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ECN-L  April 2014, Week 4

ECN-L April 2014, Week 4

Subject:

Re: oldest specimen in a US collection?

From:

Max Barclay <[log in to unmask]>

Reply-To:

Max Barclay <[log in to unmask]>

Date:

Tue, 29 Apr 2014 02:10:42 +0000

Content-Type:

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on reflection- no-one in 1702 would have thought of 'migration' for a minute- most people still thought swallows hibernated at the bottom of ponds, and flies generated from rotten meat!

BUT I still maintain that the Oxford specimen is unusual for having a date, and that this is maybe linked to the rarity of the species in UK. 

 I think a lot of the oldest material in museums has been forever dissociated from its provenance -  some of the oldest specimens in the world are probably sitting in various drawers of 'duplicate' or 'no data' material.....  

M


________________________________________
From: Entomological Collections Network Listserve [[log in to unmask]] on behalf of Max Barclay [[log in to unmask]]
Sent: 28 April 2014 22:27
To: [log in to unmask]
Subject: Re: oldest specimen in a US collection?

The problem that you will come up against, is that pre about 1830 very few specimens actually have the year, or often, any labels at all; dating old specimens is often a matter of examining code numbers and ledgers, handwriting, pins, provenance... for example Linnaeus's collection doesn't have dates on the specimens but you can often infer their age from the descriptions or published works; the same with Stephens, Marsham, Banks etc. and no doubt any contemporaries of theirs who deposited specimens in the US.

This is why we have a policy of not repinning or remounting old (i.e. pre about 1830s) specimens; you need all the evidence you can get.

Oxford University Museum of Natural History claims to have the oldest pinned insect, a rare migrant pierid butterfly Pontia daplidice, labelled '1702': I expect that if one was to carefully examine unlabelled pre-Linnaean material one would be able to demonstrate older pinned specimens, but this has not yet been done. Specimens pressed into books, and between sheets of clear mica, in collections such as Sloane and Plukenet are much older, well into 1600s.

I would start by looking in the oldest collections, for large insects coarsely mounted on hand-made late 18th-early 19th century pins. I feel sure that the early European collectors had US counterparts, but I don't know who these were. Someone was supplying North American specimens to Linnaeus, Banks Olivier etc. because their collections and papers contain plenty of North American species. In some cases the provenance was confused, because of the lack of labels, for example Linnaeus named a common North American carrion beetle, but he called it Silpha surinamensis (now Necrodes surinamensis).  If such old specimens are labelled at all, they may say 'Am.Bor.' - an abbreviated form of 'America Borealis' (north America)

Don't expect a 'gift' like the Oxford butterfly- it was probably labelled with the date because it was known to be a great rarity and an occasional migrant, so the year of migration was thought significant; it was not general practice to write '1702' or any other date on specimens, until around the time of Darwin's youth, 125 years after the Oxford butterfly

Good luck!

Max


Maxwell V. L. Barclay
Curator and Collection Manager
Entomology: Coleoptera & Hemiptera
Department of Life Sciences
Natural History Museum
London SW7 5BD
T: 0207 942 5911
M: 07766331806
E: [log in to unmask]<mailto:[log in to unmask]>
My recent TEDx talk at the Royal Albert Hall is now online: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZGcu8WwheUU

My NHM Webpage<http://tinyurl.com/cas5fdk>
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Twitter: @Coleopterist
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