AUTOGRAPH LETTER SIGNED, TO WILLIAM BUCKLAND
explaining that she delayed sending him specimens because the recent frost has affected her work on the cliffs, but she has now sent him a box ("...there are few coprolites which I hope you will think good there is one with bits of Sepia in it another in marle with some remarkable bones in it one has an impression of an Ammonite..."), passing on messages from the local collector Elizabeth Philpot, then continuing with discussion of her "new skeleton" ("...I forget wether [sic] I told you it had two hundred & fifty Vertebrae the tail wanting & I have no doubt if it had a tail that it would have more then 3 hundred of them..."), explaining that as Bristol has offered only £30 she will send her drawing of it to Baron Cuvier, despite her misgivings about it going overseas, 3 pages, 8vo, autograph address panel, [Lyme Regis], 15 February ; nicks at edges affecting one or two letters, light spotting and browning, slight adhesive residue where previously mounted
AN EXCEPTIONALLY RARE LETTER BY "THE GREATEST FOSSILIST THE WORLD EVER KNEW", WRITING TO WILLIAM BUCKLAND, PIONEER PALAEONTOLOGIST AND AUTHOR OF THE FIRST ACCOUNT OF A FOSSIL DINOSAUR, discussing her work and discoveries including the skeleton of a plesiosaur.
The "skeleton" referred to here was undoubtedly the Plesiosaurus dolichodeirus discovered by Anning on 29 January 1829, which is now in the London Natural History Museum (PV R 1313). Anning had announced her discovery of the specimen in a letter to Buckland on 9 February 1829, and in a second letter of 14 February had described the specimen in more detail. At Anning's request, Buckland wrote to Charles Konig of the British Museum, encouraging him to try and acquire the Plesiosaurus as well as the Pterodactyl that Anning had discovered in 1828 (this correspondence, including three letters by Anning, is now held by the Natural History Museum, DF PAL/100/2/1-2 and 4-6).
The box of specimens that Anning had just sent to Buckland are now, in all likelihood, part of the collection of the Oxford Museum of Natural History. They included coprolites, identified by Anning as fossilised faeces, which had just been the subject of an article by Buckland, as well as examples of "sepia" from the ink sacs of fossil cephalopods. Remarkably, the collector and friend of Anning, Elizabeth Philpot, was able to macerate the ink and use it to make drawings of Anning's fossil discoveries.
Although Mary Anning was something of a celebrity in her day, her gender and class prohibited her from ever becoming a member of the scientific establishment and it is only in recent decades that her importance has been fully acknowledged. She is now the subject of multiple biographies, is a mainstay of the school curriculum, and has been played by Kate Winslet in the biopic Ammonite (to be released in September 2020). The majority of her papers were discarded as of little value by C.W. Sherborn at the turn of the twentieth century, and only a relatively small number of letters survive in the papers of such pioneer geologists as Adam Sedgwick. WE HAVE NO RECORD OF ANY AUTOGRAPH LETTER BY MARY ANNING HAVING PREVIOUSLY BEEN OFFERED AT AUCTION.
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