155-year old mouse trap claims its latest victim

After logging onto their computers today, staff here at the MERL were greeted by an unusual email from the Assistant Curator:

‘There appears to be a dead mouse in this mousetrap…’

It began.

‘…which is not described as being there on the database.’

So, this retired rodent had managed to sneak past University of Reading security, exterior doors and Museum staff,  and clambered its way up into our Store. Upon finding itself there it would have found the promised land; a mouse paradise laid before it full of straw, wood and textiles. Then, out of thousands of objects, it chose for its home the very thing designed to kill it some 150 years ago: a mouse trap.

The trap itself was not baited, but this did not stop our mouse from wriggling inside and, finding itself trapped, meet its demise. The trap was manufactured by Colin Pullinger & Sons of Silsey, West Sussex and although we don’t know the exact date this one was made, the trap itself was patented in 1861. It is a multi-catch trap with a see-saw mechanism, and you can see its object record here. It is known as a ‘Perpetual Mouse Trap’ and proudly declares that it ‘will last a lifetime’. How apt.

Pests are, of course, a perpetual menace in any museum. Curators and conservators are always alert for the tell-tale signs of moths, beetles and rodents which feast on the organic materials we hold in store. Hygiene and regular cleaning are a first line of defence, as are glazed cases. Objects are also treated before storage or display to ensure anything lurking within is killed. And while our most vulnerable objects have always been cased – such as clothing and leather – the rest of our stored collection made of sturdier wood and metal was only fully glazed over last year. This mouse may have snuck into the trap before this glazing, or otherwise managed to get in while construction work has been carried out for the Museum’s redevelopment.

We have traps set for pests, but we can never catch everything all of the time. This mouse managed to sign its own death warrant before it could do any more damage, the extent of which was only a nibbled label. We will also have to determine whether this mouse was a scout or part of a larger family. Luckily, because the collection is heavily used it is often only a matter of time before any kind of infestation is noticed and nipped in the bud. This mouse was found when our Assistant Curator was in the Stores selecting objects for use in an interdisciplinary research session on the subject of ‘Animals at Reading’. Our current MERL Fellow, Professor Karen Sayer, is also particularly interested in traps as part of her ongoing research into rats and pest control and regularly views our collection.

For the moment, however, the mouse remains in the trap while we decide what to do with it. One option is a dignified burial, another is to desiccate it or have it prepared to remain as a permanent feature of the mouse trap for our new displays. We’ll let you know what we decide.

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67 thoughts on “155-year old mouse trap claims its latest victim”

  1. The story and the mouse should be included in any future exhibit of the trap. It speaks to the quality of the device that it served its purpose after 150 years.

  2. Why don’t you admit the thought that, perhaps, the mouse somehow sensed its approaching demise and wanted to die inside the trap – was attracted there by some kind of vibes! Maybe, it happened this way, and the poor creature didn’t suffer. Surely, one can wriggle out if one can wrigge in. If it sat alive inside the trap, the curator might have heard something

  3. Colin Pullinger was my Great,Great Grandfather. Have 2 business cards of his showing all the things he did,plus all his legal documents relating to land acquisitions etc,all on parchment. There is a blue plaque to him in Selsey. He was at the Great Exhibition in Hyde Park,1851, and sold 1.5million traps worldwide! My Grandad,his grandson,went to Upper Norwood to watch the Crystal Palace burn down in 1936. My Dad watched from his bedroom window. My Dad is thrilled the mousetrap still does its job after all this time!!

    1. Christine, that is so cool. I was wondering if anyone from the original family, who made the trap, was still around.

  4. Great Read! Have you seen the story of the 100 year-old lightbulb?


    There’s something about these antiques that still function as well as the day they were made. I would love to build one of these mousetraps or possibly make an instructional drawing. Are there any more photographs of it, or a link to the original patent?

  5. I definitely think the mouse should be preserved. It is a quirky bit of history that adds to the display.

  6. Oh, DEFINITELY leave it in the mousetrap (poor thing! But I understand that you have to discourage this sort of thing.) But that’s the greatest story ever, and that company should be proud of their craftsmanship!

  7. A slight correction needs to be made to this blog post and the object record as there is no ‘Silsey’ West Sussex, but there is a ‘Selsey.’

  8. I recently had my first mouse in my second floor apartment. Eek! Neither dealing with a mouse body nor driving a live one out to the country appealed to me so I searched the internet. It seems mice and spiders can’t abide the smell of peppermint. I put several drops of peppermint essential oil on cotton balls and set them on squares of tin foil along the walls. Amazingly, it works! You might give that a try around the museum. It smells lovely.

    1. Truly amazing!! I hate spiders and after we moved into our big, new, beautiful house… spiders are EVERYWHERE. Our Pomeranian wants to eat them (disgusting), and so I tried your peppermint oil instead and it works beautifully!! Not a spider in sight in days!!! Thank you for such valuable advice :).

  9. Will someone on the museum staff please post an explanation, together with a drawing, showing how this trap works ?

    A piece of machinery which still functions after 150 years of neglect is worth explaining in detail, surely ?

    And, keep the mouse.

    The kids will love it.

    1. Seriously? It died from starvation and lack of water by being trapped (no pun intended) in an enclosed space without food or water. I’m pretty sure we don’t need forensic technicians from the show CSI to recreate it’s death or an autopsy on the mouse (technically an autopsy on an animal is called an necropsy) to know how it’s cause of death. LOL.

  10. You guys should leave the poor fellow in the trap if he’s already dead. Especially since the side of the trap boasts about how long it lasts. So weird. Would make for an interesting display, even more so with this article.

  11. On the trap it states “Will last a lifetime”, I think it’s a rare occurrence that we see this staement to actually be true.
    I personally think the mouse should be kept as part of the museum piece, after all it’s part of the history of said item.

  12. Although a great story I take it that this trap is a still a ‘Multi-Catch Live Trap type.’. It does appear to be a Long Tailed Field Mouse or Wood Mouse (Apodemus Sylvaticus) The problem is that this animal would have suffered a very unpleasant death through cold/starvation and as it was designed as a Live Catch Mouse Trap albeit 155 years ago this would still constitute a breach of the Animal Welfare Act. The device should have been deactivated so as not to cause unnecessary suffering as the Museum made it clear that they don’t check it everyday. J

  13. I can’t believe the trap resets after the mouse is caught! I think the mouse should be displayed in the trap. I don’t understand the ‘desiccation’ comments?

    1. Desiccants pull humidity out of an object or the air of the space they’re enclosed in therefore mummifying the mouse in a way so that it can be kept on display without the rotting and decay odors.
      You’ve seen desiccants yourself – they’re what’s inside the tiny packets in new shoe boxes or other moisture sensitive, non-edible products. I hope my explanation has helped.

  14. “Then, out of thousands of objects, it chose for its home the very thing designed to kill it some 150 years ago: a mouse trap.”

    Surely the Pullinger was a live-trap device specifically designed not to kill?

    The mouse presumably died of shock or lack of food or water.

  15. stays set for years unless someone disables it.like a land mine, have no problems with mouse traps , but landmines are evil.

  16. Thought you might like to know this story took 6 days to reach a reader of, less popular/traditional, Internet news sites (Newser) in Colorado, USA.

    Interesting read. Museum curators on this side of the pond could learn from your example. You have my moron moral support.

  17. Preserving the specimen as part of the trap exhibit, kind of makes that history real for viewers, because usually you see something old and your kind of like ZzZzZ ancient times its not useful anymore, we have superior goods. And you know what – some things made then do just as good or better than what we have now. It just adds an excitement that you can’t just create by saying okay this is 100 years old and “supposedly” it caught rats.

  18. Given the tasty nature of much of your material, perhaps the museum should consider investing in a cat.

  19. I’m curious how this trap is designed to work. I was disappointed that the article did not explain that.

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