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In August 2011 the Library launched a project to conserve and digitise one of the most important, if lesser known, collections housed in the Geological Society’s Archive: the fossil fish portfolio of Louis Agassiz (1807-1873).

Agassiz gained international recognition as the leading figure on fossil ichthyology after the publication of the five volume Recherches sur les Poissons Fossiles, lavishly illustrated with 400 lithographic plates of fish (1833-1843). In 1836 he was awarded the Geological Society’s Wollaston Medal.

Comprised of nearly 3,000 watercolours and drawings, these images of fossil fish, dating from the 1830s-1850s, were copied from private and public collections around Europe, principally by the Austrian artist Joseph Dinkel. 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.

How you can help

If you would like to help the Library and Archive in this project, a small contribution of £20 will allow us to carefully 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.

Contributions can be sent by cheque made payable to ‘The Geological Society’, or call +44 (0)20 7432 0999 to pay by card.

Alternatively, fill in the form on the leaflet below.

If you are a UK taxpayer you can increase the value of your donation by 20p for every £1.00 donated. Please send the Gift Aid Declaration form with your donation if you wish The Geological Society to reclaim the tax on your gift at no extra cost to yourself.

Louis Agassiz online exhibition

This online exhibition provides an opportunity to view some of the images from the Louis Agassiz fossil fish collection. Visit the exhibition for a closer look at the more unusual items in the collection, from a fossil tooth to a pencil rubbing of a scale, and find out about the history of their discovery, Agassiz's interpretations, the various collectors they belonged to and the artists who carried out the work.

Roll of Honour

The Library gratefully acknowledges all those who have donated towards the Sponsor A Fish appeal

Fossil fish

Fossil Fish Collection

The Society's collection comprises three large donations. The first came from Lord Francis Egerton, later 1st Earl of Ellesmere, who had purchased 1200 drawings and paintings directly from Agassiz, primarily to provide the Swiss palaeontologist with the financial assistance to continue his work. Egerton donated these drawings to the Society in 1843.

The second donation came from Agassiz himself. In 1858 he gave the 568 sheets of drawings and paintings which were still in his possession, most of which were unpublished.

The final donation came from the Earl of Enniskillen in 1876 and includes images from Agassiz’s follow up work Monographie sur les Poissons Fossiles du Vieux Grès Rouge (1844-1845).

To find out more about Louis Agassiz and his work, visit the NNDB website.

Read an article in Geoscientist about a project to match the original fossil specimens with the drawings.