Historic Organisms

Last update: 30 December 2017

This gallery displays a selection of historic shells, all collected in the second half of the 19th century, and all originating from famous collections. Other collecting themes are also represented, with collection catalogues, association copies and letters related to the collecting of seaweed, birds, bones of extinct mammals, and micro-organisms. Most of the collectors presented here were explorer naturalists (e.g., Émile Eudel, William Dall). Highlights of the gallery include Edme-François Gersaint's 1736 sales catalogue/essay on shell collecting, and a manuscript by Émile Eudel, also about shell collecting.

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1. 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.

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) [1]. Older labels were kept and glued on the back. Includes a few fossil shells and the matching collection catalogue signed "Langlassé" (disbound handwritten catalogue titled 'Catalogue des fossiles tertiaires du Bassin de Paris par Deshayes', with species in collection highlighted by a mark) [2].
Provenance: Drouot auction in the 1980s (TBC) / French private museum

We were able to identify the present collection thanks to the signature "Langlassé" on a collection catalogue that came with the fossil shells [2]. The fossil shells are listed in the catalogue and we could match the writing style, confirming provenance [2b]. We found a René Langlassé in several old bulletins from savant societies: described as a colleague of Gustave Frédéric Dollfus, famous French geologist and malacologist, who both helped classify and label the shells of the Natural History Society of Loir-et-Cher in 1883; 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". Langlassé seems to have been a diligent curator, keeping track of the source of his specimens, many of the carboard labels having older labels glued on their back. Of particular interest are the specimens formerly from the Émile Eudel (1831–1892) collection. Others are from Joseph Crosse (1826-1898) (e.g., a suite of 40 vials [3]), Morlet (Pierre Marie Arthur Morelet (1809-1892), a French naturalist?), Sallé and others, still to be identified. 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 [4].

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

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

Second half of the 19th century; letters dated 1878-1887
Ealing, London Borough, England

Article archive made of 5 boxes part of the Peal Legacy, bequeathed by the late Charles Nathaniel Peal, deaccessioned at auction by the Ealing Public Libraries.

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).
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[1]; Ridley, 1881[2]; Vigelius, n.d.[3]) to their study on microscope slides (all refs.). 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[2], by W.J. Vigelius in 1887[3] and by R. Etheridge Jr. in 1878[4] (there is a fourth letter from F.W. Millett to E.W. Burgess dated 1889[5]). 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 three microscope slides[6] and an inscribed copy of Sherborn (1888)[7] from the C.N. Peal collection.

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

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

Chiton specimens collected in the period 1865-1880
from Russian America to Alaska

Chitons from the W.H. Dall 1865-1880 Alaska expeditions, sold as doublet from the Smithsonian Institution to Humboldt University, then sold via Linnaea Naturhistorisches Institut.

Material from the William Healey Dall 1865-1880 Alaska expeditions, sold as doublet from the Smithsonian Institution to the Humboldt University, some then sold via the Linnaea Naturhistorisches Institut, Berlin, for fund raising: Five type specimens of chitons in antique pillboxes, one Smithsonian Institution label, two Linnaea labels and one stripe of paper penned by Dall.
Provenance: W.H. Dall / Smithsonian Institution / Humboldt University / Linnaea Naturhistorisches Institut, Berlin

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).

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

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

Specimen collected in 1859-1883;
manuscript written before 1885
Oceans of the world

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.

(i) 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) [1];
Provenance: Unknown library from Bordeaux area, France (built over 2 generations, specialised in travel books)
(ii) 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') [2];
Provenance: Paul Eudel
(iii) 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 [3]. 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: René Langlassé shell meta-collection

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].

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

Published in 1736; auctionned in 1762
Ex. Germain-Louis Chauvelin, Marquis de Grosbois
Paris, France

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

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. 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).