A short history of collecting, Part III: Fossils, Zoological & botanical specimens

Last update: 16 October 2018

Fossil collecting was already a pastime of the ancient Greeks and Romans, but we have to wait until the Renaissance to see the first depictions of petrified bones of 'monsters' and 'giants' filling the Wunderkammern of the era. Exotic animal specimens coming from overseas formed also central pieces of those early documented collections. It was only towards the end of the 17th century that a more systematic approach to collecting emerged, with Grew's 1681 'Musaeum Regalis Societatis' a milestone in this regards. Then followed a specialisation of collecting themes. Conchyliomania happened in the first half of the 18th century and is exemplified by Gersaint' 1736 'Catalogue raisonné de coquilles'. By the end of the 19th century, famous collections of birds, insects, seaweed, etc., had emerged.


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1. The Jean Miquel collection of fossils, a fine example of minute fossil shell curation in the 1920s

Fossils catalogued in c. 1925
Languedoc, France

Some minute shell 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.

[1] Miquel, J. (1932), Une visite à Barroubio, Note sur les Collections..., 6 pp. (offprint);
[2] Miquel, J. (c. 1930), 'Essai sur le Bassin de la Cesse. Joseph Coulouma et Jean Miquel' (draft version, notebook, 44 pp. of text); incl. fossils from the same region (labelled);
[3] A dozen of catalogues, listing fossils per region and epoch/age (handwritten, in French, on loose pages); incl. some French fossil shells (labelled, some listed in catalogues);
Provenance: J. Miquel estate

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. 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) [3a-d]. 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 (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 [3b] or carefully wrapped, like candies, in cotton with the label rolled around, then wrapped again in newspaper and/or wrapping tissue [3c-d].

1903 1904 letters from G. Elliott Smith to Edward Anthony Spitzka, Royal College of Surgeons collection of human brains, collection catalogue, Charles Babbage, E. Seguin

2. The René Langlassé meta-collection of shells: Connections with Crosse, Morlet, Eudel & other 19th century collectors

Collection built at the turn of the 20th century
Paris area, France

The remains of the enigmatic René Langlassé collection of shells, built at the turn of the 20th century, including many specimens from earlier 19th century collections.

[1] Large collection of shells from the René Langlassé collection, built at the turn of the 20th century, with many specimens formerly from other collections (Crosse, Morlet, Eudel, Sallé, ...). Shells (some still glued, most loose, smaller ones in glass vials) were affixed on handwritten cardboard labels by Langlassé (total of c. 60 shell sets);
[2] Collection catalogue 'Catalogue des fossiles tertiaires du Bassin de Paris par Deshayes' signed 'Langlassé' (disbound handwritten catalogue, with species in collection highlighted by a mark); Incl. two fossil shell sets listed in the catalogue.
Provenance: Drouot auction in the 1980s (TBC)

The present metacollection [1] is identifiable thanks to the signature "Langlassé" on a collection catalogue [2]. Some fossil shells are listed in the catalogue and we could match the writing style, confirming provenance [2b] for the whole collection. We found a René Langlassé (1854-1936) in several old bulletins from savant societies: member of several savant French societies who helped classify the shells of the Natural History Society of Loir-et-Cher in 1883, he was a diligent curator by meticulously recordinf the provenance of his specimens, by writing the name of the collector, or gluing their original label, on the back of his own handwritten cardboard labels. Names include: Hippolyte Crosse (1826-1898), Emile Eudel (1831-1892), Laurent Joseph Morlet, and Auguste Sallé. A number of labels have yet to be deciphered, requiring a comparison of the handwritings with other conchological archives. Member of the Société Zoologique de France since 1880 and living in 1892 at 42, quai National, Puteaux, Seine. In 1905, he lived at 50, rue Jacques-Dulud, Neuilly-sur-Seine, Seine, with his wife Jeanne Bouhoir. A "Langlassé fils" is also mentioned. A recently found CDV indicates "de la Société Le Vieux Papier". This represents a fine example of shell meta-collection. In addition to the many older labels that remain to be identified, a large suite of Ampullaria shells will remain a puzzle for the foreseeing future, specimens and labels having been mixed [3].

3. Manuscript 'Catalogue of the Collection of British Birds Collected by William E. H. Pidsley 1891', author of 'The birds of Devonshire'

Collection catalogue dated 1891
Devonshire, England

Description of cases 65 to 67 in the 'Catalogue of the Collection of British Birds Collected by William E. H. Pidsley 1891'.

[1] Pidsley, W.E.H. (1891), Catalogue of the Collection of British Birds Collected by William E. H. Pidsley (manuscript, 37 pp. + many blanks, illustrated with 31 tipped-in colour plates after Archibald Thorburn. Contemporary half morocco, with signed bookplate of the author).
Provenance: Bearnes Hampton & Littlewood (Antiquarian Books, Maps and Prints - lot 355, 15 Mar 2017)

William E. H. Pidsley is well known as the author of 'The birds of Devonshire', published in 1891. He is much less known as a bird collector since we only learn from 'A Bibliography of British Ornithology, from the Earliest Times to the end of 1912 including Biographical Accounts of the Principal Writers and Bibliographies of their Published Works' by Mullens & Swann (1917) that "he had at one time, we believe, a small collection of British birds". From Pidsley (1891), we learn that he had a collection but with no detail given. Much more can now be known about his collection and collecting process thanks to the acquisition by The Tricottet Collection of his original handwritten collection catalogue [1a-d]. This work lists the author's ornithological collection of stuffed birds from Britain, composed of 116 cases displaying birds, plus 3 more cases of mammals (a weasel, a dormouse, and a fox) [1c]. The detailed entries give the collecting date as well as provenance when not shot directly by Pidsley [1d]. More details will be given at a later date, once the manuscript has been thoroughly studied.

1888 catalogue of the Stephen William Silver collection of New Zealand Birds, association copy, Earl of Northbrook bookplate, York Gate Library, Hamilton Place library, Walter Buller

4. The Paul Richard fossil collection, an example of scholarly collecting, combining specimen cataloguing & geological writing

Document dated 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 fossils, which are also listed in the collection catalogue.

[1] Leaflet titled 'Documents géologiques' by Paul Richard, including the sketch of a marine paleo-landscape showing some fish, starfish, trilobites and ammonites; incl. a second leaflet 'Notes de Géologie - Richard Paul - 1887';
[2] Catalogue of the fossil collection of Paul Richard, titled 'Catalogue de la collection de Fossiles appartenant a Richard P' (hardbound, handwritten, 149 fossil entries, three per page, with number, name, epoch and locality); incl. various labelled fossils, most listed in the catalogue.

Paul Richard was a doctor from Nice, France. He built his fossil collection in his youth. He lived Avenue de Pessicart, domaine de l'étoile, at Mme Souchon. We do not more about this collector, except that his geological writings, which accompany the fossil collection, are dated 1887.

5. The Charles Nathaniel Peal Legacy: Collecting micro-organisms, from expedition cruises to microscope slides

Letters dated 1878-1887
Ealing, London Borough, England

Article archive made of 5 boxes part of the 'Peal Legacy, consisting of books, and natural history specimens, bequeathed by the late Mr. C. N. Peal', deaccessioned at auction in 2008 by the Ealing Public Libraries.

[1] Seventy-four articles spanning from 1853 to 1898, mostly offprints, several inscribed, arranged in five wooden boxes and relating to scientific discoveries on micro-organisms made during the Victorian era (first four boxes on Bryozoa and Protozoa, fifth box on Conchology). Many offprints inscribed by their authors, including four letters, many addressed to E.C. Jelly. Accompanied by an inscribed copy of the book 'A bibliography of the foraminifera' by Sherborn (1888) (all documents with C.N. Peal and Ealing Public Libraries stamps);
[2] Three microscope slides from the C.N. Peal collection (with stickers, two with sketch). Provenance: C.N. Peal / Ref. Dept., Ealing Public Libraries / Bloomsbury House, London (2008 auction)

Charles Nathaniel Peal (1832-1898), a resident of Ealing, was member of the Royal Microscopical Society, the Linnean Society of London, and the Quekett Microscopical Club. He was also treasurer to the Ealing Microscopical and Natural History Society (Peal, 1888). The present collection provides a snapshot into the collecting of micro-organisms during the Victorian era, from their capture during expedition cruises (Wright, 1890 [1a]; Ridley, 1881 [1b]; Vigelius, n.d.[1c]) to their study on microscope slides. Many works are presentation copies to Eliza Catherine Jelly (1829-1914), a Cornish bryozoologist who has a genus of bryozoan named after her (Jellyella). Of particular interest are three autograph letters sent to Jelly, by S.O. Ridley in 1883 [1b], by W.J. Vigelius in 1887 [1c] and by R. Etheridge Jr. in 1878 [1d] (there is a fourth letter from F.W. Millett to E.W. Burgess dated 1889 [1e]). It remains unclear whether Peal was acquainted with Jelly and those other researchers. Each box carries the following mention: 'This Book forms part of the PEAL LEGACY, consisting of BOOKS, and NATURAL HISTORY SPECIMENS, bequeathed by the late Mr. C. N. PEAL'. More seems to have been dispersed after deaccession from the Ealing Public Libraries. We were able to retrieve an inscribed copy of Sherborn (1888) [1f] and three microscope slides [2] from the C.N. Peal collection. Note that Charles Davies Sherborn (1861-1942) was a famous bibliographer who also wrote in 1940 'Where is the – Collection?', a listing of named natural science collections, and their fates.

Charles Henri George Pouchet, William Henry Waddington, 1879, letter about collecting the last remains of the Steller's Sea Cow, extinct animal, Muséum National d'Histoire Naturelle

6. The William Healey Dall/Smithsonian expedition: Chitons from one of the earliest scientific expeditions in Alaska

Shells collected in c. 1865-1880
from Russian America/Alaska to the Smithsonian Institution

Chitons from the W.H. Dall 1865-1880 Alaska expeditions, sold as doublet from the Smithsonian Institution to Humboldt University, with one Smithsonian 'United States Coast Survey' label and antique Berlin pillboxes.

[1] Material from the William Healey Dall 1865-1880 Alaska expeditions, sold as doublet from the Smithsonian Institution to the Humboldt University (three type specimens of chitons in antique pillboxes, one Smithsonian Institution label, one stripe of paper penned by Dall); accompanied by Dall's CDV.
Provenance: W.H. Dall / Smithsonian Institution / Humboldt University

William Healey Dall (1845-1927) was a prominent naturalist (anthropologist, malacologist, paleontologist, zoologist...) and Alaskan pioneer. In 1865, Dall was invited by R. Kennicott to participate to the Western Union International Telegraph Expedition to explore Alaska for an overland telegraph route through Alaska and Siberia to Europe. Dall was commissioned a lieutenant in the Scientific Corps but was appointed Chief in 1866 after the death of Kennicott on the Yukon. Dall stayed in Alaska until 1868 to complete his work despite the Telegraph enterprise being abandoned. Meanwhile, in 1867, the U.S. had acquired Alaska from Russia. Back in Washington, Dall lived with other young scientists in one of the towers of the Smithsonian Institution and worked on his collections. After Alaska became American territory, charting of the coastal waters fell within the jurisdiction of the Coast Survey. Capitalizing on his experience, Dall seized the opportunity to expand his Alaskan collections and became Acting Assistant on the Coast Survey in 1871. He commanded as Chief of Party the schooner "Humboldt" on a surveying cruise along the Alaskan coast and other cruises during the period 1871-80. Between the 3rd and 4th cruises, he continued work on his zoological collections in one of the Smithsonian towers. While still reporting to the Coast Survey, Dall served as Honorary Curator of the Smithsonian Division of Mollusks until his death. Dall left the Coast Survey for becoming Paleontologist at the U.S. Geological Survey in 1884 (Woodring, 1958). The present shells, especially the one with Smithsonian 'United States Coast Survey', provide a memento of the acquisition of the Alaska Territory by the United States and document the earliest scientific expeditions in this frozen and uninhabited area [1].

Victorian craze for collecting seaweeds, Margaret Gatty, association copy Waifs and Strays of Natural History, Lady Mabel Smith; Francis Patrick Smith, landscape engraving 1844

7. The Emile Eudel collection of shells, collected during his trips as Master Mariner & his view on shell collecting in the late 19th century

Shells collected in 1859-1883, manuscript prior to 1885
Second French colonial empire

Limited edition of the 1897 'Journal de Bord de mon frère Émile' by Paul Eudel, with Émile Eudel portrait. Provides a detailed log of his adventures.

[1] Eudel, P. (1897), Journal de Bord de mon frère Émile. Savenay, 106 pp. (inscribed "no. 3 Tiré à cinq exemplaires sur ce papier, Paul Eudel", limited edition of 5 copies);
Provenance: Unk. library from Bordeaux area, France (built over 2 generations, specialised in travel books)
[2] Manuscript by Émile Eudel on shell collecting and collectors covering much of the material in Paul Eudel's chapter on the subject in his 1885 'Collections et collectionneurs' (21-pp. handwritten document, in French, part of the bound volume 'Correspondance, Collections et collectionneurs, avant et aprés');
Provenance: P. Eudel
[3] Suite of 6 shell sets from the Émile Eudel collection, affixed on cardboard labels by René Langlassé, most keeping the original Eudel label on the back. Some of the labels provide detailed information, such as find location, boat campaign and collecting date. These specimens were found between 1859 and 1883.
Provenance: R. Langlassé

Émile Eugène Alphonse Eudel (1831–1892) was a master mariner ("Capitaine au long cours") who later entered the French colonial administration and spent the last part of his life in Cambodia. During his many trips in the Indian Ocean, Eudel built a significant collection of shells [Crosse, 1893]. Thanks to his brother Paul Eudel (1837-1911), one of the great French connoisseurs, bibliophiles and art critics of the 19th century, the history of Émile's life and collecting habits was saved (Eudel, 1885; 1897) [1-2]. His collection was mostly bought by G.B. Sowerby and H.C. Fulton and widely dispersed. Some of his specimens survived to this day alongside his labels, thanks to diligent curation by other collectors, such as René Langlassé [3].

8. Edme-François Gersaint's 1736 auction catalogue: The start of Conchyliomania, as part of rococo art, under King Louis XV

Catalogue published in 1736, auctionned in 1762
Paris, France

Edme-François Gersaint's 1736 book on shell collecting from the library of Germain-Louis Chauvelin de Grosbois, with his coat of arms and listed in the 1762 sales catalogue of his library.

[1] Gersaint, E.-F. (1736), Catalogue raisonné de coquilles et autres curiosités naturelles. Flahault & Prault, Paris, 167 pp. (contemporary binding with Chauvelin's coat of arms, errata sheet missing).
Provenance: G.-L. Chauvelin, Marquis de Grosbois
References: Auction catalogue (1762:lot1228) : wanted

Edme-François Gersaint (1694-1750) was a Parisian merchant, with a boutique on the Pont Notre Dame, who was a central figure in the development of the art market during the era of the Régence. He promoted the vogue for collecting shells (conchyliomania) after some trips to Holland, launching shells as a new form of curiosity in Paris, importing them alongside Dutch paintings. The 'Catalogue raisonné de coquilles et autres curiosités naturelles' of 1736 was Gersaint’s first auction catalogue, for the first ever natural history auction in France, importing the Dutch style of purchasing via auction [1]. The book is not only an early auction catalogue but also an essay on shell collecting (incl. observations on shells, a list of the principle cabinets of shells in France and Holland, and a bibliography of the more important conchological titles, before describing the collection available for sale).

Germain Louis Chauvelin (1685-1762), Marquis de Grosbois, was a French politician, serving as garde des sceaux and Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs under Louis XV. The seal right gave him access to major revenue streams allowing him to buy the château de Grosbois in 1731. Chauvelin had a library made of 3,000 books as well as a collection of paintings (incl. some from Raphaël and Watteau of whom Gersaint was a friend) and prints. The library was sold in 1762 in his hotel rue de Varenne. The present book is listed as lot no. 1228 in his auction catalogue, in the section "Sciences et Arts, Philosophie, VIII. Hiftoire naturelle. 4° Mélanges d'Hiftoire naturelle 1227-1231" (Auction catalogue, 1762).

First scientific repository, Grew Royal Society Museum collection catalogue