08 October 2005

A day at the museum with friends I've never met

I have a friend I've never seen.
He hides his had inside a dream.
Someone should call him,
and see if he can come out.

Neil Young, Only love can break your heart, 1970

Spent yesterday with Tim Pearce (a friend I've seen many times) going thru the land snail collection of the Smithsonian's Museum of Natural History. It was a perfect activity for a rainy day.

There is something fascinating about looking at old natural history collections, especially if one is familiar with the organisms in the collection, and also if those little labels that come with each lot have lots of stuff written on them (and on their backs).

The older the lot is the more intriguing it becomes. I try to decipher the handwriting, figure out the location and am often puzzled by the identification, which is almost always outdated, if not plain wrong.

And every time I come across the name of a long-dead collector that I recognize, it is like encountering an old friend I have never met.


The lot of clausiliids above attracted my attention, because, even though it was not dated, the spelling of Istanbul as Stambul on the green piece of paper suggested it was quite old. If you look closely at the label, you will notice in the middle of the bottom line the word "over", indicating that there is more on the back. What was on the back was a true surprise.


I recognized the two names immediately from a 1863 paper in my collection1. The author, Albert Mousson, titled his paper, "Coquilles terrestres et fluviatiles, recueillies dans l'Orient par M. le Dr. Alex. Schläfli".

It is a small world.

1. Mousson, A. 1863. Vierteljahrsschrift Naturforschenden Gesellschaft, Zürich, 8:275-320. The title, loosely translated, means "Terrestrial and freshwater mollusks, collected in the Orient by Dr. Alex. Schläfli."

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

yes it is a small world... but especially so if you're a land snail taxonomist!