Spencer Baird and Ichthyology at the Smithsonian
Charles Frederic Girard (1822-1895)
Fishes. In: U.S. War Department, Reports of explorations and surveys, to ascertain the most practicable and economical route for a railroad from the Mississippi River to the Pacific Ocean, v. 10, part 4 (Washington, 1858).
Ichthyology of the Boundary. In: William H. Emory, Report on the United States and Mexican Boundary Survey, v.2, part 2 (Washington, 1859).
Both the Fishes (1858) and Ichthyology of the Boundary (1859) are considered among the most important works Charles Girard published. In the early 1850s, the vast numbers of natural history specimens collected by various surveying teams began arriving at the Smithsonian. Spencer Baird had instructed the collectors to tag carefully each specimen, indicating the location and date of the specimen and the name of the collector. As the Smithsonian staff received the shipments, they sorted and stored the specimens in a more stable environment, while noting what appeared to be new or unusual species. In 1853 and 1854, Baird and Girard presented two papers on the new species of fishes collected on the U.S. and Mexican Boundary Survey before the Academy of Sciences in Philadelphia. In 1856, Girard published a longer paper on the cyprinoid fishes (minnows and suckers) collected mostly during the Pacific Railroad Surveys in the Academy's Proceedings. However, complete accounts of the fishes from these surveys did not become available until the official reports were issued.
Ichthyology of the Boundary (1859) includes a description of fishes obtained by the collectors of the U.S. and Mexican Boundary Survey (1848-1855). It is found in the third volume (or volume 2, part 2) of William H. Emory's Report on the United States and Mexican Boundary Survey (Washington, 1857-1859). The 85-page monograph, with 41 plates, is arranged according to families, genera, and species. The description of each species includes physical characteristics as well as a list of specimens. For example, a sucker fish named Moxostoma kennerlii Grd. was collected by Dr. C.B. Kennerly at Dry Creek, near Victoria, Texas, in 1854 while working under the command of Major Emory (pages 34-35). The lot of 7 specimens was assigned catalog number 161, and the species is illustrated at the top of Plate 20. All of this specific information about specimens is given in a tabular format, and this was an innovation introduced by Spencer Baird. (USNM 161 is still a part of Smithsonian's Fish Collection.)
Girard's Fishes (1858) is an account of the fishes collected during the Pacific Railroad Surveys (1853-1855). There were six different parties exploring different routes, and the reports by the commanders of each party make up the 12-volume set, Reports of Explorations and Surveys, published by the War Department between 1855 and 1860. Girard's Fishes, a 400-page monograph, is found in volume 10, and follows a similar format to that of the Ichthyology of the Boundary. Each specimen is identified with respect to locality, date, name of the commanding officer and collector, and assigned a catalog number. Girard also wrote shorter accounts of the fishes obtained by individual surveying teams (e.g. A.W. Whipple or R.S. Williamson expeditions), which are found in volume 10 as well. However, Fishes incorporates these shorter reports, with expanded descriptions of all the fishes collected during the entire survey. Altogether 75 plates of fish illustrations were issued with Girard's various reports.
The engraved plates accompanying the texts of Fishes and Ichthyology of the Boundary are considered among the best scientific illustrations of the period. Spencer Baird, who was in charge of preparing the zoological reports of the government expeditions, hired the best artists available and made sure that the plates were prepared and printed with great care. Even before he joined the Smithsonian in 1850, Baird had developed a keen interest in scientific illustrations. He had worked with John James Audubon in New York, and translated and edited Johann Georg Heck's Iconographic Encyclopaedia of Science, Literature, and Art (1851), with 500 steel plates. For the preparation of illustrations of the expedition reports, Baird hired John H. Richard, an artist, lithographer and engraver. Born in Germany around 1807, Richard had made a reputation as an engraver in Philadelphia, and in 1843 had produced the first lithotint in collaboration with P.S. Duval. Between 1852 and 1855, he was engaged by the Smithsonian to prepare the drawings of zoological specimens. Richard produced all of the fish illustrations appearing in Fishes and Ichthyology of the Boundary. The engraved plates of the latter work are hand colored, very likely by Richard himself. As for the Fishes, copies with handcolored plates exist, but considering that the press run for the reports of the Pacific Railroad Surveys was very large (estimated 21,000 copies of each volume), many plates remained uncolored.
Both Fishes and Ichthyology of the Boundary are available in digital format. They have been digitized by the University of Michigan as part of the Making of America project, a major collaborative effort to preserve historical texts. They are accessible through the Travel and Westward Expansion section of the Nineteenth Century in Print, a part of the American Memory program of the Library of Congress. (See Related Web Sites.)
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