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Tetragonolepsis angulifer Agassiz. Watercolour by Joseph Dinkel, 1834 Taken from Richard Weaver’s Museum of Natural History, Birmingham.

Image: Tetragonolepsis angulifer Agassiz. Watercolour by Joseph Dinkel, 1834. Taken from Richard Weaver’s Museum of Natural History, Birmingham. The fossil was reported as being found by John Greaves in his stone quarry in Wilmerts, near Stratford upon Avon, c.1830: ‘Upon splitting the stone which was 19 inches long, 11 inches broad, and about four inches thick, almost the whole of the fish was attached to one side of it...upon the other side of the stone is an exact impression, with the fins and a few of the scales only attached; the colour of the fossil is dark brown, and glossy; the scales are very perfect, and but slightly attached to the body.’ (Magazine of Natural History, vol 5, 1832).

The Library launches a project to conserve and digitise one of the most important collections housed the Geological Society’s Archive, write Caroline Lam and Michael McKimm.

Geoscientist 21.07 August 2011

The fossil fish portfolio of Louis Agassiz (1807-1873), comprising nearly 2,000 watercolours and drawings dating from the 1830s-1860s, were copied from private and public collections around Europe, principally by the German artist Joseph Dinkel.

Born in Môtier, Switzerland, Agassiz studied medicine at the Universities of Zurich, Heidelberg and Munich, during which he developed an interest in zoology, particularly of European freshwater fishes. His research for a natural history of European freshwater fishes, comparing the fossil forms from Oeningen and Glarus (Switzerland) and Solnhofen (Bavaria) sparked a life-long fascination with fossil ichthyology.

Finding the existing classification scheme inadequate, Agassiz developed his own (now superseded) scheme based on the scales and dermal appendages. The five volume Recherches sur les Poissons Fossiles, lavishly illustrated with 400 lithographic plates of fish, was issued from 1833-1843 and gained Agassiz international recognition as the leading figure in fossil ichthyology. In 1836 the Society awarded him its Wollaston Medal.


In order to fund his research and the expensive colour printing, Agassiz accepted help from various friends and scientific figures of the time. Lord Francis Egerton, later 1st Earl of Ellesmere, purchased 1200 drawings and paintings directly from Agassiz, primarily to provide him with funds to continue his work. Egerton donated these drawings to the Society in 1843. The second donation to Society came from Agassiz himself. In 1858 he gave the 568 sheets of drawings and paintings still in his possession, most of which were unpublished. A final donation in 1876 came from the Earl of Enniskillen, and includes images from Agassiz’s follow-up work Monographie sur les Poissons Fossiles du Vieux Grès Rouge (1844-1845).

For many years the drawings were kept in a trunk in the Museum and later in different places around the Society. We would now like to make them accessible to future generations of researchers by conserving and digitising the entire collection.

If you would like to help the library in this project, a small contribution of £20 would be enough to clean, conserve and digitise one fish. The names of all sponsors will be included in a roll of honour in the Archive, and on our website.
  • To Sponsor a Fish please send a cheque made out to ‘The Geological Society’ or call 020 7432 0999 to pay by card.
  • To read more about Sponsor a Fish on this website, explore the Library's Archive pages.