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 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 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-

No comments: