John Collins Warren, a Boston surgeon, died May 4, 1856, at the age of 77. Although Warren is well known for presiding over the first operation that used ether anesthesia, and later became Dean of Harvard Medical School, we note today his passion for mastodons. When a complete mastodon skeleton was unearthed in upstate New York in 1845, Warren bought it and had it articulated. He then wrote a book in which he compared his own mount to the four previous skeletons then known; he was no doubt proud of the fact that his own was the largest of them all. The book, called The Mastodon Giganteus of North America (1852) is in our History of Science Collection, and we displayed it in our 2013 exhibition on lithography, Crayon and Stone.

In addition to a frontispiece that shows all 5 mastodon skeletons, with his own in the center (second image above), and a title page with a colored vignette of the giant mastodon in the process of being fossilized (third image, with a detail of the vignette as the first image), the book has a large folding plate at the end that shows Warren’s personal mastodon specimen, at a scale of 9:1 (fourth image). All three plates are lithographs, which is one of the reasons we chose it for inclusion in our exhibit. As a fifth image, we show a detail of the head of the mastodon, so that you can see why lithographs were preferred as a medium for printing fossils, since crayon on stone captures perfectly the texture of fossilized bone.

Dr. William B. Ashworth, Jr., Consultant for the History of Science, Linda Hall Library and Associate Professor, Department of History, University of Missouri-Kansas City