A Trip Into The Past: Part 3

by Richard L. Howey, Wyoming, USA

 Part 1 : Part 2


This time, I want to take a look at two 19 th Century natural history publications.

1) Weekly Oologist & Philatelist, Vol. I, Dec. 19, 1892, No. 2. Published every Saturday. 35 cents per year. Each issued is 4 pages. Edited and published by F.T. Corless. Lebanon, Oregon.

2) The Taxidermist, Vol. 1, January 1892, No. 7. Published by Martin and Mignin, Akron, Ohio.

Sometimes people are surprised by how much activity there was in natural history in the 19th Century, especially in the “remote” areas of the Wild West. However, one needs to remember that trapping had been a lucrative business for some time, plus there was an incredible supply of timber, but perhaps most importantly, “there was gold in them thar hills”. In other words, there was a lot of money floating around on the West Coast.

Furthermore, there was a transcontinental railway by 1872 extending from California to the East Coast. This allowed for the transport of large quantities of specimens including not only animal and plant materials, but gold and silver nuggets and striking crystal specimens as well.

Mr. Corless, editor and publisher of the Weekly Oologist & Philatelist, like other publishers of popular journals of this period, uses his publication to promote his own projects. On the first page under notices, three appear:

“WANTED–A person to manage the Stamp department of this paper. Address the Editor.”

The second notice is also by Mr. Corless informing readers that he has sold the shotgun advertised in the last issue and asking readers to quit writing about it.

The third notice, also from Corless, reads as follows:

“WANTED–Persons having lots of stamps that they are anxious to get rid of, will do well to let me handle them on commission; or better yet, sell them to me and let me pay for them as soon as I get them sold. Rare stamps especially wanted.”

The first and the third are curiously interesting in conjunction with the fourth notice and the conditions for inserting a notice (advertisement), these conditions being stated at the top of the page, namely: “Terms strictly payment in advance.” Rather one-sided: pay me in advance, but give me your stamps and I’ll pay you when I sell them. This appears to be a fledgling enterprise, since this is Volume 1, No. 2 and he states on the second page: “This paper is rather slim at present, but as soon as we are once established and get our weekly correspondents, we will compete with any other collector’s paper going; but for a short time yet it will not be very interesting.” Since the enterprise is just getting started, one can understand why he wanted someone to manage the stamp department.

However, it’s the fourth notice on page 1 that really captures my attention, for it is here that he asserts that his not very interesting weekly which has only had one previous issue “reaches 4000 collectors a month”!

In a mini-editorial, Mr. Corless asserts regarding his publication:

“It will have the latest oological and stamp news, a description of all the new counterfeit stamps and the names and addresses of all persons know to be defrauding the collector.”

True to, at least part of his word, Corless lists 3 stamps on page one which have been deemed to be counterfeit. However, one does wonder about the veracity of his claims regarding the size of his readership. Another aspect of many of these popular “little magazines” is the pathetically pedestrian sense of humor which they display. Mr. Corless has a column called:

“Sayings of the O & P’s Funny Man”. Here is an example:


Believe it or not, the other 3 “humorous” items are even worse. The only item in this issue that constitutes an article (albeit a very brief one) is : “The Black-shouldered or White-tailed Kite” by Mr. Kit Atkinson of Dime Box, Texas. Let me quote a few sentences to give you the thrust of the piece.

“This beautiful kite is very rare here. As far as I am able to learn I am the first to observe it in this county...Sure enough we saw the White Hawk fly from the top of a dead tree...It flew but a little ways and lit on the top of a tree but in a few seconds he was on the ground a dead bird...I skinned the birds and found their crops to contain large pieces of woodrats. Some time last year I killed another young male of this species in this county. These birds are the only one of this species ever found in this county up to the date of this article.”

Mr. Atkinson then adds a postscript:

Nov. 18, 1891.

P.S. While my friend was climbing the tree, I saw the female flying around and shot and killed her. There were a few white feathers in the nest.”

To me, it’s incredible that an individual could be so fully cognizant of the extreme rarity of a given species in a given area and then kill each one he comes across and take the eggs as well. I guess it’s too much to hope for that Mr. Atkinson was lynched.

The next publication I want to look at is The Taxidermist which is more substantial, consisting of 16 pages plus 8 pages of advertisements plus 3 more pages of advertisements inside the front cover and both sides of the back cover. On the inside front cover, we find ads for “Daylight” Kodaks which allowed one to change film without having to go into a darkroom, an ad for a nickel plated egg drill blower and embryo hook (35 cents), an ad for a copy of a sermon by Rev. J.F. Thompson “Why I am a Universalist”, an ad for the journal, The Kansas City Scientist, and an ad for artificial eyes offered by J. Kannofsky, “Practical Glassblower and Manufacturer of Artificial Eyes.” I have long known that glass eyes were used in taxidermy, but I never thought about how they were produced and that in the period we’re considering, a glass blower would make them, a rather tedious undertaking, I would think. I’m sure that today there must be some assembly line procedure. There is also on this page an ad for an illustrated monthly called “The Microscope” published in Trenton, New Jersey. I am unable to find out anything about it on the internet, but judging from the text of the ad, it was directed at young people and beginners. The final ad on this page reads as follows:


Examination of Morbid Tissues of All Kinds

Microscopical Examination of Tumor, Urine, and Sputum

for detection of B. Tuberculosis

each $5.00 Send for circular.

Geo. H. McCausey

Microscopical Diagnostician

Janesville, Wis.


Let us hope that Mr. McCausey had a good microscope, the proper stains, and was skilled in the latest techniques, so that there were very few hapless patients who ended up joining Hans Castorp in the Sanatorium Berghof.

On the back cover, there is among others, a small advertisement by E.W. Martin, “Taxidermist of Buchtel College, Akron, Ohio.” The appearance of his notice is surely no coincidence since, on the inner advertising pages, four of them are devoted exclusively to Buchtel College which later became the University of Akron and in the early 1940s was instrumental in the development of synthetic rubber which was of crucial importance during World War II. However, 1891-92, their departments consisted of 5 courses of study: Collegiate (“three courses of study of four years each, viz: Classical, Philosophical and Scientific”), Preparatory (“three courses of study of three years each”), Normal (“consisting of a course of two years, to prepare for teaching, and for business pursuits”), Musical (“including vocal, and instrumental music, harmony, composition, &c.”), and Art (“including drawing, painting, and designing”). The college was co-educational and offered two sorts of scholarships; the first group to graduates of a specific list of high schools in the region and the second, “perpetual scholarships” which were “used to aid worthy and deserving students”. The college had museums and laboratories in the departments of Physics, Chemistry, Natural Science, Astronomy, and Surveying. “The work in these departments is very largely of a practical nature. The student is not required to do much in the way of committing text-books to memory, but is put to work under the instructor to work out problems for himself, thus cultivating his powers of observation, deduction, and original research.” A clear, concise, and reasonable statement of general aims. Naturally, the realization of such depended upon the quality of the instructors, of the students, and the actual implementation. In my 40 years of teaching and a few years of administration, I served on numerous committees, study groups and task forces appointed to devise “mission statements” for the university or revise and improve the curriculum. The most significant result was an enormous waste of time and paper. A brief statement like the one above, common sense, and reasonable, intelligent faculty can, with proper support from the administration, make such a program work well.

Physical exercise in the Crowse Gymnasium was also a requirement unless a student was excused.

An attempt to keep all classes in all disciplines small was a significant concern. The college originally had a religious affiliation and stood “firmly on the principles of Christianity, but its work is in no sense sectarian.”

What impressed me most was a statement under the heading–Admission: “Special classes are provided to assist those deficient in preparatory Latin and Greek.” This suggests that high schools, the larger ones at least, were providing training in the classical languages. Today we have many students in colleges and universities who can barely manage English. To suggest that we return to a requirement of Latin and Greek would, I think for the most part, be counterproductive. However, if the United States intends to remain viable internationally, politically, economically, and culturally, then we must break the stranglehold of monolingualism that has dominated education in this country for too long.–WARNING: Mini-tirade coming up.

We need to start teaching languages in elementary schools and continue it through middle and high schools and require them in undergraduate and graduate institutions as well. People have objected that this is too expensive and too difficult. My response is: Do you want the education of your children to be cheap and easy? Two languages (at minimum) in addition to English should be required. Which language? Well, not Latin and classical Greek–those would be on the electives list for those who wanted a third language. I would suggest a very short list of choices for the required languages: Chinese, Hindi/Urdu, Spanish, Bengali, Arabic, Portuguese, Russian, Japanese, Malay, German, and French. These are the most widely spoken languages in the world. However, there would be a restriction. If you came from a family in which say Spanish or Japanese was spoken at home, then you could not select that as one of your required languages, but you could add it as a third language elective.

The traditional objections to teaching such a variety of languages have largely disappeared with the new technologies and the costs could in part be subsidized by business and governments who employ students because of their language abilities. Well, enough of my fantasizing–back to the real world of monolingual Americans. So, back to The Taxidermist.

The advertisements offer a wide variety of items which would be tempting to the naturalist, scientist, or professional man with a bit of money. You could subscribe to the Cleveland Medical Gazette or The Ornithologist and Botanist (if that is you wanted to learn about the birds and the trees). For 5 one cent stamps, you could get a booklet on “The Grape, Fruit and Trucking Industry of North Carolina”. Prof. Carl Braun of Bangor, Maine, owner of The Insect Depot, established in 1880 “Offers for sale Exotic Butterflies and Moths, in brilliant color of rare beauty; from India, Australia, Africa and South America...Also Stuffed Birds, Skins and Eggs. A fine collection of 400 Stuffed Birds of North America, for sale at a bargain. Butterfly Nets, Insect pins. Killing-jars and all Entomological Supplies. Imported Japanese, Chinese and Indian Silkworm Eggs for seed in silk culture with directions to raise them successfully.” If this seems too tame for your modern spirit, you can subscribe to Aluminum Age “A 16-page Home-printed Scientific Mechanical Journal of Latest Foreign Inventions and Processes. Vol. II. No. 8–Circulation guaranteed 15,000. Subscription 35 cents per year with 2 Aluminum Lord’s Prayer Souvenirs. Save this advertisement It will lead you to success.” Well, if you have Divine Sponsorship, how can you lose?

As you may guess, I am quite fond of this little publication, The Taxidermist, and I intend to go on rambling about it, so you may want to look at some of the other articles with pictures–all you’re going to get here is more eccentric prose. Obviously, I am fascinated by these old advertisements, but eventually I’ll get around to talking about the articles in the journal.

If you’re going out to collect animals to stuff and mount you may want a cart. Well, the Chicago Scale Co. sells carts at $10, $15, $18, $20, and $25 or buggies for only $55 and you could also purchase from them forges, anvils, vises, safes, sewing machines, and all sorts of scales. Too prosaic, you say. How about 20 free gems just for subscribing to the monthly journal The Great Divide including Goldstone, Tiger Eye, Petrified Wood, Carnelian, and Jewel Onyx. The journal was published in Denver, Colorado and was “superbly illustrated” and devoted to Rocky Mountain scenery “illustrating and describing its canons, natural parks, mountain parks, mineral mines, crystals, relics, cliff dwellings, Indians and customs, natural wonders, caves, grotesque and marvelous works of nature, resources, birds, animals and wild flowers.” Denver was a bustling city of 106,713 people in 1890, but New York City already had a population of 1,515,000! Imagine in 1892 getting out the big carriage, 6 horses, packing up your wife and 3 children, and setting out from New York for a vacation in Colorado. Think how long that would have taken! Nowadays, one can travel thousands of miles in a few hours, but in those days if you were really just taking a vacation, rather than moving to become a settler, then the only reasonable way to travel was by rail and that required a fair bit of money and it was still a rather long journey.

However, if you were more a stay-at-home type, there were advertisements offering items for you as well, such as, Root’s Household Repairing Outfit which provided you with the tools to do half-soling, rubber boot, shoe and harness repair and we are assured that “any boy can use it.”The outfit was boxed, weighed 20 pounds and cost all of $2.00. These days, for $2.00, you can only send 5 letters; think what it would cost to send a 20 pound box of tools.

However, if boot, shoe, and harness repair is not your boyhood dream, there are other options–after all, this is a journal devoted to taxidermy–you can buy The Young Taxidermist Outfit which was also $2.00. The kit included 3 bird skins, forceps, scissors, a scalpel, a curved needle, and a preservative which we are assured is notarsenic and is, in fact, non-poisonous. The facing page contains a full-page ad from Mr. James B. Babbit of Tauton, Massachusetts counseling amateur taxidermists that they “should have a few stuffed birds, set up by an experienced hand, as models from which to take your positions.” He lists 68 stuffed birds which are available from a Chickadee for 50 cents to a Snowy Owl and a Golden Eagle priced at $20 each. I am quite fond of Chickadees as they are cheerful little birds that come around our yard each summer and the Snowy Owl, I find to be a magnificent creature, so this list is rather disturbing since it includes many species that are threatened, endangered, or simply too fascinating or beautiful to be slaughtered and stuffed. The list included: St. Domingo Grebe, Puffin, Cormorant, Lesser Snow Goose, Ferniginoum Pygmy Owl, Yellow Billed Cuckoo, Belted Kingfisher, 3 kinds of Woodpecker, 3 kinds of Hummingbirds, Black throated Green Warbler, Read headed Nuthatch, and the list goes on. Fortunately now, almost all birds are protected by law and those designated as “game birds” have limited seasons and require a license to hunt them. Perhaps the loss of the Passenger Pigeon did teach us something.

This issue also contains a page titled “Exchanges and Wants”. One item in particular caught my eye:

How are these for Pets?

What am I offered in birds’ eggs for two pet

skunks with the scent bags removed?

Having two pet skunks sounds like much more fun to me than a collection of birds’ eggs.

Guess what? I’m finally ready to talk about the content of the articles. The first is titled: “Skinning and Mounting Of Some Menagerie Animals. II.” Unfortunately, we missed Part I and will miss Part III, since this is the only issue I have, but the article starts off with a bang: “The elephant skins remained in the salt and alum bath until the first of the following September. This length of time for their preservation was not, of course, necessary, for a week or two is sufficient for a skin this size and those of a horse.” Consider–115 years ago, how often would you have occasion to stuff a horse, let alone an elephant? Perhaps it’s just that I lead a sheltered life. Mr. Oliver Davie, the author of this article, informs us that the major differences “between mounting the elephant and the horse come in the finishing up.” Once you get the elephant skin sewn onto the mannikin, then it’s apparently a matter of just filling in any gaps in the skin with papier mache which then was to be stained to match the color of the skin. This technique doesn’t work with the horse and instead one has to find hair of the right color which, presumably is glued or sewn in. Mind-boggling! Mr. Davie goes on to tell us how to build a mannikin and incorporate the major bones for support. What a strange beast the human animal is.

The majority of the other articles are, not surprisingly, about birds, but there is a 1 page piece by a Dr. Wm Bringhurst, a physician from Philadelphia, titled “Animals Below Man”. The doctor is clearly a religious man, but he takes an interesting position regarding other animals. “I think likely there are data enough to prove that mind is the same in all animals, It only being a question of how much, limited by advantages and disadvantages.” In some of his other remarks, there is a hint that he might be an “evolutionary theist”. What is fascinating is that he extends this notion even down to the level of protozoa. “The Amaba [sic] , a portion of mere protoplasm, behaves as if it possessed it, and that argues I think, a certain amount of reason.” This is, of course, a rather fanciful notion. Indeed, protozoa are capable of remarkably complex forms of behavior, but it is misleading, at the very least, to associate these behaviors with “mind” and/or “reason”. In fact, I think those terms must be used with great caution, since it is clear that they rarely apply to politicians.

Dr. Bringhurst reports an interesting case which he seems to think displays intelligence and even concern and the offering of aid.

“Three Echini [sea urchins] had been put into a tank of water, but were placed in positions that they were unaccustomed to; two of them righted themselves, but the other, being unable to accomplish it, its companions came to its assistance, and after helping it to raise itself on its edge, one of them passed around to its underside and assisted it to ease itself down. I hold that we ought to be very careful of animal life; the very same divine power that made us, made them, and it behooves us not to deprive them unnecessarily of life.”

A noble sentiment; clearly the good doctor was a man of high moral principles. Unfortunately, he doesn’t mention the journal in which this intriguing behavior was reported. However, as interesting as such behavior is, it doesn’t justify a leap to claiming intelligence and compassion in sea urchins and, don’t get me wrong, I’m a great fan of echinoderms and sea urchins in particular. The problem is, in part, that we don’t really have a linguistic framework for discussing such phenomena without getting involved in anthropomorphic projection. Interestingly, there is an amoeba, Raphidiophyrs , a heliozoan, which I have collected in an alkaline lake about 15 miles south-east of here, and it also manifests intriguing behavior. Several of these organisms will group together and “link” their thin, scaled pseuodopodia together forming a sort of net which enhances their ability to capture food organisms. This temporary “colony” then disbands after a time and the individual amoebae go on with whatever activities they were engaged in before. There are throughout the animal kingdom many instances of “cooperation”, but this case is surely one of the most basic involving as it does such primitive organisms. A Victorian naturalist who subscribed to natural theology might regard this as a display of altruistic concern among the amoebae that none of their number go hungry, but surely no modern naturalist or scientist would indulge in such smug anthropocentrism. To talk of amoebae displaying intentionality is frankly absurd.

However, I certainly agree with Dr. Bringhurst that such phenomena are fascinating and the explanations for such behaviors are difficult and complex. The good doctor goes on to admonish his readers that we need to deal with the “animals below man” with greater care and that we are in danger of bringing many species to extinction. A very farsighted view in 1892. He specifically mentions the great Auk, the Eider Duck, the Buffalo, the Whale, and the Seal. Even though he starts out his essay with a tenuous assumption about mind and reason in lower animals, he is no dogmatist and his central concern remains the welfare and fate of those animals. I find his last sentence especially admirable, even moving: “Even if the whole of the animal kingdom below man were dumb brutes and unreasoning, we would have no right, without real cause, to destroy them or cut short their enjoyment of life.”

Oh, noble doctor, how desperately could we use more men of your insight and understanding now!

Finally, a little note on the two books reviewed in this issue. One might well expect some title on taxidermy, such as, Take This Buffalo and Stuff It or, at the very least, something ornithological. The first review is full of praise for a volume titled: Mental Suggestion by Dr. J. Ochorowicz, some-time Professor Extraordinarius of Psychology and Natural Philosophy in the University of Lemberg. There is a mention of the “significant’ difference between Mesmer and the ’hypnotists’ and Charcot and the “suggestionists” and from the title of the book you can guess which side the Professor Extraordinarius was on.

The second book review, also favorable, concerns: Hypnotism: Its History and Present development by Fredrik Bjorstrom, M.D., head physician of the Stockholm hospital, Professor Psychiatry, late Royal Swedish Medical Counselor. The book was translated, no less, by Baron Nils Posse, M.G., director of the Boston School of Gymnastics. Today there is much concern about steroids and other drugs used by some athletes; I suppose there were old 19th Century fuddy-duddies who were worried about the unfair advantage that hypnotism could give gymnasts. These reviews were evidently reprinted from the Illustrated Christian Weekly. Strange how religions can incorporate almost anything when they’ve a mind to.

In Part 4, we’ll take a look at the West American Scientist from June of 1889 and, if space permits, start looking at some issues of The American Magazine of Natural Science.

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.


  Microscopy UK Front Page
Micscape Magazine
Article Library

© Microscopy UK or their contributors.

Published in the March 2007 edition of Micscape Magazine.

Please report any Web problems or offer general comments to the Micscape Editor .

Micscape is the on-line monthly magazine of the Microscopy UK website at Microscopy-UK .  

© Onview.net Ltd, Microscopy-UK, and all contributors 1995 onwards. All rights reserved. Main site is at www.microscopy-uk.org.uk with full mirror at www.microscopy-uk.net .