Saul Wordsworth

On Raphael Salaman (1906-1993)

Dear all,

Please take a moment to read this. Today’s blog doubles as an online petition to save an exhibition dedicated to my grandfather.

Raphael Salaman (or Raph as I called him) was a very kind and unassuming man, with a great interest in tools. As a child growing up in rural Hertfordshire he watched the local craftsmen ply their trade and became fascinated with the implements they employed.

His interest burgeoned as an adult, and much of the collection was made in the course of touring the country in his capacity as fire precautions advisor for Marks & Spencer. After retiring he wrote two highly acclaimed dictionaries dedicated to woodworking and leather working tools. Both remain standard works today.

leather working tools

My grandfather’s tool collection, the remnants of which I remember cluttering the shed and garage of his home in Harpenden, is housed in the nearby Museum of St Albans. The ‘Salaman Collection’ contains instruments and tools from 1700-1950, and is of particular interest since much of it features trades such as cooper, wheelwright and blacksmith that all-but vanished during his lifetime. The collection is world famous and continues to receive regular visitors from overseas.


Unfortunately this long-term exhibition is now under threat. Due to a combination of health/safety and funding issues, it seems that the Salaman Collection is to be put in storage for an indeterminant period. Whilst none of us in the family would wish to see the future of the Museum of St Albans jeopardised in any way, we do feel that the collection is as relevant today as it was forty years ago, and remains a fitting tribute to Raphael’s curiosity and quiet scholarship.

When I visited St Albans recently I was treated to an excellent in-depth walk-through of the exhibition, which currently occupies almost the entire ground floor of the building. The enthusiasm shown by my tour guide, complete with explanations of terms like ‘underdog’, ‘gun barrel’ and ‘plumber’, left me in no doubt that my grandfather’s collection remains a valuable source of social history.

Raph 2

I do hope a way can be found to keep the Salaman Collection alive and on view, either in its current home in St Albans or on loan to other UK museums.

If you would like to put your name to an online petition to save this exhibition, please fill in your details below.

** In the comments box please just write the name of your organisation, or just a full-stop. Some comments made to date have not helped the cause **

Thank you.

For more details please contact me here

Thank you.


Diana Iwi Says:

Please save the collection.

Janet Solomons Says:

Seeing what tools our ancestors used tells us so much about them. Every generation should have the opportunity to see them for themselves – such artefacts should not be relegated to the basement never to be seen.

Anna Stewart Says:

This exhibition needs to be saved. I really hope that this campaign works and the museum change their minds…

Horace Barlow Says:

Tool-making and tool-use are defining characteristics of Homo Sapiens. Raphael Salaman’s collection is a wonderfull demonstration of what a completely unsophisticated group of tool-makers can achieve.

Dick Rutledge Says:

Just returned from Rome, where I realized the value of saving for future generations the tools of men such as Ralph Salaman

Anne Davies Says:

I have a 5 year old grandson who adores tools. Please keep this exhibition available so children like him can understand about using and making tools.

Lucy Wedderburn Says:

This is a real treasure, which needs to be saved and seen by future generations.

Gillian Hayes Says:

There must be a way to save and display this wonderful collection to help future generations understand the past.

liz Kessler Says:

I loved the exhibition when I saw it in St Albans Museum some years age; it was quirky and utterly fascinating and it would be tragic for it not to continue to be on public display.

Clare & Pablo Says:

We would love to come and see this exhibition – keep it on display!

Alice and Brian Says:

Please keep this unique collection on display as it is of interest to so many and we want a chance to see it!

Harriet Says:

This wonderful collection needs to be saved!

Richard Spitz Says:

Storage is no place for a collection like this – it needs to be kept on display!

Chris Day Says:

I don’t suppose anyone would deny that the collection should be preserved. But it really must be on display. Museums should reflect the world in the round, not simply offer a selection of show-stopping and uncharacteristic highlights. If St Albans really cannot exhibit the collection, it should be offered elsewhere.

Jean-Claude Peissel Says:

As a one-time Harpendennian (?) If St Albans Museum cannot keep the collection maybe it should be found a home in Harpenden. I lived there during the war and there was still a cobbler in the village, on the Green, who we would stand and watch working re-soling boots and shoes who using the sort of tools that are in the collection. This collection must be saved and displayed.

Paul W. Nash Says:

I would support keeping this exhibition on show as long as possible.

Helen Simpson Says:

It’s clear from all those who know this collection that it has intrinsic value and should remain on display for the education of all who see it.Please don’t store it out of sight.

George Whitwell Says:

This unique collection of tools needs to be kept on display so that generations of people come and admire the craftsmanship that sadly now is a thing of the past.

Alan Glynn Says:

Please leave this well known and interesting collection intact and viewable by the public

Lucy White Says:

Have wonderful memories of this amazing collection. Please keep it on display.

John Peasnall Says:

This is an important asset and must be preserved

C;aire Peasnall Says:

Although I’ve never seen it, I know from past conversations that it really is an important resource.

Peter Hamburger (Raphael's nephew) Says:

The above support is very impressive, but if St. Albans no longer wishes to host Raphael’s collection – and it does seem that way – then maybe the family should be spending time finding it a new home. As a suggestion, Royston (near the former family home at Barley) has its own museum and Cambridge a folk museum (in fact, Harpenden now has a railway museum – I wonder if the town council might allocate
space for the work of one of its most distinguished residents?). If the Science Museum is storing some unseen items, then perhaps the two could be incorporated. In fact, the S M might be a good place to start, anyway for some advice.
Having placed a few family items myself in recent years (and I realise that we’re talking here about an entire collection), I know how much work is entailed. It’s serious networking, but should – in the long
run – reap rewards. Good luck!

Sarah Pettegre Says:

Fascinating! Lot’s of luck in finding a permanant solution.

richard davey Says:

please save this fascinating collection

Jan Lee Says:

Come on guys , this is so worth saving !

Richard Way Says:

It’s shocking this original, interesting & vastly unusual collection, so valuable in many ways, could be moth-balled for such a pettifogging reason. Health & Safety ?! Money !? Don’t these grey museum people realize that many of us like looking at stuff rather than their homogenized story-boards ? Question: WHY is the Pitt Rivers Museum in Oxford a real WOW ? Answer: Because it is a farrago of wacky REAL things & imagination can run free. Please please keep this collection together and visible for people to see & learn from & USE … don;t dump it just as people are realizing that a craft job can be more useful to society and more rewarding than an ability to compile a spreadsheet. Making things is real. I’m off to St Albans as soon as possible to see this collection & hope I am not too late His books are brilliant.

Richard Way Says:

They are already short of space, but how about the Museum of Rural Life in Reading. It could compliment and boost their own.


I wasn’t even aware that this collection was on display, but now I do I will make a special trip to see it. Please make sure it is still displayed to the public for a long time to come. Real museums show real artifacts, and plenty of them. H&S can not be allowed to change this. What next?

Joost Martens / the Netherlands Says:

to late….
Today we visited St Albans museum, wishing to see the Salaman collection. The museum’s website still mentions and praises the importance but….no collection. Shameful! It should be brought back or housed in any other museum that seriously worships the importance of this historical and social important collection.
I hope it will be saved!

Michael Cox Says:

“Man is a tool-using animal. Without tools he is nothing, with tools he is all.”
Thomas Carlyle.
Keep the tools !!

Jonathan Green-Plumb Says:

This important collection should be kept on display, as there are few opportunities to see collections of tools anywhere in the UK.

Peter Russell Says:

This collection is of great importance. How will young people be inspired to take up this craft

Derek Eder Says:

Is there any chance RA Salaman was related to John Solomon Benson merchant and inventor from Birmingham in the mid 1800’s and father to John Benson Salamon and business partner to Sir David Salamon? I have an old plane iron stamped J.S. Benson – The pen is mightier than the sword which sparked my interest.

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