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Blaschka Glass Invertebrate Collection

The Museum of Comparative Zoology collection of Blaschka Glass Invertebrates contains approximately 430 models of marine and terrestrial invertebrates, including sea anemones, jelly fish, octopus, sea cucumbers, marine worms and land snails.

A vast majority of the models are made solely of glass (colorless and colored) and water-soluble pigments for life-like coloring. Some are also constructed with organic materials, such as glues and stretched animal hide, and occasional pieces of wire for support and texture.

image of sea anemone model image of marine fan worm model image of man of ware jelly model
Left: Phymactis florida (sea anemone), MCZ SC-50; Center: Sabella penicillus (marine fan worm), MCZ SC-203; Right: Physalia caravella (Man-of-War jelly), MCZ SC-132

For decades, the MCZ's Blaschka glass invertebrates were stored in the relevant departmental collection by taxa, as their primary and original use was for teaching and morphological comparison. Around 1900, the glass invertebrates were removed from their original cardboard trays and mounted with wire to white plaster plates, as they remain today.

The models have recently been recurated as a cohesive collection in the MCZ, and a major initiative is currently underway to clean and repair all of the models. Most of the damage to the models is minor and due to the failure of the original 19th century glue used in their construction. Faulty contact points are restored with reversible, archival adhesive.

image of cleaning a glass model
Cleaning Casella philippinensis (nudibranch), MCZ SC-232

Blaschka Model History

The MCZ models were purchased in the 1870s and 1880s from Leopold and Rudolf Blaschka, father and son glass workers. From their studio in Dresden, Germany, the Blaschkas supplied museums and universities with life-like and scientifically accurate models, available for direct purchase or through catalogs. A majority of the models were acquired through the Blaschkas' North American distributor, Henry Ward. Published in 1878, the Catalogue of Glass Models of Invertebrate Animals from H. A. Ward's Natural Science Establishment offered 630 invertebrates, ranging from $0.30 to $6.50.

image of squid model from catalog
Listing of original cost ($2.75) for Onychoteuthis lichtensteini (squid), MCZ SC-389

In the late 1880s, the Blaschkas began making botanical models for the Harvard Botanical Museum and in 1890 they entered into an exclusive, ten-year contract with Harvard to create glass models of flowers and plants. Through subsequent contract extensions, Leopold and Rudolf made botanical models for Harvard for the remainder of their careers, never returning to zoological models.