The collection of scientific equipment at the University of Tartu Museum is unique in Estonia and, due to its local colouring, has an important position in the history of science and culture in Europe.
The Museum’s collection was started in the 1960s and was initiated by Tullio Ilomets, Associate Professor of Chemistry. The University History Museum was created in 1976 and practical work in the Museum began in 1979. This was a time when the old apparatuses, study materials and furniture, some of which dating from the 19th century, were kept in the faculties and back rooms of the study buildings. The gradually worsening condition and degradation (disappearance, destruction) of the antiques and the lack of space for the large-scale outdated apparatuses brought about the establishment of the Museum’s collection on the history of the University.
The collection of the Museum grew in the 1980–1990s when the already collected exhibits were added to by bookkeeping write-offs, deposit copies of publishers, antique sales and donations.
Following that, the Museum had its antiques looked over by the National Heritage Committee (1996–1998) which resulted in adding a rich collection of scientific equipment and other collections into the Museum’s collection.
The largest periods of acquisition have taken place when the University has had to update its buildings and scientific apparatuses. The objects and materials left over in this process represent a good selection from which the Museum can take objects for its collection.
The accumulation process constantly changes; for example, the Museum no longer collects the deposit copies of the University Press or lengthy personal archives – this is left to the University Library. When writing the collection plan in 2012, the Museum chose to concentrate more on its uniqueness and difference from other local and foreign museum collections.
As of January 1, 2014, the Museum’s collection comprises of 73,398 items, documents and photos.
The oldest precisely dated artefact in the collection is a set of coin and gold scales made by a Cologne craftsman in 1560 (although the Arabic celestial globe is probably from the first half of the 14th century). The oldest printed object is from 1627 and the earliest dated photograph (salt print) is from 1860.