Most of Lyell’s specimens are mounted on wooden tablets like the one pictured above. The glue used for mounting the specimens has failed in some cases so the fossils are loose. This means we have to be very careful moving them, for example if we want to see what’s written on the back.
The faded ink writing on the front of the tablet gives the identification “Cardita rudis” and the locality “Touraine”, a historical province in the north east of France. We think that this writing and the pencil on the back may belong to Charles Lyell based on comparison with some of his letters, but we aren’t sure. We do know that the black ink numbers were added to the tablets by Paul Clasby, the Honorary Associate who catalogued the collection in the 1980s and 1990s.
Although it gives the same information, the writing in ink on the back of the tablet seems completely different to Lyell’s, and the slope of the letters suggests that the writer may have been left handed. The layout suggests that the ink writing came first and the pencil was added later, which means Lyell may not have been the person to originally identify the specimen.
We’ve come across a few cases where people working with Lyell helped label fossils (for example the fossil bryozoans annotated by Lonsdale on this page from the Natural History Museum). There is also some indication that one of Lyell’s sisters labelled some specimens held at the University of Dundee.
Some of our unmounted Lyell fossils have distinctive labels from previous owners, but the fact that these Cardita specimens are mounted on the standard Lyell tablet suggests that the ink writing on the back is not that of an original collector. As we continue to work through the collection we hope to work out the identities of some of the other people associated with it and the role they played.