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By Nancy Hopkins on

Ready, set, go! Running items from our collection

With thousands of runners set to pound the pavements this weekend in the Great Manchester Run and the Great CityGames taking place just outside our window, we’ve taken a look at some of the weird and wonderful items in our collection related to keeping yourself in the very best of health.

Nicotine pastilles

Heavy smoker? Got a bit of a cough interrupting your hardcore training regime? Whisk those pesky wheezes away by popping a Nic-o-cin and cracking on with your day.

With the dubious marketing tagline of ‘Eat Nic-o-cin and keep fit’, these pills from 1935 were touted as a health aid for smokers, protecting them from the ill effects of nicotine.

The company claimed the pastilles were made from a ‘beneficial plant that neutralises the nicotine and keeps smokers fit.’ One tablet was dissolved on the tongue at night, although heavy smokers were advised to take them throughout the day.

Inside the metal tin is a leaflet that contains testimonials from happy customers. One individual claimed to feel no ill effects from their 50–60 a day habit since discovering Nic-o-cin pastilles.

Apparently, they also protected against hangovers. Winner!

Carton of Nic-o-cin pastilles, with instructions, by Nicocin Ltd., London, c.1935. Three pastiles alongside case. White background.
Carton of Nic-o-cin pastilles, with instructions, by Nicocin Ltd., London, c. 1935
Science Museum Group Collection
© The Board of Trustees of the Science Museum

Is your body coming between you and the opposite sex?

Unlike the public health campaigns of today, which are generally about gently encouraging behavioural shifts in the population (such as Change4Life and This Girl Can), the late 70s were pretty straight up about obesity.

The general premise of this poster implies that if you don’t look like a Bee Gee and you’ve put on major timber, the lovely ladies in the swimming pool will not fancy you and you will not be invited to join in with their aquatic japery. Instead, you’ll have to stand by the side of pool looking longingly at all the fun you’re not having, and you’ll come across as a bit creepy.

The basic message of this poster is ‘eat less, move more’, but with a dollop of body shaming for good measure.

In the interests of equality, this poster aimed at women asked them if they held in their breath when men looked at them. Genuinely.

These posters probably need their own blog posts as there are several things to be addressed here, not least the question of how they managed to keep their hair looking so neat in a swimming pool.

Poster, relating to health eating and exercise, featuring an overweight man walking past a group of people in a swimming pool, with the message 'Is your body coming between you and the opposite sex?', produced by the Health Education Council, London, England, 1975-1980.
Poster, relating to health eating and exercise, featuring an overweight man walking past a group of people in a swimming pool, with the message ‘Is your body coming between you and the opposite sex?’, produced by the Health Education Council, London, England, 1975-1980.

Shameless trainers

These black Reebok Classics were worn by the actor David Threlfall who played Frank Gallagher in Shameless, the BAFTA award-winning comedy drama series set in Manchester.

Frank was a character who did not aspire to the body beautiful, and his sartorial choices placed greater emphasis on the ‘leisure’ part of athleisure fashion. Indeed, our fine collection of beer cans and the ashtray from the series give you a better idea of where Frank’s true interests lay.

Still, nice trainers though.

Pair of black trainers worn by David Threlfall used in the making of Shameless. Science Museum Group Collection © The Board of Trustees of the Science Museum
Pair of black trainers worn by David Threlfall used in the making of Shameless
Science Museum Group Collection
© The Board of Trustees of the Science Museum

German exercise horse

Despite looking nothing like a pony, straddling this sturdily built item is apparently akin to riding a horse.

Made from wood with a sprung leather ‘saddle’ and handlebars at the front, using the horse helped build muscles and stamina. As well as being used for general exercise purposes, it was also used as a physiotherapy tool to target specific muscle groups.

There was growing interest in improving health through physical fitness during the late 1800s, which led to the development of numerous mechanical exercise machines.

Germany exercise horse, late 19th-early 20th century. Full 3/4 view, graduated grey background.
Germany exercise horse, late 19th – early 20th century
Full 3/4 view, graduated grey background

Sony Walkman

Although 70s icon Ron Burgundy wasn’t too convinced about the new-fangled trend for jogging, or ‘yogging’, it’s not a totally new concept.

The word ‘jog’ was used by Shakespeare in The Taming of the Shrew—‘you may be jogging whiles your boots are green’—which is taken to mean leaving.  An olde worlde application of the phrase ‘jog on’, perhaps?

However, jogging as we know it today really took off in the late 70s/early 80s. But how to listen to music on the move to help you beat your PB?

Prior to the release of the Sony Walkman, people had only been able to listen to radio broadcasts or haul around portable tape players, which were bulky and heavy. Not the athlete’s choice.

German-Brazilian inventor Andreas Pavel invented a device called the Stereobelt in 1977, which is generally regarded as the precursor of the Walkman.  Patented by Pavel in the same year, he soon entered into a long running legal battle with Sony around patent infringements and royalties, which was eventually settled in 2003. The exact settlement fee is a closely guarded secret, but is thought to be over $10m, with royalties from Sony.

The original Walkman prototype was built from a heavily modified Sony Pressman, a lightweight, compact tape recorder designed for journalists. Engineers replaced the recording head with a playback head, and the speaker with an amplifier. Genius!

Now joggers could listen to their mixtapes whilst sporting a lemon-yellow sweatband and a high cut, high waisted pair of nylon shorts. Thank you, Sony.

Sony Walkman WM-2 Credit: Esa Sorjonen
Sony Walkman WM-2
Credit: Esa Sorjonen

Human skin

Yes, you’ve read that right. We have human skin in our collection.

The exact details around the skin aren’t very exact, and we don’t know who it came from. We think it’s French and dates from 1850–1920.

Although the link to exercise is pretty tenuous (the figure outlined in ink is a nude female form running), I felt compelled to include this as I think this throws up some fascinating areas for exploration. How did a museum come to be in possession of the skin? Is there more of this sort of stuff in our collection? What are the moral implications of having parts of the human body in our collection? I feel another blog post coming on….

Human skin, tattooed with male head and running nude female figure, possibly French, 1850-1920. Plan view. Dark grey background
Human skin, tattooed with male head and running nude female figure, possibly French, 1850-1920. Plan view. Dark grey background

One comment on “Ready, set, go! Running items from our collection

  1. I live “down South”. But I am definitely coming to see your museum. (If only to see the skin). 😉
    Great blog.
    I am a museum volunteer and am always in awe of museum professionals.

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