Historic Fossils

Last update: 17 December 2017

This gallery displays a selection of fossil specimens that originate from historic collections (private or institutional). Some of those fossils are accompanied by the original handwritten collection catalogue, as well as by other geological documents. The place of fossils in the human psyche is also explored with examples from Art and Psychology (Pareidolia). The oldest documents and specimens are from the period 1875-1887, France.

Historical collections have chains-of-custody spanning over many decades and some specimens may therefore be mislabelled due to poor handling. We are doing our best to verify the name of the different species but some errors may remain. Please let us know if you find any mistake. Your help is highly appreciated.

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Modern Fossil by Christopher Locke, Tetris fossil, commissioned by The Tricottet Collection, Anthropocene art
Eifel fossils, historic labels, Salomon-Calvi collection, Heidelberg University, trilobites, crinoids, brachiopods, corals

2. The J. Miquel collection of fossils
Built at turn of 20th century; Catalogued in c. 1925
Languedoc, France

Some fossils from the famous Bois-Gouët locale, labelled and curated on cards or in paper wraps, with matching Miquel catalogues and the 1932 Miquel collection notice.

A fine example of miniature fossil curation in the 1920s

Jean Miquel (1859-1940), jurist by training and owner of the Barroubio winery, Languedoc, France, was an amateur naturalist who significantly contributed at the turn of the 20th century to the improvement of the geological knowledge of his region. Miquel spent all of his life investigating geological sites surrounding the Barroubio domain. His passion for natural history emerged from an encounter with the President of the Natural History Society of Béziers, Prof. Cannat, who teached him the basics of geology. Through his life, he found interest in geomorphology, archeology, and prehistory and amassed an important collection, as explained in his collection notice [1]. Autodidact, he learned from local researchers and by corresponding with renowned European paleontologists. For example, Dr Joseph Coulouma shared his scientific knowledge with Miquel, leading to a fruitful collaboration (Alvaro and Vizcaino, 2002:727) [2]. After 1925, Miquel spent most of his time cataloguing and labelling his old finds as well as other ones collected by workers on his domain and by colleagues (Alvaro and Vizcaino, 2002:727) [3]. He traded part of his large collection of fossils with European museums and universities. In 1927, geology laboratories of Montpellier and of the Muséum National d'Histoire Naturelle (MNHN) bought what remained from the Miquel collection of fossils. This collection is described in detail by Thoral (1935). It should be noted that what was left from the collection, including some manuscripts, was donated to the local museum of Minerve (Hérault, France) but later on deaccessioned. The fossil shells from the famous Bois-Gouët locale presented here are of particular interest as they show how Miquel curated small delicate specimens: glued directly on labels [4a] or carefully wrapped, like candies, in cotton with the label rolled around, then wrapped again in newspaper and/or wrapping tissue [4b-c].

Figures (J. Miquel): [1] Collection notice | [2] Manuscript & fossils of Hérault | [3] Handwritten catalogues | [4] Curated fossils, Bois-Gouët

3. A chalk fossil collection from the Horsham Museum
Museum founded in 1893; fossils possibly anterior
Kent, England

Horsham museum postcard

The Horsham Museum, located in Causeway House.

An antique collection of fossils carved out of the Chalk

The Horsham Museum (HORSM) was founded in 1893 by members of the Free Christian Church, based on Worthing Road. The minister J.J. Marten and the Sunday School teachers proposed the creation of a museum "as a means of increasing knowledge among the young people," and a Museum Society was set up to promote collecting among its members and to offer talks and excursions to places of interest. At first the museum collection was displayed four times a year from 1893 until 1920. The main focus of the early collections was natural history, geology and curiosities. In 1928 Park House was sold to the Urban District Council and the old kitchen was made available to the Museum Society as a room for its first permanent display. At the end of WWII, Causeway House came up for sale. Horsham historian William Albery offered the town his large collection of documents and items from his Saddlery collection on condition the Museum was found a permanent home. West Sussex County Council bought Causeway House and the Museum's future was assured [left]. In 1966 Horsham Urban District Council took over the running of the museum and with the creation of Horsham District Council in 1974 the Museum became part of the new Council. In 1999 the museum was awarded a Heritage Lottery Fund grant to improve storage, displays, cataloguing (including computers) and the fabric of the building. Since 2002 when the project finished the museum has continued to develop. Among its wide variety of collections the museum has a catalogued collection of fossils, the best of which are displayed in the Flints and Fossils Room (The Hidden Treasures of Sussex Museum). Our fossil suite includes: crinoids [1], fish teeth, bones and coprolites [2], molluscs [3], sponges [4], and urchins [5]. Painted numbers and modern labels must date back to the 1999 recataloguing phase. Antique labels [6] are likely from the 19th century and possibly written by famous local collectors (e.g., Henry Willett of Brighton?).

Figures (HORSM / 2014 Toovey's auction): [1] Crinoids | [2] Fish teeth, bones & coptrolites | [3] Molluscs | [4] Sponges | [5] Urchins | [6] Antique labels

4. The Paul Richard fossil collection
c. 1887
Nice, France

The last remains of the fossil collection of Paul Richard: his hardbound handwritten catalogue, a rare paleolandscape drawing and a few labelled/catalogued fossils.

Summary coming later

Figures (P. Richard suite): Paleolandscape sketch | Collection catalogue | Catalogued fossils

antique geological sections sketched drawn, Dollfus 1875, Mortefontaine