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Library and Information Services

Louis Agassiz's Fossil Fish

Egerton collection    Specimens from the collection of Philip de Malpas Grey Egerton, by Joseph Dinkel, [1835-1850s]. (LDGSL/616-folio 6, 97)

Recently, the Library & Archives of the Geological Society of London has been fundraising to conserve and digitise one of its most important collections – the fossil fish portfolio of the Swiss naturalist Louis Agassiz (1807–1873).

Louis AgassizAgassiz is probably better known today for his studies of glaciation. However, his first great passion was the study of fish (ichthyology) which had developed whilst he was at university, ostensibly studying for a medical degree. Even before graduating in 1829 at the age of 22, he had authored or co-authored two publications on the subject and it was whilst researching for his next work, this time on the freshwater fish of Europe, that he became fascinated by their fossilised forms.

The Society’s collection of watercolours and drawings of fossil fish specimens was drawn from the palaeontological collections around Europe mainly between the 1830s-1850s. Most of this artwork, commissioned by Agassiz, was to form the basis of the full colour lithographic plates which illustrated his five volume Recherches sur les Poissons Fossiles (1833–1843) and its follow up work Monographie des Poissons Fossiles du Vieux Grès Rouge (1844–1845).

Before Agassiz, limited research had been undertaken in the field of fossil fish but the publication of these works gained Agassiz international recognition as the leading figure on the subject. Indeed, he is still often referred to as the ‘father of palaeoichthylogy’.    

This exhibition is an opportunity to see more of the images which can be found in the collection, including some rather unusual items.  Click on each thumbnail to find out more.

 GSL Museum specimen  
Eurynotus tenuiceps Agassiz
 Lepidotus fittoni  
Lepidotus fittoni Agassiz
 D'Omalius scale  
Pencil rubbing of a scale
 Holoptychius rugosus  
Holoptychius rugosus Agassiz
 Cephalaspis Lyelli thumb  
Cephalaspis Lyelli
 Miss Robertson tooth  
Drawing of a tooth
 Stagonolepis robertsoni  
Stagonolepis robertsoni Agassiz

If you would like to help the Library & Archives conserve and digitise this valuable collection, or for further information about the fundraising appeal, please visit www.geolsoc.org.uk/sponsorafish