Vol. 5 of
The naturalist Alfred Russel Wallace (1823–1913) travelled through the Malay Archipelago for eight years, between 1854 and 1862 (van Wyhe 2013). As he stated, his ‘main object of all my journeys was to obtain specimens of natural history, both for my private collection and to supply duplicates to museums and amateurs' (Wallace 1869, I: xii). Before setting out, he had made an arrangement with Samuel Stevens (1817–99), who had a shop for natural history objects at 24 Bloomsbury Street, London. Wallace would send all of his material to Stevens, who would store those items intended for Wallace's private collection and endeavour to sell the remaining specimens (Baker 2001).
Although Stevens must have sent out lists of new stock to various collectors, both at home and abroad, knowledge of how much he could charge for specimens of various degrees of rarity or beauty is poor. In fact, it seems that very few of his price lists have survived (one listing insects in Berlin was mentioned by Baker 2001: 256). We have located one interesting printed example, issued just over a year after Wallace's return from the East, which was widely available at the time but appears to have disappeared from the record.
Advertising in The Ibis
In January 1859, the first issue of a new magazine of general ornithology, The Ibis, appeared under the editorship of Philip Lutley Sclater (1829–1913), ornithologist and, from 1860, Secretary of the Zoological Society of London. The new journal was quarterly and soon established itself as the major British publication for ornithological research.
The Ibis vol. 4 (1862) contained two undated inserts styled ‘The Naturalist's Advertiser' No. I and No. II. These offered ‘a medium whereby Dealers and others having Objects, Apparatus, or Books relating to this Science, to dispose of, may make the same specially known among the class of persons where they are most likely to find purchasers.' Booksellers paid a small amount to the publishers Trübner & Co. in London. Both known issues of the Advertiser had four pages and advertised only zoological books. Strangely, there is no name or address of a bookseller where these copies could be obtained.
The existence of The Naturalist's Advertiser shows that The Ibis offered the possibility to sellers of natural history books and objects to list their stock. Although the original concept seems to have been discontinued, apparently Stevens took advantage of the possibility, because in vol. 5 of The Ibis (1863) were four loose inserts: (1) ‘List of birds from the Eastern Islands of the Malay Archipelago, for sale at the annexed prices', pp. 1–4; (2) ‘List of duplicates from Mr. Swinhoe's collection of Chinese birds', pp. 1–2; (3) ‘List of duplicates from Mr. Swinhoe's collection of Formosan birds', pp. 1–2; (4) ‘List of M. Du Chaillu's collection of bird-skins from Africa', pp. 1–2. Only the last of these is dated, April 1863. Therefore these inserts were mailed either with the January (vol. 5, no. 17) or, more likely, the April 1863 (no. 18) issue of The Ibis.
As these were loose inserts advertising specimens, they were rarely preserved. Institutional copies which were bound appear to have removed them as a matter of course. The copies of the 5th volume of The Ibis on major online platforms like the Biodiversity Heritage Library, Archive or Google Books no longer contain the inserts, which therefore seem now to be incredibly rare. No copies were individually catalogued in any library as far as we have been able to ascertain.
The only copy of these inserts known to us is in one of the sets of The Ibis at the Bayerische Staatsbibliothek, Munich (physical copies at signature Zool. 266 m-5) and available online—see Stevens (1863)—in References.
The list of birds from the eastern islands of the Malay Archipelago
As shown in Fig. 1, the document starts with a title and introduction, followed by lists of species by locality. Within the locality, each species or specimen has a number, a scientific name with authority, and a price, printed across two columns. The final page ends with the printer's details: McGowan and Danks, Great Windmill Street, Haymarket.
In our transcription in Table 1, the localities, numbering, species names and prices are provided exactly as in the original, with all punctuation, in the subheadings (in bold) and three left-hand columns (no., species, price). The last column in the table provides the best fit for current scientific and vernacular name, following nomenclature in the latest version of the Handbook of the birds of the world Alive (del Hoyo et al. 2018)
The ‘List of birds from the eastern islands' was subdivided into eight geographic sections. The species in each section are numbered consecutively (Table 2). In three cases different specimens of the same species are listed individually. In one case, one number relates to a pair (possibly mounted together). Hence Stevens had a stock of at least 246 specimens.
The prices charged by Stevens ranged from three to 240 shillings each, or an average of c.11 shillings per specimen (Table 3). Note that ‘to purchasers of above £25 value, 10 per cent. discount will be allowed' (Stevens 1863, see Fig. 1). The most expensive items were a Black Lory Chalcopsitta atra (25 shillings), Sula Hanging-parrot Loriculus sclateri (30 shillings), Buru Green-pigeon Treron aromaticus (30 shillings), Yellow-and-green Lorikeet Trichoglossus flavoviridis (40 shillings), Ivory-breasted Pitta Pitta maxima (40 shillings), Golden Myna Mino anais (40 shillings), New Guinea Bronzewing Henicophaps albifrons (40 shillings), Standardwing Bird-of-paradise Semioptera wallacei (200 shillings per pair) and a fine Twelve-wired Bird-of-paradise Seleucidis alba (240 shillings). The most expensive specimen, the Twelve-wired Bird-of-paradise, was certainly rare, although the British Museum subsequently received five specimens collected by Wallace in New Guinea (Sharpe 1877: 160). If all stock had been sold at the undiscounted price, the revenue would have been £137 and 13 shillings.
Birds listed in the advert of Wallace's specimens by Stevens (1863), showing the precise original transcription on the left and current probable identification of the species on the right.
Total number of species in each section of the ‘List of birds from the eastern islands'.
Prices as listed for Wallace's bird specimens. The total amount would be the income if all were sold, without discount.
This list with prices for individual species is remarkable, as so few other examples are known. Wallace (1905: 360) was happy with the proceeds of the journey, which amounted to £300 for each of the eight years of travel. However, for another specimen of Semioptera wallacei, Stevens asked £20 in 1859 (Baker 2001: 257).
It is probable that this list contained all birds remaining in stock from Wallace's collecting expedition. It provides a welcome glimpse into the sale of natural history specimens in the 1860s.
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- Sharpe, R. B. 1877. Catalogue of the birds in the British Museum , vol. 3. Trustees of the Brit. Mus., London. Google Scholar
- Stevens, S.[1863.] List of birds from the eastern islands of the Malay Archipelago.Loose insert in some copies of Ibis 5(17 or 18). [Available at https://opacplus.bsb-muenchen.de/metaopac/singleHit.do?methodToCa ll=showHit&curPos=154&identifier=100_SOLR_SERVER_1608822777&showFulltextFirstHit=true] Google Scholar
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- Wallace, A. R. 1905. My life: a record of events and opinions , vol. 2. Chapman & Hall, London. Google Scholar
- van Wyhe, J. 2013. Dispelling the darkness: voyage in the Malay Archipelago and the discovery of evolution by Wallace and Darwin.World Scientific, Singapore. Google Scholar