Inside The Vault

Step inside the vault.

Step inside the vault and take a peek at the treasures from our very own Saint Louis Science Center Collections. This is the largest display of Collections objects in 30 years and features many items that the public has not seen up close before.

For more than 160 years, individual collectors have shaped the Science Center’s Collections, building them to over 100,000 artifacts and specimens. Some of these individuals spent years amassing objects based on their personal interests or field of study. Even though each collector had their own unique passion, when taken together, these diverse groupings of objects provide a wealth of scientific knowledge.

So what’s in the vault? This exhibition, located in the Planetarium tunnel, features the collections of six individuals, highlighting the best and most interesting artifacts and specimens in each.

Join us Inside the Vault to explore these fascinating artifacts for yourself.


The Six Collections

Hansen Mineral Collection

Wulfenite, collected from Los Lamentos Mine, Chihuahua, Mexico

The exceptional Hansen Collection consists of nearly 100 rare and high-quality mineral specimens from around the world. These specimens provide a glimpse of the variety in size, color, crystal formation, and uniqueness of minerals found on Earth.

Minerals are the building blocks of Earth. We can learn about the chemical composition and the formation of the Earth by studying different minerals, especially how and where they form. This information can also help us understand more about the natural processes that shaped, and are shaping, our world.

Morton Lighting Collection

Courting Candleholder, ca. 1750 AD

The Morton Lighting Collection includes a wide variety of candles, lanterns and lamps dating as far back as 500 BC! The history of humankind and the history of lighting technology are closely linked. The need to control and use light to improve life drove humans to learn the technical art of producing and delivering light through various methods over time.

This fascinating collection documents the evolution of lighting technology over the course of 2,000 years and helps us to learn more about how people used to live. Lamps are vessels of history that demonstrate innovation, artistry, and culture.

Barker Shell Collection

Chiagra Spider Conch, collected from Okinawa, Japan

With over 4,000 shell specimens, the Barker Collection is extremely significant. With an extensive variety of both marine and freshwater species from all over the world, the specimens illustrate a dazzling array of sizes, colors, shapes, and patterns.

A single specimen can’t reveal the full spectrum of variation in a species. That is why scientists often collect many individual specimens. A collection like the Barker Shell Collection can showcase the array of sizes, colors, shapes, and patterns that can be found within a species. This allows scientists to compare individuals and populations, track variations through time or across distances, and identify new species.

Davis Collection of Miniatures

Chameleon Gold Weight, Ghana, Africa, ca. 18th century AD

The extraordinary Davis Collection consists of about 350 miniatures representing human and animal forms from several different cultures around the world. The miniatures vary in age, with the oldest more than 4,000 years old, and the most recent around 70 years old.

The Davis Collection of Miniatures can help us understand more about the history and culture of different world civilizations over time.

From the miniatures, we can gain a sense of what was important to a culture by what they chose to depict. We can learn what materials were available to them based on what was used to make the miniatures, materials either from the surrounding environment or acquired through trade and cultural exchange. We also gain a better understanding of a culture’s beliefs, values, religious ceremonies, burial practices, manner of dress and more by studying these artifacts.

Fossil Collection

Stromatolite, Collected from Ketcherside Mountain, Iron County, Missouri

Hundreds of fossils belong to the Stinchcomb Fossil Collection, including some quite rare examples from all over the world. Although most of the specimens are from marine animals, the collection also consists of a variety of plant and mammal fossils as well, including unique and significant Paleozoic fossil plants.

Interestingly, most of the fossils were found in Missouri and Illinois and help to tell the story of early life in our region. Some of these specimens changed our understanding of when life first appeared in Missouri, pushing the timeline back to well over 1.5 billion years ago!

Grimm Elephant Collection

Bronze Temple Toy, India, ca. 18th century AD

The extraordinary Grimm Collection consists of nearly 300 sculptures, figures, and carvings in the shape of or featuring the elephant. Most of the artifacts come from Asia, particularly China, Japan, India, and Southeast Asian countries. There are also some examples from Africa and a small number from European countries.

As a collection that focuses on one animal, the elephant, the Grimm Collection can help us understand more about the significance of this exotic creature to different cultures. Many cultures who live in the same lands as elephants have incorporated them into their religion, mythology, symbolism, and art. As a result, we can get a sense of the varying degrees of importance they have.

Artifacts of Wonder

Want to learn more about the wide variety of Artifacts of Wonder contained in the Science Center’s Collections? Read more about the categories of artifacts, watch our virtual Collections tours and learn more from our Collections staff!

We post a new Artifact of the Week on our blog every Wednesday at 10 a.m.! Browse the past weeks to get a taste of artifacts from around the world and through the centuries.


Inside the Vault is located in the tunnel leading to the Planetarium. Access is available through the main entrance of the Science Center, then the stairs in the main lobby to the second floor, passed the OMNIMAX® Theater and over the Sky Bridge.


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The Saint Louis Science Center is accessible to visitors with disabilities, as well as visitors with strollers, scooters, and walkers. Elevators and ramps serve all public areas.

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