You may recall that this past spring I went over to Europe to visit natural history collections. Most of the specimens in these museums can be referred to as “historical”, which is the polite way to say “old as the hills”. Numerous specimens that I examined were over 100 years old. Special care needs be taken when handling these specimens and they come with their own suite of potential problems. The most problematic specimens that I encountered were from the museum in Paris. Not so much with how these specimens were preserved (thought that had something to do with it), but who worked on these. A man named Maurice Pic, whose collection consists of boxes upon boxes upon boxes of what is pictured above. In other words – a taxonomist’s nightmare. I spent two weeks sorting through these boxes. I could spend another two and still not be done. See all those red labels in the picture? Remember my discussion of type specimens? Those red labels are type labels – so these specimens, old as they may be, are important!
Working with historical specimens can definitely be a challenge, but it’s also rewarding and exciting. There is something really special about examining a specimen that was preserved such a long time ago. Just thinking about everything in our world that has happened during the duration of that specimen’s existence is mind-boggling. So, though they do come with their fair share of issues, I wouldn’t give up my historical specimens and the special place they have in my research.
Also, these historical specimens brought me over to Europe and I was able to experience some amazing cities. I can’t complain about that.