It is perhaps optimistic to attempt to cover two hundred years of institutional history in one short chapter. Continuity of existence of any institution, and unusually in this case continuity on the same site in the West End of London, demands in itself some explanation. Lawrence Bragg’s affectionate description used in the title here is helpful in directing our attention to some of the inherent problems of institutional history. The image created by the term ‘national treasure house’ implies heaped up riches – material or metaphysical – and indeed the Royal Institution comes into that particular category of institutions which are termed historic sites. Longevity apart, its historic character is threefold: first, in terms of its building (although the building has been much altered and rebuilt behind its present day façade); second, with regard to the collections it contains, where crucial aspects or events in its history are embodied in objects, instruments and manuscripts; and finally the Institution may be viewed as historic in terms of the discoveries or processes elucidated in its laboratories, actions which are indelibly associated with a series of famous individuals. Thus the ‘historic’ character of the Institution looms potently over everything – site, collections and people connected together in one ‘historic’ place, and this is to a degree marketed today as part of the Royal Institution’s unique attraction and importance. Not surprisingly such a burden of history affects the way its story is viewed, though Bragg’s description also conjures up another view, that of the ‘national treasure’, a term which today has a rather less complimentary meaning, referring to 18someone or something which is old, rather eccentric, a character, but cherished affectionately on that account.