The Big Cone Pine, or “Widow-maker” tree

web-pine-cone-c-museums-worcestershireThe Coulter pine or Big Cone Pine (Pinus Coulteri) is a tree native to the coastal mountains of Southern California & Northern Mexico. The species was discovered in 1832 and named after the Irish botanist Thomas Coulter. It is quite rare in the wild but it can be found in arboretums & parks even here in southern Britain.

The cone it produces is the heaviest of any pine, weighing up to 5kg (11Ibs) and covered with hook-like tips on the end of the scales. With this in mind, the tree is often referred to as the “widow-maker”! Foresters, grounds men and owners alike are advised to wear hard hats whilst working under them.

Our particular cone comes from the collection of H R Munro, a former forester of the Witley Court Estate who in 1948 donated his cones, wood samples & fungi to Worcester City Museum.

Garston Phillips

Porcelain Bird Sculptures inspired by Museum’s Collection

Boehm of Malvern was a company formed to manufacture fine bone china and porcelain, opened by Helen Boehm in 1971. Whilst visiting London, Helen Boehm had heard about the high quality of English porcelain and discovered the work of former workers at Royal Worcester Porcelain who had formed Cranleigh Art Ceramics.

A studio in Tanhouse Lane, Malvern was set up, amalgamating Edward Marshall Boehm of Trenton, based in New Jersey, USA, with Cranleigh Art Ceramics to form a new company which Helen would finance and manage the sales for.

Worldwide sales were quickly established, and many of the sculptures were inspired by flowers, birds and animals. Seeking inspiration for their designs, the model makers were regular visitors to Worcester City Art Gallery & Museum to study the taxidermy collection, and even borrowed specimens to take to their Malvern studio for examination.

This sculpture from the Worcester City museum collection depicts a pair of long-tailed tits perched among the spikey foliage of a gorse bush. It was originally listed as a 400 limited edition piece, but manufacturing costs were increasing and the company prizes quality over quantity, and therefore only completed 162 of these by 1976.

Garston Phillips

Secrets of the Museum Basement

2 spirit Jars containing a pig's head and a cat's paw

These two Spirit Jars were bought by Worcester Museum in the early 1900s from Edward Gerrard & Sons, a taxidermist and specialist in preparing animal skeletons for educational displays.

Gerrard was working at the British Museum in 1850 when he set up his business, which became a sizeable firm with an extremely diverse output, supplying schools with zoological specimens, as well as making educational anatomical models and even producing furniture made from animal feet, such as rhinoceros umbrella stands.

This hog’s head and cat’s paw would have been purchased to complement the specimens Worcester Museum already has in the Challenger Collection which were collected in the 19th century from some of the great ocean basins. They were on display for many years until the late 1950s.

The specimens were mounted on glass slides and preserved in surgical spirits, industrial methylated spirits or sometimes alcohol. These jars still contain the original spirit, which can dry out if the seals wear away. They have been injected with dyes to show up the veins, and are certainly not objects for the fainthearted.

There is more information about this fascinating business in Edward Gerrard and Sons, A Taxidermy Memoir.

If you would like to see objects such as these, look out for our behind-the-scenes tours on our events pages.

Supplied by Edward Gerrard & Sons, Natural History Studios, 61 College Place, London N.W., Naturalists & Taxidermists

The HMS Challenger Collection

web-hms-challenger-specimen-c-museums-worcestershireThe Challenger Collection is a range of important specimens collected in the 19th century from some of the great ocean basins. These were collected to investigate the physical and biological conditions of the seas.

HMS Challenger was a ship that set out from Portsmouth in December 1872, carrying naturalists, chemists and a vast amount of equipment in order to gather and process the specimens on board as they travelled. Before setting out the ship was altered to accommodate laboratories, drying facilities and chemical chambers in order for the scientists to conduct their work.

The scientists collected samples dredged from 360 stations, each station bearing a number to show the location. They also recorded depth, surface temperature and chemical composition of the sea water.

On the ships’ return, the specimens were handed over to the British Museum, who then distributed them to other museums around the country, in order for everyone to benefit from the information gathered. At Worcester Art Gallery and Museum we have around 23 of the specimens, some of whose locations are from the southern Indian Ocean and the Atlantic.

Recently, work has been conducted to bring the entire Challenger collection together online. An inventory was completed with images so that they are accessible to everyone who would like to see this wonderful collection in its entirety. You can view it here:
https://www.hmschallenger.net/home

 

Kerry Whitehouse

Behind the Scenes talks and tours 2017

garston-at-collections-centreIf you have enjoyed finding out more about our collections in storage and our curatorial expertise, you may be interested in booking onto some of our behind-the-scenes events. These take place at Worcester City Art Gallery & Museum and at the Museums Worcestershire Collections Centre. The full listing for 2017 can be found here.

The first talk, taking place on 7 February at Worcester City Art Gallery & Museum, will be a highlight of the year as Garston Phillips, curator since 1969 and a mine of knowledge, shares some of his best stories.

Worcester City Art Gallery & Museum is also the site for our series of lunchtime talks about the collection, which take place on the second Tuesday of each month (except January). A pdf download (400kb) of 2017 bite-sized talks can be found here.

We hope you will be able to join us to discover more about the work we do!

Malachite encrusted with azurite

web-malachite-and-azurite-c-museums-worcestershireWorcester City Museum has a large mineral collection which includes around 2,000 world-wide specimens, mostly collected in the 19th century. It is one of the finest geological collections in the Midlands and of great importance. The collection represents Worcestershire’s comprehensive range of local varied, interesting and in some cases, rare geology. Some minerals are of economic importance but others are just beautiful objects due to their crystal form, shape or colour.
Here is one of the collection’s brilliantly colourful ‘treasures’ of bright green malachite encrusted with crystals of dark blue azurite. Both are carbonates of copper and are usually found in the oxidation zone of copper deposits. They were originally used as a copper ore before their ornamental values were discovered. Malachite was first used as a pigment during the Bronze Age in Egypt and is also a popular polished decorative stone due to its beautiful banding patterns. Azurite was important in the ancient East as a blue pigment in mural paintings and today remains important in paint production.

Rosemary Roden Bsc, Honorary Curator of Geology

A Partridge and a Pear Tree

web Partridge and Pear Tree (c) Museums WorcestershireAs Christmas approaches traditional songs & carols will echo throughout the land, none more than “On the first day of Christmas my true love sent to me…” finishing with the chorus ending of “…and a partridge in a pear tree.”

Worcester City Museum has long been noted for its rich and varied natural history collection. From its early days of the 1830s right up to the present it has amassed thousands of specimens.

Here we have the Grey or Common Partridge, a rapidly declining native game bird. Like the other counties of England, Worcestershire has seen their numbers rapidly decrease in the last 50 years or so. This late 19th century specimen comes from the collection of Robert Fisher Tomes of South Littleton and is just one of many that have a South Worcestershire provenance.

The timber sample of a pear came to us from H. Munro, a forester on the Witley Court estate. The pear is symbolic to Worcestershire not only appearing on the county and city crest, the famous Worcester Black Pear tree, but also in the cultivation of Perry pears and the dessert varieties we find on our table today.

Garston D. Phillips

Herbarium

One of the oldest and largest collections that Museums Worcestershire has is the Herbarium. These are plant specimens that have been dried and mounted on sheets straight after they had been collected.

The majority of the specimens are British, with a large amount collected from Worcestershire and the surrounding counties.

As a collections assistant, I have been working on a project to get a section of the collection out of their potentially damaging environment, into a better contained shelving rack which will keep them clean and better preserved. Specimens collected by Mr Mathews and Mr Towndrow in the 19th century, which were originally kept at Malvern Museum, have been contained within three wooden shelving cupboards which are no longer acceptable in order to keep them clean and in good condition.

Funding from the Arts Council England PRISM fund enabled us to purchase two custom built metal shelving cupboards with vents to house these collections. The process has been lengthy. They were first of all checked for pest activity and keeping them in their bundles, placed in the freezer. After two weeks, the bundle was taken out and set aside on a shelf in the store to acclimatise and relax. The specimens were then photographed and entered into an inventory. The specimens were kept in their bundles and then wrapped in acid free tissue, given a new bundle number and placed on a shelf in the new cabinets.

Each shelf has a number which is also entered into the inventory. This gives us a good location reference for each specimen, should we need to pull out any for exhibitions, talks or research.

As I was working on these specimens, it made me think of the people going out collecting them. What was the weather like? How did they travel to these places as the car hadn’t yet been invented? Some of the locations were miles away.

Some of the specimens had stamps on them from botanical exchange clubs. Rather like swapping cards at school of your favourite superhero, these collectors were swapping specimens. It makes sense as the rare specimen you wanted in your collection might only grow in certain locales or habitats. We even have a specimen of lichen from one the stones at Stonehenge!

The project has been fascinating and allowed me to handle and examine a very unique and fragile collection that normally isn’t on display.

Kerry Whitehouse
Registrar – Museums Worcestershire

Insect collection: Blaps and Sphodrus

Beetle specimens categorised and pinned in rows

David Green has been working with the Worcester City museum collection of beetles. David gives some background information about the collection and the nineteenth century and early twentieth century collectors who compiled it in his previous ResearchWorcestershire post.

In this post, he looks specifically at Blaps mucronata Latreille, 1804 (Coleoptera: Tenebrionidae) and Sphodrus leucophthalmus (Linnaeus, 1758) (Coleoptera: Carabidae) in the Coleoptera collection of Worcester City Museum. These beetles were traditionally found in cellars, but are now much less common because of the changing use of these spaces. Other researchers have suggested that  Sphodrus leucophthalmus might now be extinct in Britain, making the Worcester collection particularly interesting as historical evidence.

Beetle specimens categorised and pinned in rows

top left three: Sphodrus leucophthalmus (all the specimens in the Worcester Museum collection)

remainder: Blaps mucronata from the Worcester Museum collection

 

Insect specimen labels
All specimen labels – layout same as specimens. Bloom’s specimens have no provanence data, the label records the purchase of his specimens by the museum. Fletcher’s specimens possess a data label in his handwriting, as is the case with virtually all Fletchers insect specimens in the museum & there is usually no other label. (But when Fletcher received the specimen from another entomologist the provenance on Fletcher’s label is usually only the name & provenance of the entomologist, not the specimen itself.)

 

A recent record of Blaps mucronata Latreille, 1804 (Coleoptera: Tenebrionidae) in Kemerton and a review of Worcestershire records (Green & Poloni 2015) makes it relevant to review records I have compiled for the species from specimens in Worcester City Museum Coleoptera collection. Also I include the records of Sphodrus leucophthalmus (Linnaeus, 1758) (Coleoptera: Carabidae) which shares the same synanthropic habitat such as cellars. Picture 1 shows all the specimens of both species in the museum. The following table lists records.

Species Num Collection Provenance
Blaps mucronata 1 Fletcher Indoors, Worcester 1883-July
Blaps mucronata 1 Fletcher Indoors, Worcester 1885-August-28
Blaps mucronata 2 Fletcher In cellar, Worcester 1856-July
Blaps mucronata 1 Fletcher Skin[?] …, Worcester 1893-July-20
Blaps mucronata 3 Bloom. Purchd from Bloom Collection 1909 (no provanance otherwise)
Sphodrus leucophthalmus 3 Fletcher In cellar, Worcester, by Alfred Burrow 1857

Key to table:

  • Num: number of specimens
  • Collection: The collection from which specimen originated; these are combined mostly into one cabinet in the museum.
Both species are now generally known to have declined with the reduction of synanthropic habitat in cellars, stores and mills. Of Sphodrus leucophthalmus Duff 2012 states: no British records since 1979, and, “in cellars and stores, usually in urban areas, apparently preying on larvae of Blaps spp”.
Worcester’s collector John E Fletcher’s Blaps mucronata records of “indoors” suggests the species was common in 19th century Worcester when there were more dark/damp places with more cereals and vegetable matter available for food indoors and protective containment of such food only partial. The Green & Poloni (2015) list of Blaps mucronata records for Worcestershire indicates it is now found occasionally in villages.
It seems possible Sphodrus leucophthalmus might be extinct in Britain so it would be relevant to look for it particularly where Blaps mucronata is found and to avoid use use of insecticides on synanthropic insects generally especially in dark/damp places indoors.

David M. Green

David M. Green is an entomologist who has been identifying/cataloguing & doing some basic curation of the Museum collections of Coleoptera & Diptera for some years & has a background in wildlife invertebrate survey.

Acknowledgements

To curators Garston Philips, Deborah Fox, and other staff, my thanks for providing access to the Worcester City Museum insect collection for long term work and recent photography.
To Harry Green, for information/article in prep. (Green & Poloni 2015) that caused the writing of this article.

References

  • Duff, Andrew G. 2012 Beetles of Britain and Ireland Vol 1: Sphaeriusidae to Silphidae: p199. West Runton, Norfolk: A.G. Duff
  • Green, Harry & Poloni, Jake 2015. Cellar Beetle Blaps mucronata at Kemerton, Worcestershire 2015. Worcester Record 39:20-23