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The Blaschka Glass Models of Sea Anemones

An outstanding collection of exquisitely detailed glass models of sea anemones.

The models were made in the latter half of the 19th century by the accomplished artisan glass-worker and naturalist Leopold Blaschka (1822 -1895).

Blaschka had developed a technique which he termed ‘glass-spinning’, allowing the production of anatomically accurate and detailed works in glass.

He was based in Dresden,Germany from 1857, selling his intricate models of marine invertebrates to museums, aquaria and universities all over the world.

Marine creatures, particularly sea anemones, were notoriously difficult to display with any success. The only means of displaying them satisfactorily was by preserving them in an alcohol based preservative in glass spirit jars, where they inevitably lost their bright colours and shape.

In 1865, Blaschka’s educational works of art came to the attention of the Council of the Natural History Society of Northumberland, Durham and Newcastle upon Tyne and the idea of obtaining a collection was discussed at their December meeting. The members of the Council were responsible for managing the Society’s Newcastle Museum, located at the rear of the Literary and Philosophical Society building on Westgate Road in Newcastle and all of the collections.

An extract from the manuscript Minute Book for 1849-1876 (NEWHM:1996.H304.3) notes:-

29 December 1865

Mr Brady was also requested to ascertain the cost of the glass models of Actinia made at Dresden or Prague and the sum of about five pounds was left at his disposal in case it should be found practicable to obtain for such a sum a set of models fairly representing the British Species.

The “Mr Brady” referred to was Dr Henry Bowman Brady (1835-1891) a respected amateur marine biologist who was among a group of invertebrate experts at the meeting which also included Albany Hancock, the doyen of marine invertebrate science in the North East.

The Society went on to purchase a collection of 47 beautiful glass marine invertebrates made by Leopold Blaschka between 1866-1870.

Blaschka’s Source for the Models

Actinologia Britannica a history of the British Sea-Anemones and CoralsBlaschka had sourced some of the illustrations for his work from a book published by the naturalist and aquarium enthusiast Philip Henry Gosse (1810-1888) – Actinologia Britannica: a history of the British Sea-Anemones and Corals. Van Voorst, London, (1860).

A copy of the book can be seen in the Natural History Society’s Library. It is full of wonderful brightly coloured plates, and bears the autograph of its previous owner, Joshua Alder, who co-authored, A monograph of the British Nudibranchiate Mollusca (1845-1855) with his good friend Albany Hancock.

You can access images of most of the Blaschka models on the Great North Museum: Hancock website by typing “sea anemone” into the collections search engine

Click here to access the search engine.