m of Natural History
Department of Paleobiology
National Museum of Natural History
Smithsonian Institution
Illustration Care
Illustration Techniques

Historical Art Gallery


O.C. Marsh gallery continued

Ink wash illustration of a Triceratops skull


The lithograph, published in the following reference, was based on this original ink wash illustration.
Hatcher, John . Bell, O.C. Marsh and R.S. Lull 1907. The Ceratopsia. Government
Printing Office, Washington, D.C., 300 pp. Plate XXXII.

Marsh's dinosaurs
Our largest collection of historical scientific illustrations consists of approximately 1250 drawings prepared under the direction of Othniel Charles Marsh in the late 19th century. Most were drawn by the artist, Frederick Berger. This collection includes preliminary sketches for drawings, carefully rendered ink wash illustrations of skulls and post-cranial material, large skeletal reconstructions of dinosaurs and extinct mammals, transfer drawings for stone lithographic printing, and the final printed unbound lithographs made from the ink wash drawings. The size of the individual pieces in the collection range from approximately 3 cm (less than 2 inches) to 183 cm (almost 6 feet) in width.

Marsh’s dinosaurs form the core of the dinosaur exhibition and research collections at the National Museum of Natural History (NMNH). The mounts of Stegosaurus, Allosaurus, Ceratosaurus and Triceratops on display in the NMNH dinosaur hall are just a few of the dinosaurs collected by O.C. Marsh’s team for the United States National Museum (now NMNH). 

While Marsh’s main position was professor of paleontology at Yale University, he was also appointed United States Paleontologist for the U. S. Geological Survey from 1882-1892, and became Honorary Curator of the Department of Vertebrate Fossils at the United States National Museum in 1882. He held that position until his death in 1899.

Marsh was asked by then secretary of the Smithsonian, Spencer Baird, to collect vertebrate fossils for the Smithsonian Institution. It was Baird’s mission to build a collection of natural history objects for the U. S. National Museum. Baird contacted the best scientists he could find in the various natural sciences to fulfill his goal.

Marsh’s expeditions were funded by Yale University and by the U.S. Geological Survey. The vertebrate fossils collected by Marsh’s field crew were shipped from his field locality to his research laboratory at Yale University for study and publication. Collections funded by the U.S. Geological Survey were later transferred from Yale University to the U.S. National Museum and deposited into the collection as required by the 1879 Sundry Civil Act of Congress.

We think that the illustrations in this collection were commissioned with USGS funds and for this reason they were shipped to the National Museum of Natural History along with the official specimen transfer after Marsh’s death in 1899.

The illustration collection

Dr. Michael Brett-Surman, NMNH dinosaur collection manager, discovered the bulk of the Marsh dinosaur illustrations on the top of a museum storage cabinet in the vertebrate paleontology type specimen room while checking for damage caused by a leaking ceiling pipe. Most of the collection consists of 155 46 x 30.5 cm folders. Each folder generally contained several fully rendered original ink wash illustrations, preliminary sketches, paste-ups showing how the illustrations should be arranged on a plate, and tracings drawn in reverse that were used to transfer the illustrations to a lithographic stone or wood engraving for reproduction.

Notes, dates, and museum catalogue and field accession numbers appear on many of the folders and on the drawings themselves. These notes provide many clues about the drawings' history. The words "on stone","woodcut", "engravings bought and paid for", and "L. Schierholz" (a wood engraver) are a few examples of these notes. Many of the drawings bear a stamp with a date, or the date has been handwritten on the illustration. Yale University Peabody Museum (YPM), United States National Museum (USNM), and United States Geological Survey (USGS) numbers and stamps can be found on many of the drawings.

Curators Helena Wright and Elizabeth Harris from the Division of Graphic Arts, National Museum of American History, Smithsonian Institution, examined the illustrations in the folders and verified the contents to be a nearly complete series exemplifying the lithographic transfer process from initial preliminary sketches to transfer onto the lithographic stone. While we have not yet found an artist’s signature or initials on any of the drawings, Frederick Berger (delineator) and Emil Crisand (lithographer) appear on the printed lithographs matching many of these illustrations. Their names also appear in published acknowledgments.

In addition to the illustrations of skulls and post-cranial material found in the folders, we discovered a number of skeletal reconstructions and three life-size drawings of bones. Marsh insisted on collecting an entire skeleton rather than just the skull which enabled him to prepare some of the first complete skeletal reconstructions of dinosaurs. Many of the oversize illustrations had been previously exhibited and were stored vertically in their frames after being removed from exhibition. While the frames protected the illustrations from being wrinkled or torn, the wooden frames were highly acidic and caused a great deal of damage. Glass had broken in one of the frames. Some oversize pieces had been deframed and propped vertically against the wall.

Publication of the Marsh illustrations
Drawing and Lithographic Techniques

The finished drawings in the collection were prepared using the ink wash technique, with some detail rendered in pencil. John L. Ridgway, Former Chief Illustrator for the United States Geological Survey, describes the ink wash technique in his publication titled Scientific Illustration. This book, published by Stanford University Press in 1938, describes “methods of procedure that have developed from the early ‘eighties to the present time…” and is an expansion of an illustration manual written earlier for the USGS (Ridgway, 1920). “If the drawing is to be made …in washes, red-sable brushes (sizes ranging from No. 2 to No. 4) and lampblack, India ink or sepia, would be appropriate. Soft effects can easily be produced by each of these pigments, but lampblack is the one generally used….The use of much penciling in connection with brush work in drawing specimens is not desirable, except in making the preliminary outline sketch and in slightly sharpening edges or indicating very minute details. Care should be taken that the pressure of the point is not too strong. An F and B pencil will be found most suitable for this purpose.”

Aloys Senfelder (1771 – 1834) invented stone lithography using the fine limestone from the Solnhofen quarry from his native Bavaria. Ridgway describes the process of stone lithography used by the USGS :“…if a design is drawn on limestone with a greasy crayon and the stone is afterward properly prepared with a solution of nitric acid and gum, the greasy ink of a roller will adhere only to the parts that were covered with the crayon, and the stone will give off an impression of the design…. This form of lithography…was well adapted to the reproduction of drawings of fossils, particularly of remains of dinosaurs and types of large extinct animals….”

The Solnhofen quarry also happens to be a very famous fossil locality. The same fine silt that forms the finest stone grain for lithography is also an extremely fine material for preserving fossils. The earliest known bird, Archeopteryx, is one of the well known fossils discovered in this quarry. Fossils were initially discovered at this locality by quarry workers who contacted the proper authorities to let them know of their finds. (Carrano, pers. comm.).

Although Othniel Charles Marsh died before he was able to finish all of the monographs that would have included many of the drawings in this collection, he was able to turn a large number of the illustrations into lithographs in preparation for publication prior to his death. Nineteen of these original lithographs appear in The Ceratopsia by John Bell Hatcher (based on preliminary studies by Othniel Charles Marsh). (Hatcher died before The Ceratopsia was published. Ultimately, the book was edited and completed by Richard S. Lull and published by the U.S. Geological Survey in 1907.) Lithographs made from this collection can be seen published for the first time in Marsh’s Dinosaurs (Ostrom and Macintosh, 1966 and 1999). The ink wash illustrations themselves are unpublished.

Lithography is the hallmark of Marsh’s lavishly illustrated books and papers. He was committed to aesthetic excellence in his research publications and commissioned hundreds of beautifully rendered tone drawings to illustrate his findings. Even though these ink wash illustrations are already publication quality, photography had not yet been developed for printing. Therefore, another printing process had to be chosen. Marsh’s preferred method was stone lithography. After preparing the original ink wash illustrations, it had to be redrawn in reverse on a lithographic stone and carefully printed by a lithographer.

Stone lithography was a reproduction medium that reached its peak in the late 1800s. In the early 1900’s the use of stone lithography for commercial reproduction was replaced by offset lithography using metal plates. This decline is documented in The Ceratopsia where Hatcher states: "Unfortunately only 19 of the lithographic plates planned by the original author [Marsh] for the present volume were completed prior to his death, and, since the Survey has discontinued lithography for illustrations of this character, that uniformity and artistic effect which is shown in the plates of Professor Marsh's other monographs are wanting in the present volume." [Note: Hatcher’s goes on to say: “It is believed, however, that this loss has been at least partially offset by the series of text figures, reproduced from pen-and-ink drawings [largely by Sydney Prentice], which illustrate the text and represent many of the more abstruse anatomical details with possibly greater fidelity than would have resulted from the use of lithographs, where, as too often happens, detail of character is sacrificed for artistic effect.”]

Illustration Care
Illustration Techniques

end of Marsh's dinosaurs page