Jar of White-Lipped Frogs (Amnirana albolabris) preserved in alcohol.

These specimens were collected by Frederick Merfield (1889-1960), an English hunter who lived in Cameroon for many years between 1910 and the 1940s. Merfield met Percy Powell-Cotton in 1927, and they formed a business partnership in which Powell-Cotton acted as an agent to sell animal remains collected by Merfield to museums and universities (mainly in the UK and Europe) as scientific specimens.  

While they largely focused on dried skins and skeletons of mammals, Merfield would also collect to order if clients were interested in particular animals. The White-Lipped Frogs in this jar were possibly collected for Hampton Wildman Parker of the Natural History Museum (NHM). Parker (1897-1968) was a herpetologist (someone who studies amphibians and reptiles) working at the NHM, and he was Merfield’s main client for frogs. Between 1934 and 1940, Parker bought at least 250 specimens of reptiles, amphibians, and fish from Merfield. These specimens were sold for about £30 in total, which is the equivalent of around £2,000 today! 

We don’t know why these specimens weren’t sold. Most of the fluid-preserved specimens in our collection seem to be left-over stock from Merfield that never found a buyer, and include quite a few frogs and snakes. 

What are fluid-preserved specimens? 

Fluid-preserved specimens are whole animals, organs, or tissues that are usually ‘fixed’ by injecting them with chemicals that stop them decaying (generally formalin), and then preserved in alcohol and stored in glass jars. 

Most of our fluid-preserved specimens probably were not injected with formalin when they were first collected. Merfield had limited resources and knowledge about how to preserve animals, and usually relied on contacts in the UK sending him tins filled with formalin to keep and transport ‘wet specimens’ in.