Popular Science Monthly/Volume 8/February 1876/A Museum Exchange

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THERE are in this country three institutions more or less available for the distribution of material for Natural History instruction: the Smithsonian Institution at Washington, District of Columbia; the (Agassiz) Museum of Comparative Zoölogy, at Cambridge, Massachusetts; and Prof. Ward's establishment at Rochester, New York.

The first is especially rich in American forms, the collections of government surveys, and the types of Baird's descriptions. There are many duplicates, but these are required for the elucidation of the extent of variation within the species, so that they are available for exchanges in only a limited degree.

The peculiar value of the Cambridge Museum comes from the immense amount of material from all parts of the world, upon which zoologists are enabled to pursue extended investigations, either at the museum, or, under certain conditions, elsewhere.

Agassiz also desired to prepare collections for educational institutions in Massachusetts, and to provide for teachers an opportunity for summer instruction and for the collection of specimens.

But it is evident that the above-mentioned establishments and arrangements are not yet able to meet a rapidly-growing want of the whole country; namely, the immediate formation of museums for the illustration of the courses in natural history which are now generally demanded, in not only the colleges and universities (whether real or so called), but also the normal schools, and even those of lower grade.

Such selected collections need not be either very large or very costly. They should embrace mainly typical forms, but contain also some of the peculiar or aberrant species of each large group.

It would be well if some one would make out a list of what are desirable in larger or smaller collections. Meantime, the information and the material are, to a great extent, obtainable from the catalogues and the museum of Prof. Ward.

A recent examination of this establishment has suggested a brief sketch of its nature, its capacity for supplying the want above indicated, and of the additions which might advantageously be introduced.

Prof. Ward was a pupil of Agassiz, and afterward Professor of Natural History in Rochester University, where he formed a very extensive and well-arranged museum of geology, mineralogy, paleontology, and zoölogy. Desiring to include with this fac-similes of unique fossils in other museums, Prof. Ward spent three years in Europe, and gradually accumulated moulds of famous fossils. The great expense of this undertaking (nearly $20,000) determined him to make duplicates of the casts, and thus, by degrees, originated the now well-known "Ward Series of Casts of Fossils;" and at present, in many of our educational institutions, large and small, the megatherium, iguanodon, ichthyosaurus, and pterodactyl have become as familiar forms as the professors themselves.

The usefulness of this branch of the establishment is now generally recognized, and, with the mineralogical department, has been graphically described by others,[2] so we may pass to the consideration of what has been and may be accomplished by Prof. Ward for the furnishing of zoölogical museums.

At present, mounted insects and stuffed birds receive but little of his attention, but the collections embrace representatives of the leading groups of the whole animal kingdom, more than 13,000 species being represented. The echinoderms and crustacea, being easily preserved in a dry state, are very numerous. They have recently been carefully rearranged and determined by a professional naturalist.

Prof. Ward keeps twenty-two advertisements in foreign journals, and has correspondents in all parts of the globe, near and remote, so that scarcely a week passes without his receiving word of the sending to him of rare forms.

At the time of our visit he was receiving the results of a late trip to Europe (where he had expended about $10,000 for specimens). On the same day arrived the skins and skeletons of two camels, the one from Asia Minor, the other from Turkey. The taxidermists were engaged upon a grizzly bear, a 1,000-pound turtle, and the now-famous donkey which slew a lion in Cincinnati; while the osteologists were mounting a whale's skeleton for the Peabody Academy of Science at Salem, Massachusetts, and would then commence upon a large series of skeletons for the Smithsonian Institution.

A specimen of the rare tiger-shark (Crossorhinus dasypogon) had just arrived from Australia.

Ten men are constantly employed in the reception and arrangement of these specimens, in the preparation of skins and the mounting: of skeletons. The chief osteologists and taxidermists were brought from Europe, and their salaries are more than is received by many an assistant professor.

In alcohol are fishes and reptiles, such as the Lepidosteus, Polyodon, and Amia, of our Western rivers, the Calamoichthys of Africa, the Siren and Amphiuma of South Carolina, and the Proteus of Europe; while in dry, upper rooms hang hundreds of skins of quadrupeds, large and small, from all parts of the world, and carefully labeled.

The excellence and trustworthiness of the work done by Prof. Ward are further attested by the extent to which he is employed by the Smithsonian Institution, the Cambridge Museum, and others both here and abroad. Indeed, it is no unusual thing for material to come from Europe to Rochester, and be returned to some Continental museum.

But, while gladly commending what is done, we would offer a suggestion as to what might be done with great advantage to our educational institutions and a fair profit to Prof. Ward:

1. Such an establishment should supply the lower vertebrates, the lamprey and particularly amphioxus, of which, also, sections might be prepared for the microscope.

2. There should be kept, or prepared to order, series of embryos of some common animals: among mammals the pig, and among batrachians the frog, are very easily obtained. All embryos are, in some respects, more valuable than adults, and, if they were on hand, a demand would surely arise.

3. A series of brains should be added. The models of these, whether plaster or papier-maché, are poor substitutes for the real specimens. Nor need the number be very large; a dozen species would fairly illustrate the modifications of the vertebrate encephalon.

Speaking of brains, we cannot forbear expressing the hope that Prof. Ward may shortly be able to impress his clients with the truth of Prof Wyman's saying that "a skull is doubled in value by cutting in two." The inside is quite as important as the outside, while such vertical bisection, if carefully made, enables us to secure the two halves of the brain but little injured.[3]

4. Other anatomical preparations of soft parts, sections and dissections, are really desired for instruction, and a few typical preparations could readily be made.

5. Finally, we would suggest to Prof Ward the expediency of making his establishment a medium of exchange between parties in different localities. For instance, A lives in Central New York; he has plenty of Menobranchus, and would exchange them for Menopoma from the Ohio River, or the gars and spoonbills of the Mississippi, of which B has more than he wants; while both these parties desire sharks, and skates, and pipe-fishes, and the large lamprey from the seacoast where C lives. To purchase and keep all these and many more such on hand involves an enormous expense and risk to a single individual; whereas, if, under certain conditions, Prof. Ward received good specimens of these forms, and stored them at the owner's risk as to fire, and expense as to alcohol, etc., then he could, at a fair commission, transfer them to those who desired them without the expenditure now incurred.

The arrangement could be made like that of the naturalists' agency for books in Salem, Massachusetts, and a periodical list of specimens and prices could be issued. The prices would serve as guides for either exchange or direct purchase.

Such a system of transfer would, it seems to us, not only enable new institutions to rapidly form type collections for class-room instruction, but also encourage them to collect large numbers of duplicates of the forms peculiar to their localities. In this way we should ascertain the extent of individual variation, the manner and rate of development and growth, and, by preparations made on the spot, the structure of the brains and other soft parts, which are seldom perfectly preserved in specimens sent in alcohol from a distance.

  1. Presented at the Detroit meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science.
  2. As by Prof. E. S. Morse, in the American Naturalist for April, 1873, and Prof. Alexander Winchell, in the College Courant for October 1, 1870.
  3. A case in point occurs while correcting the proof of this article. Prof, Ward has received a "blackfish" (Elobiocephalus melas). Knowing that the Cornell University would like the brain, he sends me word; but, as the section of the skull for extraction of the brain would impair its value for most purchasers, we have to take the whole skeleton also. The brain, by-the-way, weighs nearly live pounds, two pounds more than the average human brain, and nearly a pound more than that of Cuvier.