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    The Art of Collection

    By By Jeremy Berlin
    January 22, 2014, 6:06:58 AM EST

    The following is an excerpt from the January issue of National Geographic Magazine:


    "Walter looks comfortable. Dead for 50 years, the giant Pacific octopus is resting in a ten-gallon tank of ethanol solution, six-foot arms folded in cephalopod repose. His next-door neighbors hail from the Atlantic: a jarred colony of sea squirts, their blue-green bioluminescence long extinguished. Corals and algae bloom on a shelf. Leis of Tahitian snails dangle from hooks. Pearly shelled mussels from the Mississippi River, source of a once profitable button industry, glisten under glass.

    And then there are the cabinets, all 230 of them: airtight, custom-made, climate-controlled homes to ten million mollusk specimens. Many were gathered on far-flung expeditions led by the likes of Ernest Shackleton, Meriwether Lewis and William Clark, Gifford Pinchot, and William Bartram.

    Where is this storehouse of wonders? And how did we get here? The short answer first: We’re at the Academy of Natural Sciences in Philadelphia. We reached this collection via two others, up a half flight of stairs from entomology, with its teeming drawers of scarab beetles and four million other bugs culled from every country on Earth, and past a choice paleo trove—limbed fish from the Devonian period, mastodon teeth owned by Thomas Jefferson, slabs of ichthyosaur skeletons from England.

    But this is no closet they’re kept in. It’s a eureka factory."




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