchies. Objects were classified and displayed in a way that placed European culture at the top of a racist, sexist and ableist system of cultural dominance.
Between 1890 and 1936 Wellcome built a collection that told a global story of health and medicine in which Black people, Indigenous peoples and people of colour were exoticised, marginalised and exploited.
Wellcome’s collection grew through mass acquisitions from the British auction and dealer market. His museum purchased entire collections from other collectors, and used a network of agents in Europe, the Middle East, the Americas and South Asia. By the time he died in 1936, his collection was one of the largest in Europe.