Journal of the History of Biology

, Volume 33, Issue 3, pp 493–534 | Cite as

The Specimen Dealer: Entrepreneurial Natural History in America's Gilded Age

  • Mark V. BarrowJr.


The post-Civil War American natural history craze spawned a new institution – the natural history dealer – that has failed to receive the historical attention it deserves. The individuals who created these enterprises simultaneously helped to promote and hoped to profit from the burgeoning interest in both scientific and popular specimen collecting. At a time when other employment and educational prospects in natural history were severely limited, hundreds of dealers across the nation provided encouragement, specimens, publication outlets, training opportunities, and jobs for naturalists of all motivations and levels of expertise. This paper explores the crucial role that specimen dealers played in the larger natural history community. After briefly examining the development of local taxidermy shops in the mid-nineteenth century, it then traces the history of four large natural history dealerships established in the United States during the latter half of the century: Ward's Natural History Establishment, Frank Blake Webster's Naturalists' Supply Depot, Southwick & Jencks' Natural History Store, and Frank H. Lattin & Co. By the early twentieth century, changing tastes in interior design, the growth of the Audubon movement, and the dramatic expansion of alternate training and job opportunities for naturalists led many specimen dealers either to shift their emphasis or to shut their doors.

natural history specimen dealers entrepreneurial natural history merchant naturalists natural history dealers taxidermy taxidermists collecting Henry A. Ward Frank B. Webster James M. Southwick Fred T. Jencks Frank H. Lattin 


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Copyright information

© Kluwer Academic Publishers 2000

Authors and Affiliations

  • Mark V. BarrowJr.
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of History (0117)Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State UniversityBlacksburgU.S.A.

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