A Trip Into The Past: Part 1
by Richard L. Howey, Wyoming, USA
I have sitting in front of me a copy of the April 1888 magazine The Bay State Oologist. Apparently our ancestors couldn’t spell. You’d have thought a proofreader would have picked up the dropped ‘z’ and inserted it so that it would have read The Bay State Zoologist, but no, there it is in big letters on the cover “Oologist.” Furthermore, this wasn’t just an isolated incident, because I also have a copy of the March 1888 edition of The Hawkeye Ornithologist and Oologist sitting here in front of me.
Oology is, of course, the study of birds’ eggs, but it’s certainly not a discipline one hears much about these days. One reason for this is laudable; we now have a more highly developed sense of protecting animals and plants for future generations. Yeah, right! Forgive my scepticism, but this government has virtually no interest in protecting or preserving avian fauna unless they’re edible so that a profit can be made. Furthermore, as far as future generations are concerned, I suspect that they are evolving towards a phobic reaction to wild living creatures and will demand robotic simulacra.
There are, of course, good reasons for collecting and studying birds’ eggs even now, but the motives in the 19th Century were somewhat different. Today, however, the situation is dramatically different; collecting eggs and even feathers of most wild birds requires special permits and these are often granted only to researchers. Even the possession of certain kinds of eggs and feathers can lead to prosecution, especially for material from any endangered species.
A century ago, many people lived close to the land and had a greater respect and appreciation of it. In the age before electronic entertainment, there was a greater curiosity regarding nature. People traded birds’ eggs the way they traded postage stamps and amazingly there were some companies which dealt with both.
These days it is difficult to even imagine a time when one could purchase an egg of a road runner for 15 cents, of a burrowing owl for 15 cents, or of a crimson house finch for 4 cents. The firm in question in Riverside, California–a wild and woolly place in 1888–offered the following:
“Bird, Animal, and Reptile Skins, Eggs, Minerals, Fossils,
Shells, Insects, Alcoholic and Botanical Specimens, Indian
Relics, Sea Curiosities, Coins, Stamps, Supplies, General Curiosities, etc.”
I wonder what on earth the “etc.” involved. I was ready to take umbrage at the sale of Alcoholic specimens, but my wife reassured me that she would never sell me. Alcohol seemed to have been plentiful in the Wild West and this was a time before there was much regulation and I doubt that there was much isopropanol (rubbing alcohol) around, so it’s probably fairly likely that specimens were pickled with the same stuff that the cowboys and miners got pickled on.
Over on the other side of the continent, up in Toronto, Canada, Mr. Walter Raine proudly announced in bold letters that he sold
CHEAP BIRDS’ EGGS
However in the first part of his advertisement, he makes it clear that he has a stock of rare eggs and in general an overstock.
“During the past year my collectors in Iceland, Greenland, North-west Canada, have sent me more specimens than I anticipated as my
COLLECTION OF 15,000 SPECIMENS
is as complete as I wish to make it, I have no use for the eggs received the past year.”
Wow! A collection of 15,000 specimens and collectors in Greenland and Iceland and before airplanes and Priority Mail!
He did indeed have some cheap specimens; you could purchase an egg of a White Skylark for 7 cents, European Kestrel for 18 cents, Snipe for 15 cents, Curlew for 35 cents, but an egg of a Whistling Swan was $1.45 and of a Golden Eagle $5.00. Five dollars was a lot of money in 1888. I found a calculator of the relative worth of U.S. currency and using the Consumer Price Index for 1888, $5.00 was worth about $105.00 of 2005 currency and 7 cents would be about $1.48, so these eggs weren’t as cheap as they sound. However, this clever merchandiser offered you a free ticket for a drawing if you bought $4 worth of eggs from his new list and the ticket gave you a chance of winning “handsome sets of Golden, Bald, and Gray sea Eagle and other good prizes”, but you had to send five cents in stamps “for price list and particulars.” I’m sure that whatever he sent out didn’t cost more than 2 cents which was the cost for a domestic letter, so even if you didn’t buy anything, he’d already made a profit of 3 cents which was the equivalent of 64 cents in 2005 terms.
This issue of The Hawkeye Ornithologist and Oologist is 22 pages. In addition to being able to learn about Canadian Flycatchers, Carolina Wrens, and the Bobolink, there is a 5 page article lamenting the slaughter of hundreds of thousands of birds for “millenary, dress ornaments; the bloodthirsty disposition of the ‘bad small boy;’ the market gunner or ‘pot hunter’ and the ornithological collector and student.” High Fashion has often been a reason for murdering extraordinary numbers of harmless, beautiful animals. Why not start a movement of “Utilitarian Fashion” and have coats and shoes and gloves made from skins of wild rats trapped in the sewers of New York–and pigeon feathers for adorning hats. It was Woody Allen who in Stardust Memories remarked that “pigeons are rats with wings.”
Eagles, egrets, blue herons, loons, wood ducks, flamingos, pheasants, peacocks, birds-of paradise, bower birds, and other elegant creatures have been sacrificed for milady’s wardrobe and let’s not forget the fashion of a small colorful feather or two in the bands of men’s hats. Fortunately now, a concern for endangered and elegant species, a change in fashions, and a general distaste for slaughtering animals to achieve sartorial splendor have helped to raise somewhat the future prospects for some of these creatures. It is interesting to note the extent of this indictment made 118 years ago which includes as well, criticism of the bloodthirsty ‘small bad boy’ which I take it from the quotation marks is directed at “sportsmen” of any age and also “ornithological collectors and students.” Dr. F.W. Langdon of Cincinnati, Ohio in his remarks cited above, seems to be advocating a strict agenda for conserving avian species. I take it that he was a “Dr.” of ornithology or zoology and not of logic. As the article proceeds, he makes a distinction between desirable and undesirable birds–shrikes, jays, crows and “other predatory species” being undesirable. He also takes the trouble to point out regarding the use of feathers in fashion “that of the brilliantly plumaged birds a vast majority come from South American and other foreign countries”. Well then, “No worries, mate” as the Aussies say. Apparently Dr. Langdon was of the belief that if human activities didn’t negatively affect the desirable species of birds in our own country, then it’s somebody else’s problem. Perhaps we shouldn’t judge him too harshly. The world was a very different place in 1888. Communications and travel were relatively primitive and most countries remained largely isolated from one another both geographically and politically. However, Dr. Langdon only makes things worse in his concluding paragraph.
“While I am in favor of increase of desirable birds, of the utmost dissemination of knowledge respecting all birds, of the formation of Audubon societies, if you please, and of the popularizing of ornithology in general, I do not think we gain anything in a scientific or practical sense by distorting, misstating, or by denouncing the well established right of man to use all natural objects for the furtherance of his necessities, his convenience, or his pleasures.” A well established right? A Baconian view–put Nature on the rack and torture answers out of her. And what was the point of all of that blather about millenary, and ‘bad boys’ and students of ornithology if we have a well established right to do as we please for whatever reasons we deem convenient or necessary. All of which simply reminds us that human beings were as foolish in their rhetoric and as illogical back in the “good old days” as they are now. To give Dr. Langdon credit, he did work to get legislation passed in Indiana to protect birds and eggs.
The gentleman from Toronto whom I mentioned earlier who was selling, among other items, Golden Eagle eggs for $5 each, has in addition to his advertisement on the back cover a two page article on “Bird Nesting In The North Of England” which is [To Be Continued]. A model entrepreneur.
However, the most curious thing about his curious little publication is that it contains 2 little pieces which seem oddly placed. One has nothing to do with ornithology or eggs and is titled: Tertiary Fossils In The Bad Lands of Dakota” and focuses on the teeth of Brontotherium, Titanotherium, Miohippus, and Hyracodon and the skull and upper teeth of Oredon gracilis.
The second piece is a “hymn” to “The Scientist” and contains some of the purplest prose I have ever encountered. This article also was a [To Be Continued]–I hope it wasn’t. Let me give you a sample of Mr. H.F. Hegner’s florid prose on the topic of the scientist.
“Being inspired by the beauty of what he sees, the woodlands winged orchestra in harmony with the music of his soul, he leads an envious life indeed.
Nature has a language for him which is at once beautiful and grand, while a deeper sense of the beauty of his world is awakened by scientific study. How grand, how sublime are his conceptions of nature! She is his inspiration and he loves her. He loves her as the queen of a kingdom pendent in self, and a companion in his greatness. He loves to converse with her, and many a pleasant hour he spends in her felicity. Neither conspiracy nor usurpation can corrupt in his kingdom. Strangers are they and nature is the Queen of his Soul.”
It gets better, that is to say, worse. I would quote further, but to paraphrase a remark of Oscar Levant’s; I can’t; I’m a diabetic. This stuff makes Philip Henry Gosse’s rhetorical excess seem absolutely tame.
Now an additional interesting item occurs on the page preceding this nauseatingly romantic nonsense–a letter from Burr Oak, Iowa.
“BURR OAK, Ia, Jan. 12, 1888
EDITORS HAWKEYE O. And O.
Dear Sirs:–Received the first number of the O. and O. last week and it is fully as good as I expected–excellent for the money. Such a magazine should work up a good subscription list, and I hope you may be fully successful.
Herman F. Hegner”
Recognize the name? Yes, the author of our purple prose. Had I been an editor, I would have told Mr. Hegner that the only hope for the success of the magazine was his solemn oath never again to submit anything for publication. I’ll bet Mr. Hegner from Burr Oak sent his article in the same envelope with the above letter.
The only other copy of The Hawkeye O. and O. (as it was then billing itself) which I have is the combined July-August edition from 1889, so unfortunately I missed out on the thrilling conclusion of Mr. Hegner’s paean to The Scientist. Nonetheless, this issue has more treasure for us, but before delving into that I am going to indulge in a brief digression to tell you how I happened to have these fascinating items. The truth of the matter is that I don’t remember, but I’m not going to be that brief. I suspect that I found them at a yard sale or library book sale. I know that I only paid a few dollars for the following items which are, for me, historically, natural-historically, and psychologically intriguing. So here’s the list of the lot I bought. (Ain’t alliterative rhyme fun?)
1) The Hawkeye Ornithologist and Oologist, Vol. I, March 1888, No.3 published in Cresco, Iowa. For people from other countries, I should note that Iowa is known as the Hawkeye State.
2) As above, Vol. II, No. 7-8, July and August, 1889.
3) The Hoosier Naturalist, Vol. 2, January 1887, No. 6, published in Valparaiso, Indiana (which is the Hoosier State).
4) The Bay State Oologist, Vol. I, January 1888, No.1, published in Pittsfield, Massachusetts (which, you guessed it, is the Bay State).
5) As above, Vol. I, April, 1888, No. 4
6) The American Magazine of Natural Science: A monthly Devoted to the Study of Nature, Vol. 2, October 1893, No. 4
7) As above, Vol. 2, November 1893, No. 5
8) As above, Vol. 2, December 1893, No. 6
9) As above, Vol. 2, January, 1894, No. 7
10) As above, Vol. 2, February, 1894, No. 8
11) The Taxidermist, Vol. 1, August, 1891, No. 2
12) As above, Vol. 1, January 1892, No. 7
13) American Ornithology, Bulletin No. 2–The American Sparrow Hawk
14) The Petrel, Vol. 1, January, 1901, No. 1
15) Stormy Petrel, Vol. 1, June 1890, No. 3
16) The Western Ornithologist (formerly The Iowa Ornithologist), Vol. V, January-February, 1900, No. 1
17) The West American Scientist, Vol. VI, June 1889, No. 44
18) The Atlantic Slope Naturalist, Vol. 1, July and August, 1903, No. 3
19) Weekly Oologist & Philatelist, Vol. 1, Dec. 19, 1891, no. 2 (published every Saturday, 35 cents per year, 4 pages)
20) As above, Vol. II, Jan. 9, 1892, No. 2
21) The Western Oologist, Vol. I, August, 1878, No. 6
22) American Osprey, Vol. I, June 1890, no. 6
The last 3 items are also only 4 pages each.
The list is by way of warning of some of things you may be subjected to in future articles.
So, back to the other issue I have of The Hawkeye O. and O., which opens with a poem titled “The Song Sparrow” by L. Otley Pindar. (I’m not making this stuff up) I will out of consideration for your aesthetic sensibilities spare you this rhymeless lyric. When I first read the name of the author I thought to myself, surely this is a pseudonym, but then I remembered how misguided, stoned hippies in the 1960s gave their children names like Sundog and Moonchild. I further recalled a splendid little book which I have and which is entitled Remarkabilia compiled by John Train (George Allen & Unwin, London, 1984) which is a collection of bizarre, amusing, and outrageous names over a considerable period and the readers are assured that all of these names have been verified as authentic. This little volume is one I strongly recommend to every student of the eccentric animal known as homo sapiens. There is a Doctor Docktor–imagine a German with that last name and 3 Ph.D.s and his name would be Docktor Docktor Docktor Docktor which, of course, makes one think immediately of Major Major Major Major in Joseph Heller’s brilliant Catch 22. A few other names which I especially like:
Sir Cloudsley Shovel (I’ve looked him up and he did indeed exist), Heidi Yum-Yum Gluck, Arystotle Tottle (“a timid pyrate from Falmouth, England”), Mrs. Belcher Wack Wack (“Miss Belcher married Mr. Wack twice”), T. Fud Pucker Tucker (from Bountiful, Utah), Dr. Zoltan Ovary (“a gynaecologist–And, of course, Madame Ovary”), the Polish man from Detroit, A. Przybysz, who went to court to change his name to C. Przybysz, the wonderfully ironic name of Immaculate Conception Finkelstein, and let’s not forget one of my favorites, Sugarporn Poopattana. So, on consideration, I am inclined to accept L. Otley Pindar as our odist’s real name and wonder what the “L” stood for. One can, however, if one accepts this thesis, blame his parents only for the “Otley”, since “Pindar” is the patronymic.
Remember our gentleman from Toronto, Mr. Walter Raine with collectors in Iceland and Greenland and his own private collection of 15,000 eggs. Well, it seems that he got into a dispute with a Mr. W. H. Winkley which this edition of The Hawkeye O. and O. devotes 1 and 1/3 pages to out of a total of 10 pages in the issued excluding the front and back cover pages. Perhaps I should mention that in the other earlier issue the following appeared in the Letters section:
“Hickman, KY, Jan. 2, 1888
Dear Sirs:–The Hawkeye O. and O. at hand some time ago. I am very much pleased with it. It exceeds my expectations.
L. O. Pindar
A literarily incestuous little group, weren’t they?
The note is entitled: “The Raine-Winkley Controversy”. Just to set the scene, I will quote the first paragraph.
“Last month, it will be remembered, we published letters from Walter Raine and W.H. Winkley regarding a transaction between these parties. We had held Raine’s letter for some time as we did not wish to meddle with their private affairs, but when we received the ‘correspondence’ from Winkley containing one or two slaps as some one (whom we judge to be Raine) we asked Winkley for the other side of the case and presented it as fairly as possible. We also had another reason for doing so. Our readers will remember that we accused R.M. Gibbs of being a swindler and then published a part, though amply sufficient, of our proof. We did this to prevent Gibbs from swindling our readers further, as he had been an extensive advertiser with us. We now have the same case again; both gentlemen having frequently used the H.O. as an advertising medium, and not wishing to run the ads of those not strictly honest, we took it upon ourselves to clear up the difficulty.”
I have read the “clarification” 3 times now and the situation remains as murky to me as it did on the first reading. Nothing is explained; nothing is clarified; perhaps the editors were 19th Century politicians.
In this same issue, there is an article by Mr. J.D. Ford on “Birds of Summerville, S.C.” Regarding the killdeer he remarks: “Killdeer, a good observer can perceive a great decrease in these birds, five years ago they were very common in this county and highly gregarious, now it is rare to see five in a flock.” Well, of course, you silly twit; you and your friends have been out slaughtering them for their feathers and stealing their eggs. I am often amused and annoyed by people who take such stands. They remind me of a 19th Century philanderer who is outraged that his wife has syphilis even though he knows full well that he was the one who gave it to her.
The world has changed in unimaginable ways in the last 118 years, but human beings are still as short-sighted in their planning and as cliquish and gossipy as they were in 1888/9. In the editors’ (who are also the publishers) notes, we find the following:
“Volume I of the H.O. cannot be furnished by us at any price; of the January, May, and October numbers we would like to buy several copies.”
How farsighted is that?; printing short and then wanting to buy back copies of their own publication.
And finally, there is this gossipy, in-group little tidbit:
“May we ask what the publisher of The Oologist is ashamed of. Or perhaps we may guess?
Where is the Curlew?”
Indeed, where is the snipe? Let us go hunt the snipe.
All comments to the author Richard Howey are welcomed.
Editor's note: Visit Richard Howey's new website at http://rhowey.googlepages.com/home where he plans to shares aspects of his wide interests.
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