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Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Trilobites and Fossils and Megatheriums- OH MY!!

In the 19th and early 20th centuries it was accepted practice to furnish museums with casts of all types, from classical statues to trilobites, and I thought I'd share some illustrations from an interesting trade catalog, published in 1866, which served the latter trade.

Henry A. Ward's "Catalogue of Casts of Fossils, from the Principal Museums of Europe and America, with short descriptions and illustrations" , offered for sale a complete and comprehensive listing of fossils, from minute Ammonites to a complete Plesiosaur or a Megatherium, many taken from originals at the British Museum.



In the 1860s and 1870s dinosaurs were not yet a major subject for study- few had been discovered. Paleontologists were very excited though, by earlier plant and animal life, as shown here, and especially by another set of animals amply illustrated here- early mammals. The fight to discover and name early mammals was at least as heated as the dinosaur wars which would erupt a few decades later, because it was through these fossils that scientists were slowly attempting to prove Darwin's controversial theory of Evolution.


Ward catalogs everything in a scientific manner and also includes fossil tracks, and even replicas of the models shown at the Crystal Palace. At the rear of the catalog he offers skins and skeletons of contemporary American animals and also, grotesquely, "Aborigines -Indians of various Western Tribes: Skulls, from $15 to $25 each. (These are taken fresh, not disinterred from old graves)".


Henry Ward was one of the most interesting and omnipresent characters in Victorian natural history. After making a fortune supplying museums with natural history and paleontological exhibits he turned his attention to meteorites with the same zealous thoroughness. The chronicle of Henry A. Ward's career and various interests is well covered in Roswell Ward's 1948 biography.


I thought I'd finish here with the fold-out plate of a cast of one of the most famous fossils of the day, the Megatherium. My apologies- it's too wide to present here in a decent size unless I turn it on its' side-


9 comments:

Mike said...

Is Henry Ward the other half of Montgomery-Ward? They did catalogs too.

Colonel Colonel said...

Mike- you bet, they started out as Monkey-Ward, and then they evolved...

Phoebe Fay said...

Monkey-Ward! You made me snort my coffee!

So, is Henry Ward the guy with the pointer in the top picture? He looks like he's about to whack some daydreaming Victorian schoolboy.

catalyst said...

Hmm, a bit different than the "Plaster Caster" days of the rock and roll era, I gather. Ward seems to have focused primarily on the entire animal.

Colonel Colonel said...

Phoebe- Good question. I'd assumed he was the guy in the hat standing in front of the mastodon tusks, but you could be right.

Catalyst- There was a very supressed "supplementary" volume which illustrated cats of the, er, well, "other" parts. Let's just say that Mrs. Megatherium was probably a pretty happy camper.

Cissy Strutt said...

I love the outfit the man is wearing by the mastodon tusks. Perhaps he is preparing to be a matador (mastador?) Perhaps he is about to say 'abracadabra' (abracadaver?) and make them disappear. Or perhaps he just likes those swirly cloak things worn off one shoulder - so breezy.

Joey Polanski said...

Where th heck is Graboidus commonus?

anaglyph said...

Personally, I prefer my skulls disinterred from old graves. The fresh ones aren't as nicely aged.

Colonel Colonel said...

Cissy- I think the entire look could be very "in" this Spring. The whole frock-coat/cape/knee boot thing has been so under-used lately.

Joey- he became a "Newt" and is thinking of running for Presidink.

Reverend- true. The other advantage to taking skulls from old graves is you get less resistance from the skull's current resident, as it were.