Wax Museums–Were they really around in the 1700s?

The simple–and possibly hard to believe–answer is yes.

I’m about to show my age here, but I seriously thought they were relatively new–as in the mid-to-late 1900s, purely due to the nature of what they are: wax. Wax melts and without a means to keep it artificially cold enough, I thought they might decay. Not so apparently. In an effort to prove someone (mainly myself) wrong, and talk myself out of using wax sculptures in of a book, I realized that yes, indeed, wax sculptures were around and did appear in museums back when I set my latest book–1780s.

Madame Tussaud had a traveling wax museum, comprised of nearly 100 wax figures she’d haul around with her all over England and France, starting in 1780. It was not until later in her life–1835 that she set up a permanent shop to display these in London.

Madame Tussaud learned this skill from her uncle who had many of his waxworks put on display, including one of King Louis the XVI.

Now, do not get me wrong, there were not 100s of waxworks or wax museums at the time, because there weren’t. In fact, Madame Tussaud is actually credited with the popularity and presence of such museums as prior to her making a permanent waxworks in London, wax figures were placed for a time in other museums–until the curator decided to make room for something else or the waxwork started to physically lose its appeal AKA melt–but never was there a museum dedicated solely to wax sculptures. At least not that I found.

8 thoughts on “Wax Museums–Were they really around in the 1700s?”

  1. It’s funny that this is your post because when I was reading the book I thought to myself that someone is going to call you out on that like they did the waffles in Wayward.
    I actually knew they existed because of some of my favorite books I have where this figures into the story as well. One such book actually had Tussaud as a minor character in the book.
    Speaking of wax museums, did you happen to go to the wax museum in Gettysburg?

    1. Let me amend what I said as when I reread it, it didn’t sound right. *grins*

      Yes I did make it to the Civil War Wax Museum.

      I’ve been meaning to make this post for a while due to speculation that someone might have a problem with the wax figures… But that’s not why I made it today. I made it today because I was discussing wax figures with someone yesterday while at the wax museum who didn’t know they existed in the 1800s, or prior. So I decided to go through with making the post as a fun history fact.

      RE the waffles: I hope you’re not implying you think I was wrong about the waffles, because I actually wasn’t. Waffles have been around since the dark ages and everything Benjamin said about waffles regarding the vendors and King Charles IX making a law to govern how close vendors could stand to each other was true.

      Waffles themselves date back AT LEAST to 1200–and there are records of something similar before then. Even the Pilgrims brought waffles to America in the 1620s. So the idea of eating them at breakfast, or lunch, or whatever, or just in general is not new.

      1. I would never do such a thing, Rose. Ha ha. I was just referring to a couple of reviews I read.

      2. You are no fun. I suppose I won’t pester you for what you were going to comment.
        I actually didn’t give waffles a second thought until I saw somewhere on your website (faqs?) that you talked about the waffle law, so Iknew you did your research. Then a month or so ago I was looking some of the reviews the book had gotten and couldn’t believe that at least 2 people thought waffles weren’t around then.
        I guess that stuck in mind while reading Contract, so when I read about the wax figure I was thinking that would be one of the things people might complain about. I thought the same about the tennis, so I was glad you mentioned a little of that history.

      3. It wasn’t nice, but effectively it was that I have two friends who’ve lived their entire lives in the UK–one in London, one in York, and both of them said the majority of those who are most critical–and in a public way–are often far more misguided than the author because the majority of them are basing their knowledge solely on what other authors (typically those published by NY) include in their books–never even thinking of

        So far nobody has said anything about the wax figures, but I’m sure it’s coming.

        Oh, as for indoor plumbing, actually some people as early as the late 1700s had water closets, which allowed them to “go” inside and “flush”. Fascinating, really.

        Then of course there’s plunge baths that allow hot water to be piped into large bathtubs, but this was for the very, very wealthy.

        Here’s one for you. Today, I learned that during the Civil War they called their boxes that kept food cold refrigerators, not ice boxes. The term ice box actually came at the turn of the century. I was shocked!

  2. There are many things that existed for longer than a lot of people realize. I’m constantly amazed at the things I find out existed longer than I thought. 🙂 Plumbing was probably the biggest surprise. Wealthy people had a lot better lives than I thought they did back in the Regency and US history.

    1. I remember reading about early forms of indoor plumbing in World History in ninth grade. Some cultures were very inventive even in the early hundreds.

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