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First forays in the field: Blackburn


1885 design for boxwood stand. Blackburn Museum and Art Gallery

Among the first archival material I’ve looked at the Blackburn Museum and Art Gallery is a collection of receipts and notes connected to the museum’s original displays of taxidermy ornithology. These refer to sets of turned boxwood stands the museum ordered during the 1880s shortly after it opened, which include drawings and sizes, as well as references to the type of wood used. The museum no longer has this collection so the receipts and notes represent a rare glimpse into how ornithology was displayed in the museum at this time. Sometimes the specimen for whom the stand was intended is also named, throwing yet more light onto those earlier collections. In March 1885 a four inch stand was ordered for a Puffin, for example, as well as two 5 inch stands for a woodcock and a skua.

1884 order for sixty boxwood stands. Blackburn Museum and Art Gallery

The receipts and notes also provide an impression of just how large the collection of birds was at the museum, with one particularly revealing note listing the sizes for an order of sixty stands.

Looking through this material it occurred to me that during my very first introduction to the museums I had seen specimens similar to those described by the receipts and notes. It turns out that these were in the Rossendale Museum stores.

Hummingbird (Streamertail): Rossendale Museum. Here named as Trochilus sylphia. I've not been able to find a reference to T. sylphia, although this specimen looks similar to T. scitulus, which was named thus in 1901 by the Harvard ornithologist curators William Brewster & Outram Bangs. It could be that T. sylphia is in fact T. scitulus (the Black-billed streamertail) before the 1901 renaming.

You’ll see from the images posted here the similarities in size, shape, and material to those described in the receipts and notes. I’ve still to find out when these specimens arrived at Rossendale but even if their similarity with those displayed at Blackburn during the 1880s is purely circumstantial, at least we can now picture quite precisely what the ornithology displays at Blackburn had originally looked liked. Hopefully reference will be made to them in acquisitions or disposals registers somewhere.

Examples of earlier labels: Rossendale Museum

There are some earlier labels still preserved on the specimens, along with several different examples of handwriting on their undersides — all of which might help match the specimens to an institution or individual.

Mark Steadman

Examples of handwriting: Rossendale Museum

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