Friday, 29 June 2012

A Boy's Museum –Part 1

Verrill was a great recycler, this material is likely repeated in the book Harper’s Book for Young Naturalists published in 1913./drf

A Boy's Museum –Part 1
From THE AMERICAN BOY magazine, February, 1910.
Digitized by Doug Frizzle, June 2012.

NEARLY every boy wishes to have a collection of some sort, and as so many boys have written me to ask how to collect, preserve, classify, and keep insects, birds' eggs, nests, or other objects, that for the present I am going to devote this department to telling you just how you should do all these things. If you are really interested in nature and popular science and wish to collect specimens with, the object of learning something, you will be interested in finding out more about it, but if you have collected a few odds and ends and have the idea of collecting merely as a fad, you will not care one way or the other, and the directions will be useless to you. As a rule, several boys can start a collection, and that is far better than one started by a single boy, for each usually has some special line in which he is interested or with which he is more or less familiar. The first step, therefore, is to talk to your friends and find out how many will join in making a systematic collection and in looking after it. Having selected the "directors" of your museum, you should find just what each boy is interested in. From these select one interested in birds, another in minerals, another in plants and trees, and another in insects, and if possible, others interested in reptiles, fishes and animals. Of course it is sometimes impossible to do this, for some boys may all be interested in the same subjects, but in such cases two or more departments may be assigned to one boy. The boys thus selected should be appointed "curators" of their respective departments, and should have full charge of the collections under their direction. Any specimens of one thing, found by a curator of another department, should be brought in and turned over to the proper curator. In this way much larger and more complete collections will be obtained than by each boy confining his attention to one subject; for it is a fact that while you are looking for plants you will find lots of objects you are not looking for, in the way of insects, minerals, etc., and the butterfly-hunter will no doubt run against many interesting plants, birds and reptiles. Before the collections are begun, however, some preparation for their preservation and exhibition should be made. Doubtless one or more of your directors will have a spare room or outbuilding which will do for a museum. This room should have all useless furniture and other material removed, and should be used solely as a museum and workroom. The workroom, or preparatory room, should be partitioned off and used in assorting, preparing and working up your collections. It should contain tables, chairs, shelves for books and specimens, tools, materials, unclassified specimen boxes, and all other material used in making and preparing the collections.
For the museum proper you must make and put up shelves, or cases, or both. Cases with glass doors are the best, and you can probably manage to get at least a few by using a little ingenuity and trouble. Old window sash can be used for the fronts, or you can make your own doors and fit glass to them. If you cannot manage to make real wall cases, you can at least make boxes to fit the shelves, and put single glass covers to these for your rarer and more fragile specimens. Minerals, woods, stuffed birds and animals, and alcoholic specimens do not require cases, but may be placed on open shelves. Fit the shelves to all portions of the room around the sides and, if large enough, additional cases or shelves may be placed in the centre of the room on a bench or table. One lot of shelves or cases should be reserved for each department, and each of these plainly and neatly labeled with the class of specimens intended for it. Thus label one lot VERTEBRATE ANIMALS, another INVERTEBRATES, another INSECTS, a fourth MINERALS, a fifth BOTANICAL SPECIMENS, and another BIRDS AND BIRDS' NESTS. Under each label print the name of the curator and a list of the divisions of each group under his direction. For example, under INVERTEBRATES the name of the curator should be placed, and below this a list of the divisions represented in the collection (if complete), as "Mollusca," "Worms," "Crustaceans," "Sponges," etc. Leave a blank space to be filled in, as additional divisions are collected and added to the collection. In addition to these large labels there should be individual labels for each specimen. If one of the boys owns a printing press or typewriter, these may be made small and neat. They should be printed in plain, clear type, and should be arranged as follows:
* Common Name ................... *
* Scientific Name................... *
* Locality ......................... *
* No............. Sex.............. *
* Donor ........................... *
Each curator should be provided with a blank book, in which the name, number, sex, locality, and name of donor (person giving or collecting the specimen) should be written as soon as the specimen is obtained, also the date on which it was received or obtained, and any remarks in regard to its habits, colors in life, etc. The sex should be designated by the marks for male and * for female. Each curator should keep a separate set of numbers for his own department, and it will then be very easy to keep track of your collections and look up any interesting points in regard to them. Moreover, each specimen should be marked with a small number corresponding to that in the books, so that in case of loss of labels the specimen may be identified and relabeled. These numbers should be as small as possible, and may be placed directly on the specimen, as in the case of woods and minerals, or written on the stand or pedestal, as in case of birds and mounted animals. Alcoholic specimens should have the number written on tough paper with lead pencil, and placed in the bottle with them.
Of course, before beginning your museum, you must make some preparations for taking care of the specimens. If any of the curators have already collected anything, they will no doubt be provided with instruments and materials for their own use, and these may be used in the interests of the museum. The insect curator should have nets, pins, collecting boxes, etc., and so with each of the other curators. Later I shall describe how to collect and preserve the specimens in each group separately, and will then give a detailed list of the really necessary articles required with a description of the use and the cost of each.
Very likely your school teachers may be interested in your museum, for such collections when property made are of great value and interest in school work, and if they take up the matter they can help you a great deal. You will also find that your boy and girl friends—as well as many grown-ups—will be interested in your museum, and will constantly bring in new and rare specimens as well as many duplicates. Such should always be kept and preserved, for although duplicates should not be exhibited they are always valuable in case of injury or loss of a specimen, and may often be exchanged for valuable things from other localities or even sold for good cash prices to collectors and dealers.
You may at first think that your museum shelves look bare and will be hard to fill, but you will be surprised to find how rapidly they will fill up, and that lack of space will be a greater problem than lack of specimens. No matter how poor a specimen may be, it should be kept and exhibited until a better one is secured, when it should be replaced. Aim to have every museum specimen as perfect as possible, however, and if old, preserved specimens of any sort are presented to your museum, be sure they are thoroughly cleaned and free from moths and similar pests before placing them among your other specimens. In fact your greatest difficulty will be in protecting your specimens from dirt and museum pests. Dust always seems to be thicker as soon as you have valuable specimens to look after, and moths and beetles seem to know by instinct when a collection is within their reach. To prevent moths as much as possible it is wise to paint or whitewash all the walls and shelves of your museum before placing anything within, and a thorough fumigation with sulphur is also wise. In addition, place moth-balls or napthaline-flakes on each shelf and in each case, for as long as your museum smells strongly of napthaline you are pretty safe. Moths always show their presence by little piles of dust, fur, or feathers, beneath the object they infest, and as soon as any such signs are seen, remove the specimen, dose it with benzine or naptha and dry in a closed box or chest. Never use sulphur in any form where specimens are, as it ruins the colors. Although you cannot collect very many things during the winter months, yet you may spend a great deal of time in preparing your museum, labels, and any specimens you have on hand, while the cold weather is just the time to collect specimens of woods and minerals which later on would be neglected, owing to the more attractive things among the birds, plants, and insects.
The Wood Collection
A complete collection of the native woods of your locality is always interesting and valuable, as well as instructive. Few of us stop to realize the variety of native woods growing in our neighborhood and fewer still are able to recognize many of our commonest woods when we see them. Not many of us know the differences of the various tree-barks or how the grain runs in the natural trunk. Wood collections are the easiest to make, and during the winter evenings all the curators and your friends can busy themselves in preparing, classifying, and labeling the specimens. Before collecting woods you should be absolutely sure that you know the trees from which the specimen is to be taken. If in any doubt, look for old leaves clinging to the branches, for fallen leaves beneath, or for the fruit, nut, or berry the tree bears. If after due care you are still doubtful of your tree, ask some lumberman or farmer. Although the best specimens are obtained from live trees, old wood-piles often contain splendid specimens and, usually, the farmer or woodsman who cut the trees can identify anything you do not know.
The wood specimens should all be of nearly one size, and as pieces too small or too large are apt to be more or less peculiar, an average size is best. By selecting straight, well-grown limbs about three inches in diameter, a good average will be obtained, although, of course, at times you will be obliged to take smaller-sized limbs or pieces split from the main trunk.
Cut the limb carefully, leaving the bark on, and, keep a piece about a foot in length. As soon as cut this should be numbered and marked with the name. This is best done by whittling off a little bark at one end and writing directly on the wood with a soft carpenter's pencil. The pieces of wood thus collected should be placed in a dry, warm place to season and should be turned over occasionally to dry them evenly.
When thoroughly dry, saw off one end diagonally with a fine-toothed saw at an angle of about forty-five degrees. A mitre box should be used, as it insures all the pieces being alike. Next, with a draw-knife and plane, work down the side (on the short side of cut) until the exact centre of the piece is reached. Your specimen will now be a half-round piece of wood with one end cut at an angle. Now, smooth off a little of the right-hand side to show the grain and cut off the piece squarely and smoothly about six inches from the sloping end. All the specimens should be cut alike and to the same size, and care should be taken not to scar or break the bark. In case it should loosen or break, glue it firmly in place again, as the preservation of the bark is important. The specimen should now have all the surfaces of the wood carefully smoothed and sandpapered to a fine finish. When this is done a small portion (about two inches) from the base should be marked off on each piece, and this space given a coat of good varnish. Your specimen will thus show the bark, a cross section, a heart section, and a quarter section of the wood in their natural state in addition to the board and quarter section appearance when varnished.
In arranging these wood specimens they should be set up on the square end and slightly turned to one side so that the bark, as well as all the various wood-sections, are easily seen. It is a good plan to mount each specimen on a piece of stiff cardboard with a tack driven up from below. On this cardboard you should mount the pressed leaf and the nut, or fruit, of the tree from which the wood was taken. The label of the whole may then be placed on the same card, or placed above and behind it, as desired. The fruits or nuts of most trees require very little preparation. They should merely be carefully dried and when dry any parts that become loosened, or drop off, should be glued in place. Many seeds and nuts will keep on ripening after drying, and to prevent their natural bursting apart it is best to soak them in alcohol or formaldehyde solution (2 per cent) for a few days before drying. Dipping in boiling water will answer the same purpose. The leaves are simply pressed between blotters under a heavy weight and when thoroughly dry may be glued to the card.
If any of the curators or their friends have cameras, a very attractive feature of the collection will be a series of neatly-mounted photographs showing the various trees as they appear in winter, after the leaves have fallen. Trees, to show this, should be carefully selected for perfection of growth and form; they should also be isolated specimens growing by themselves in open fields, or in clearings from which the other trees have been cut. The pictures should be clear and sharp and the "harder" the better, as the idea is to show the shape and branching form of the tree without attempting an artistic picture. The photographs should be placed either behind the specimens of wood, or hung above them, and as far as possible each specimen of wood should be accompanied by the photograph of a tree of the same kind.
Quite often the leaves may be difficult to preserve, or may be of such a character as to prevent placing them on exhibition with the wood. In such cases the leaves themselves may be replaced by either solar prints or "autograms" of the leaves. The solar prints are easily made with either blue-print, or printing-out paper, and the only materials required for the former are a printing frame, glass for the frame, and the prepared paper. Place the leaf to be printed face up on the glass, lay the printing paper face down upon it, close the frame and expose to direct sunlight until the paper around the leaf has grown to its deepest shade. Wash thoroughly in cold water and a beautiful print of the leaf, in white on a rich, blue ground will result. If printed deep enough, each tiny vein will show and the print has the great advantage over the real leaf of never decaying, breaking, or curling. Printing-out-paper leaf-prints are made in the same way, but must be toned and fixed like a regular photograph. For those who are unable to make use of either of the above methods, the "autogram" prints are excellent, and are in many ways far better than the solar prints. Autograms require no special materials; a rubber roller such as is used in mounting photographs, a little printer's ink, or some tubes of oil colors and white paper only are required. Place a fresh leaf on a sheet of paper, or card, and brush the under surface smoothly and evenly with a coating of the ink or paint. Do not get it too thick, using only enough to stick to all portions of the leaf. Place the inked surface of the leaf on a piece of clean paper or card; cover it with a sheet of soft paper; hold the stem in place by one finger pressed upon it on the covering paper, and run the rubber roller firmly over the whole. Now, lift off the cover paper and the leaf and you will find that a perfect and beautiful impression has been printed upon the paper beneath, exactly as an engraving or type is printed. If you have a letter-press in the house even more perfect prints may be obtained by its use. Care should be taken that the paper on which print is to be made, rests upon a level, rather soft surface such as a pile of old newspapers or a thick magazine, and be careful not to smudge when placing or removing the leaf itself. You will be surprised to find what a fine addition the wood collection will make to your museum, and if you are in earnest and are industrious, your collection of woods will be pretty complete by the time the next issue of THE AMERICAN BOY reaches you, with directions for preparing your collection of rocks, minerals and Indian relics.

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As an armed forces brat, we lived in Rockcliff (Ottawa), Namao (Edmonton), Southport (Portage La Prairie), Manitoba, and Dad retired to St. Margaret's Bay, NS.
Working with the Federal Govenment for 25 years, Canadian Hydrographic Service, mostly. Now married to Gail Kelly, with two grown children, Luke and Denyse. Retired to my woodlot at Stillwater Lake, NS, on the rainy days I study the life and work of A. Hyatt Verrill 1871-1954.