Skip navigation

Library & Archives

2 Posts tagged with the 3d_ephemera tag
0

By Sarah Sworder (Information Assistant)

 

The story behind Lithographiae Wirceburgensis and its accompanying objects is both comical and tragic.

 

Beringer blog 004.jpgBeringer blog 005.jpg

Johann Beringer (1667-1740) was a physician and Dean of the Faculty of Medicine at the University of Wurzberg, Germany. He also collected natural curiosities and had a keen interest in the origins of fossils. Beringer was a victim of a calculated hoax designed to discredit him. The hoaxers succeeded in damaging not only Beringer’s reputation but also managed to destroy their own. Beringer employed three students to hunt for curiosities on his behalf. It was from Christian Zanger and brothers Niklaus and Valentin Hehn that Beringer came to acquire these ‘fake fossils’.

The hoaxers were two colleagues of Beringer: J. Ignats Roderick, a professor of geography and algebra at the University of Wurzburg, and the Honorouble Georg Von Eckhart, privy councillor and librarian to the Bishop’s Court and University. The reason Roderick and Eckhart devised the scheme was because Beringer was ‘so arrogant and despised them all’. It was via Beringer’s students that Roderick and Eckhart would ensure the safe delivery of the stones. Some of the fossils, carved out of limestone, were found by the Hehn brothers on Mount Eibelstadt, whilst others were given directly to Beringer by Zanger. Zanger had acquired these straight from Roderick who had carved them and then paid Zanger to polish them.

 

Beringer ‘wholly, publicly committed himself to the belief that fossils were merely the capricious fabrications of God, hidden in the earth by Him for some inscrutable purpose’, and as a result of this belief he went on to publish his book Lithographiae Wirceburgensis (1726).  Prior to the publication of the book the perpetrators of the hoax began to feel guilty, and attempted to sabotage the book’s publication by circulating rumours that the stones were fraudulent. Beringer dismissed these claims as he believed that Roderick and Eckhart were trying to rob him of his great discovery.

 

When you look at the fossils it is difficult to see how Beringer was so easily duped. The figures are of bizarre lizards, spiders with webs, even shooting stars and smiling amphibians. These were things that just do not seem possible to form so perfectly as fossils. Please see the photograph below of the casts held in The Natural History Museum Library to judge for yourself.

 

                          Beringer blog 001.jpg

Shortly after the publication of his book, Beringer discovered another so called fossil with his name carved into it. It suddenly struck him that it was all a hoax and he tried to buy back as many copies of his book as he could find. Beringer took the hoaxers to court in an attempt to restore his ‘lost honour’. The court ruled that the hoaxers Roderick and Zanger were to be banished from Wurzberg, and Eckhart lost his post and privileges of access to the archives of the Duchy. The Hehn brothers were pardoned from having any knowledge of the hoax. Beringer continued in his role at the University of Wurzberg and even went on to publish further books which received academic accreditation.

 

However, Beringer was devastated by the humiliation the stones had brought him, and he died penniless after continuing to buy up as many copies of Lithographiae Wirceburgensis as he possibly could.

 

Some of Beringer’s ‘Lying Stones’, as they became to be known, still exist today, and are housed at the University Museum, Oxford, as well as in Wurzburg.

 

References and further reading

Jahn, Melvin (1970), 'Beringer, Johann Bartholomaeus Adam', Dictionary of Scientific Biography, 2, New York, pp 15-16.

Mallot, John M (1982), 'Dr Beringer's fossils: a study in the evolution of scientific world view', Annals of Science, 39, London, pp 371-380

Pain, Stephani (2004), 'Histories: Johann Beringer and the magic stones', New Scientist, 25 December 2004, pp 74-75

Taylor, Paul (2004), 'Beringer's iconoliths: Palaeontological fraud in the early 18th century', The Linnean. 20, pp 21-31

0

The Chalmers-Hunt Collection - Chasing after butterflies

A surprising and interesting collection for a library to hold - the Chalmers-Hunt Collection - is not, as is usual, a collection of books, but rather of objects. The objects in question number around 300 and relate to the art of insect collecting. This posting will take a look at the collection as a whole.

 

DSCF0769.JPG  DSCF2428.JPG


Though perhaps overlooked it is nevertheless one of the most unique and unusual Museum collections to be found in the UK and comprises of an eclectic mix of ephemera, with some items acting as the last surviving example of its kind. This collection was the focus of a library project to conserve, audit and transport these fragile items.

 

                                                 Revised Box 1.JPG                        


Items range from the practical and mass-produced to the more exotic, one-of-a-kind home-made instruments and equipment that were employed by natural historians from time to time. It clearly charts the development of insect collecting and the tools of the trade from the Victorian era to the early 20th Century. The idea to conserve these transient items for prosperity came from the eminent entomologist - John Michael Arthur Blake Chalmers-Hunt (1920-2004). J. Michael Chalmers-Hunt diligently collected these instruments over a long period of time before considering the NHM the proper repository for such a collection and kindly donated it to the Library.


This type of equipment was known in the early days of natural history collecting as the 'weapons of the chase'. This activity gained in popularity along with the thirst for knowledge of the animals and plants that help to make up our world. The instruments used to collect items and specimens developed and became more elaborate. The Victorian Age became known as the 'Golden Age of Natural History Collecting in Britain'. It was seen as not just a hobby but a quest for understanding. Natural History collecting on a large scale started to develop formally in the 17th Century - epitomised by the founding of the Royal Society in the 1660's. Superstitious beliefs began to be substituted for more objective, scientific ones and collecting for your own personal 'curiousity cabinet' became something of a fashion.

 

DSCF0863.JPG70.JPG


With a seemingly endless mixture of materials and sizes the collection is made up of such items as nets, pins, collecting boxes, rearing cages, lamps, preservation instruments, measurers, setting boards, magnifiers and so on. These items are a great example of how insect collecting was achieved a hundred or more years ago; an age where amateur-expert entomologists roamed the countryside, readily equipped with home-made nets and personalised boxes to catch and study their mini beast of choice.

 

There are more images of this collection available via the Picture Library.

References and further reading

Chalmers-Hunt, J. M. (J. Michael)., 1994. Entomological bygones or historical entomological collecting equipment and associated memorabilia. Archives of Natural History, 21(3), pp.357-378.

Salmon, Michael A., 2000. The Aurelian legacy: British butterflies and their collectors. Colchester: Harley Books.