Bill Pettit Memorial Project – Conservation of historic Taxidermy

Ann Ainsworth (Colchester and Ipswich Museums)

Hannah Clarke (Freelance Conservator)

Ipswich Museum has an important historic collection which dates back to its opening in 1847. A recognised strength of the natural history collection is the historically important Victorian and Edwardian taxidermy of animals from across the globe.

The taxidermy collection is stored in an old building which used to be an old coach depot and later a garage. The space had become very dusty and dirty and a significant mould problem had developed.

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We followed a very simple methodology of light dusting with soft brushes using a vacuum containing a HEPA filter. This was followed by swabbing with an alcohol/water solution to remove the mould and kill the spores. Where possible specimens were covered or wrapped in polythene to act as a protective cover to protect from dust, provide an external surface for mould to grow on, and to prevent pest damage which is also a potential problem within the stores.

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The variety of conservation problems, meant that many different treatment processes needed to be used by Hannah. Some of the processes included dry cleaning, wet cleaning, re-adhering, colour matching, re-inserting feathers, removing old varnish with solvents, mitring, sealing with brown gum tape, and applying and buffing wax. New panels of glass and sections of beading had to be sourced and cut to size.

The top panel of the pike case had warped and bowed, as the glass side panels had been broken previously. There were no structural supports on the front inside edges of the case either, meaning that the top of the case was unsupported from the front. The existing beadings on the rear inside edges were not secure, and the metal tacks used to hold the mitred sections of wood in place were very loose. New beading was sourced to match as close to the original as possible and was then colour matched and held in place using new tacks.

Cygnet before conservation

Cygnet before conservation

Cygnet after conservation

Cygnet after conservation

The Bill Pettit Memorial funding went towards payment for the freelance Conservator in terms of time and travel expenses and the purchase of replacement glass and beading for the cases where broken or damaged.

It was agreed that conserved cases would not be returned to store until the planned repair work had been successfully completed. As many of the conserved cases as possible were put on public display in the museum galleries. This has enabled part of the collection not normally seen by visitors to be on display. It has also helped to present a strong message of the Museum Services’ wish to improve the condition of specimens and its storage facilities and helped to raise the profile of the project.

Spicer platypus case after conservation

Spicer platypus case after conservation

 

Bill Pettit Memorial Award 2013

I’m pleased to announce that NatSCA is calling for applications for the 2013 Bill Pettit Memorial Award. Any questions let me know.

Here’s last year’s project:

Margaret Gatty’s algal herbarium in St Andrews

In February 2013, NatSCA kindly granted me the Bill Pettit Memorial Award in order to assess and describe the algal herbarium of Margaret Gatty in the St Andrews University Herbarium.

Detail of: Chorda filum (Linnaeus) Stackhouse. Collected in Filey (Yorkshire. UK), August 1871. MG0079 in the Margaret Gatty herbarium, STA.

Detail of: Chorda filum (Linnaeus) Stackhouse. Collected in Filey (Yorkshire.
UK), August 1871. MG0079 in the Margaret Gatty herbarium, STA.

Margaret Gatty (1809-1873) started collecting seaweeds in 1848 when she spent some months convalescing at Hastings. She built up a large herbarium of her own collections, supplemented by local and foreign specimens sent to her by phycologists such as William Henry Harvey, Catherine Cutler and Jacob Georg Agardh. Margaret Gatty and her daughter Horatia carefully organized the herbarium in albums, following Harvey’s taxonomical insights. In 1863, Margaret Gatty published a two-volume book on British seaweeds.

The bulk of Margaret Gatty’s herbarium was donated to the Gatty Marine Laboratory in St Andrews in April 1907, by her daughter Horatia Eden. The collection was initially kept at the Gatty Marine Laboratory, which was named after its benefactor Charles Henry Gatty (1836-1903), a distant cousin of Margaret Gatty’s husband, the reverend Alfred Gatty. The collection was later incorporated in the St Andrews University Herbarium (STA) and moved to the Department of Botany. The STA collections are currently housed at the St Andrews Botanic Garden.

Detail of: Bellotia eriophorum Harvey. Collected by F. von Mueller, Phillip Island (Australia). MG0053 in the Margaret Gatty herbarium, STA.

Detail of: Bellotia eriophorum Harvey. Collected by F. von Mueller, Phillip
Island (Australia). MG0053 in the Margaret Gatty herbarium, STA.

Margaret Gatty’s herbarium was curated by Dr Helen Blackler (1902-1981), who started working in St Andrews in 1947. Dr Blackler published several short notes regarding the collection, but a comprehensive description of the whole collection was never made. My assessment of the collection started by locating and counting specimens and plates in the Margaret Gatty herbarium, which were retrieved from many different shelves and cabinets in the St Andrews Herbarium.

More than 8,825 specimens and 500 plates belonging to the Margaret Gatty herbarium have now been found in STA. Some 4,250 specimens in the collection are still mounted in the original albums, approximately 2,975 specimens were kept in folders or in unsorted stacks or packages. Around 1,600 specimens were taken out of the original albums and were mounted by Dr Blackler on herbarium sheets.

The collection shows a great deal of variation: some specimens are very nicely preserved, other specimens are in poor condition. Some specimens specify the collector, taxon name, collection date and location, whereas other specimens have no associated data at all. In her notes, Dr Blackler suggested that at least 500 specimens in the collection should be designated as type material. Although the full taxonomic scope of the collection has not yet been assessed, it is apparent that the collection contains several type specimens.

Following the retrieval and assessment of specimens, the STA collections were reorganised to allow the specimens in the Margaret Gatty herbarium to be stored together. Further curation is ongoing and includes numbering and databasing of selected specimens.

Detailed results of my findings will be described in a forthcoming paper in NatSCA News. I would like to thank NatSCA for providing this fantastic opportunity to promote and safeguard a very interesting and important historical collection.

Dr Heleen Plaisier, St Andrews University (Visiting Scholar, School of Biology)

Margaret Gatty’s algal herbarium in St Andrews

In February 2013, NatSCA kindly granted me the Bill Pettit Memorial Award in order to assess and describe the algal herbarium of Margaret Gatty in the St Andrews University Herbarium.

Detail of: Chorda filum (Linnaeus) Stackhouse. Collected in Filey (Yorkshire. UK), August 1871. MG0079 in the Margaret Gatty herbarium, STA.

Detail of: Chorda filum (Linnaeus) Stackhouse. Collected in Filey (Yorkshire.
UK), August 1871. MG0079 in the Margaret Gatty herbarium, STA.

Margaret Gatty (1809-1873) started collecting seaweeds in 1848 when she spent some months convalescing at Hastings. She built up a large herbarium of her own collections, supplemented by local and foreign specimens sent to her by phycologists such as William Henry Harvey, Catherine Cutler and Jacob Georg Agardh. Margaret Gatty and her daughter Horatia carefully organized the herbarium in albums, following Harvey’s taxonomical insights. In 1863, Margaret Gatty published a two-volume book on British seaweeds.

The bulk of Margaret Gatty’s herbarium was donated to the Gatty Marine Laboratory in St Andrews in April 1907, by her daughter Horatia Eden. The collection was initially kept at the Gatty Marine Laboratory, which was named after its benefactor Charles Henry Gatty (1836-1903), a distant cousin of Margaret Gatty’s husband, the reverend Alfred Gatty. The collection was later incorporated in the St Andrews University Herbarium (STA) and moved to the Department of Botany. The STA collections are currently housed at the St Andrews Botanic Garden.

Detail of: Bellotia eriophorum Harvey. Collected by F. von Mueller, Phillip Island (Australia). MG0053 in the Margaret Gatty herbarium, STA.

Detail of: Bellotia eriophorum Harvey. Collected by F. von Mueller, Phillip
Island (Australia). MG0053 in the Margaret Gatty herbarium, STA.

Margaret Gatty’s herbarium was curated by Dr Helen Blackler (1902-1981), who started working in St Andrews in 1947. Dr Blackler published several short notes regarding the collection, but a comprehensive description of the whole collection was never made. My assessment of the collection started by locating and counting specimens and plates in the Margaret Gatty herbarium, which were retrieved from many different shelves and cabinets in the St Andrews Herbarium.

More than 8,825 specimens and 500 plates belonging to the Margaret Gatty herbarium have now been found in STA. Some 4,250 specimens in the collection are still mounted in the original albums, approximately 2,975 specimens were kept in folders or in unsorted stacks or packages. Around 1,600 specimens were taken out of the original albums and were mounted by Dr Blackler on herbarium sheets.

The collection shows a great deal of variation: some specimens are very nicely preserved, other specimens are in poor condition. Some specimens specify the collector, taxon name, collection date and location, whereas other specimens have no associated data at all. In her notes, Dr Blackler suggested that at least 500 specimens in the collection should be designated as type material. Although the full taxonomic scope of the collection has not yet been assessed, it is apparent that the collection contains several type specimens.

Following the retrieval and assessment of specimens, the STA collections were reorganised to allow the specimens in the Margaret Gatty herbarium to be stored together. Further curation is ongoing and includes numbering and databasing of selected specimens.

Detailed results of my findings will be described in a forthcoming paper in NatSCA News. I would like to thank NatSCA for providing this fantastic opportunity to promote and safeguard a very interesting and important historical collection.

Dr Heleen Plaisier, St Andrews University (Visiting Scholar, School of Biology)