It’s Butterfly Education and Awareness Day in June, so our Object of the Month is this drawer of butterflies from a cabinet of specimens collected by John Norton.
Many of the butterflies in this drawer are around 60 years old. They were collected by John Norton, who was Curator of Ludlow Museum 1959 – 1989. John was well known in the county as an inspirational Natural Historian and Geologist who did a great deal to interpret and promote the Museum Collections. In this drawer, John has added small species distribution maps and paintings to illustrate the butterflies and caterpillars, all to increase understanding of these wonderful creatures and the collection.
The cabinet from which this drawer was taken is similar to butterfly cabinets that would have been found in the homes of many middle-class families during the 19th and early 20th Centuries.
Victorians believed that the study of natural history contributed to good mental health. Consequently, during the 19th century, the collection of things like birds, shells, wildflowers and butterflies became very popular hobbies. As you can imagine, many people capturing and killing plants and animals for their collections had a significant impact on nature and sadly, several species have gone extinct due to this over collecting.
However, the popularity of collecting plants and animals during the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries played an important role in building natural history collections. Many local museums, including those in Shropshire, evolved from private collections and the societies that emerged around the hobby of collecting. These collections and learned groups were also important in the emergence of professional biological disciplines.
Butterfly collections such as our Object of the Month can be used as a teaching tool and as the basis for research. Not only can the butterflies be inspected, and changes in species noted through time, but where there is collection location information, variations in population distribution can also be studied. Unfortunately, none of this can help us conserve and protect the butterflies we have around today.
Luckily, the taste for collecting butterflies has virtually disappeared in the UK. Instead, butterfly enthusiasts are now being encouraged to collect information and digital images of the creatures to help scientists and conservators keep track of these important pollinators.
There are many wonderful natural history specimens waiting to be discovered in our Shropshire Gallery and even more available for research at Shropshire Museums’ Collections Centre in Ludlow.
Object of the Month is on display in the Visitor Information Centre and features on our social media feeds: