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elk printThe "Irish Elk Print" Inserted in The House Painter...

The Smithsonian Institution Libraries' copy of The House Painter.... comes with an interesting artifact belonging to one of its past owners. It is a single, unmounted page with the image of an animal skeleton. This relief print, very possibly a woodcut, is found inserted between pages. Its hand-written, ink caption reads, "THE SKELETON OF THE IRISH ELK / FOUND IN BALLOUGH, ISLE OF MAN / [Alpen or Alfren?] Haviland. P.M.G.S. / VII JAN. MDCCCLXXXIX [all caps. except signature; slashes = end of each line; PMGS = Geological Society? Date= Jan. 7, 1889.]

The print is on a piece of paper measuring 18 x 23.5 cm. (7 1/8 x 9 1/8 in.). The paper is wove (machine-made), much foxed, with several old fold creases. Just inside all four edges of the paper is a pencilled line "framing" the sheet as cut.

Though amateurish and anatomically inaccurate, the illustration is greatly similar to that of the fossil elk in British Fossil Mammals (1846), by 19th-century British paleontologist, Richard Owen. It is likely that the drawing was copied from this book.

The Irish elk is of considerable interest in vertebrate paleontology. In the early 19th century, the first nearly complete skeleton was found near Ballaugh, in the northwest part of the Isle of Man. From the Pleistocene Epoch, the Irish elk had the largest antlers of any form of deer known (up to 13 feet across). The species may have survived as late as 500 BC.


"Irish elk" Encyclopedia Britannica Online.
http://www.britannica.com/eb/article?eu=43733 (September 2000)

Kurten, Bjorn. Pleistocene Mammals of Europe. London, New York, 1968.

Lamplugh, G. W. Geology of the Isle of Man. London, 1903.
http://www.ee.surrey.ac.uk/Contrib/manx/fulltext/geo1903/p377.htm (September 2000)

Owen, Richard. A History of British Fossil Mammals and Birds. London, 1846.

Leslie K. Overstreet
Curator of Natural History Rare Books

Gil Taylor
Librarian, Museum Support Center Library
Smithsonian Institution Libraries

October 2000