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Spirit Preserved Marine Collection

Plymouth City Museum and Art Gallery houses a large collection of wet preserved, or 'pickled', specimens. They were amassed when the museum opened and further added to by a large transfer from the Marine Biological Association (MBA).

Plymouth Museum’s original pickles

Photograph of a crab preserved in a jarBefore Plymouth City Museum and Art Gallery opened in 1910, the trustees sought to amass a variety of natural history specimens. Their aim was to provide education and enlightenment for the people living in the town of Plymouth.

Between 1898 and 1910 many specimens were bought or acquired by the museum. The MBA in Plymouth was an important source of the spirit preserved animals. Many of these specimens were mounted in rectangular ‘battery jars’, with the specimens sewn onto glass plates to hold the animal securely. These battery jars were specifically designed for display and education.

The Plymouth Marine Fauna Collection

The MBA began collecting marine samples and publishing their findings in 1887. The organisation was established to scientifically study British waters and to aid the fishing industry.

The MBA offered their collection of over 5000 wet and dry preserved specimens to Plymouth City Museum and Art Gallery Museum in 2001. The collection was transferred and curators and conservation staff have been working hard to restore specimens and catalogue the collection. Their careful work has allowed researchers and students easier access to the collection.

The Plymouth Marine Fauna collection also contains some smaller distinct collections:

  • Holts and ET Brown’s Hydroids from the Irish Sea
  • Crawshay’s fauna of the English Channel
  • British Antarctic Survey Specimens
  • Fauna of the Bay of Biscay
  • Holmes’ Ecinoderm and Fauna Study
  • Faunal survey of Kitchen’s Gulley

The collection represents over 1000 different species of Crustacea (crabs, lobsters), Mollusca (squids, clams), Annelida (worms), Pisces (fish), Porifera (sponges), Cnidaria (jellyfish, sea anemones), and Echinodermata (sea urchins, starfish).