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5,500 beetles stand shoulder to shoulder in serried ranks, each meticulously glued to card, lining 24 cigarette tins. They are the private collection of Eric Pritchard (1904-1997), and were given to Auckland Museum by him in December 1984.
Image caption: The cigarette tins Pritchard used to store his collection of beetles in
Early beetle collecting forays
Eric was born in Onehunga in 1904 and as a lad he had a strong interest in science and the natural world. Around 1925 he made contact with the Museum and assisted the Museum staff (AWB Powell and R Falla) with field work, sampling marine creatures from around the harbours and observing the bird life. He also volunteered to help with the insect collection in his spare time.
After graduating from Auckland Teachers’ College, he had a number of teaching posts around Auckland but shifted up to Waimamaku (South Hokianga) in 1936 to run the local school. This is when his interest in beetles began, stimulated by the visit in 1938 of a visiting husband and wife team, Dr Manson Valentine and Mrs Elizabeth Valentine from the University of North Carolina.
The Museum put the Valentines in touch with Eric, and they stayed with Eric and his wife Kath (Kay). It seems that the two couples got on extremely well and they embarked on a camping and beetle-collecting tour of the North Island.
A significant proportion of the collection comes from the Waimamaku area, from the beach to the top of Mt Hauturu. Beetle collecting continued wherever the Pritchards found themselves. Waihi Beach, Coromandel, Langs Beach and the Waitakere Ranges were favoured collecting localities, usually combined with camping holidays.
All beetles of the same species collected together at the same time and place are grouped together within a hand-drawn box and numbered. A notebook, written in miniscule handwriting, records alongside each number the details of the place, habitat, time of day, weather conditions and other observations. This means that while the collection is of interest from its quirky manner of preparation and aesthetics it is rich with valuable information and so has scientific merit.
Image caption: Eric Pritchard, 1950s
Tin 14, containing weevils
A page from Eric Pritchard’s field collecting notebook. The numbered entries match the numbers next to the beetles in the tins.
Many of the beetles are tiny and this posed a challenge to Eric as to how to manipulate and position them in the tins. To overcome this he made his own micro-tools from the tungsten filament of old light bulbs because it had just the right flexibility and didn’t rust. He also invented his own glue which he called acetate cement, made by dissolving celluloid photographic film in ethyl acetate. Unfortunately this glue is now very brittle and several beetles which came unstuck have been reglued.
In addition to sharing a lifelong interest in beetles, the Pritchards were accomplished musicians, Eric a cellist and Kay a pianist, and both sang.
Image caption: Eric Pritchard, 1996
The fastidious work of collectors like E. D. Pritchard who donate a life-time’s worth of specimens that come with meticulous records are an invaluable source of information for scientific enquiry. Indeed, since this acquisition, this trove of specimens has been studied by researchers and educators alike, and will be used well into the future to help answer questions about our changing biodiversity, climate change and more.
Cite this article
Early, John. 'The Eric D Pritchard Collection', Auckland War Memorial Museum - Tāmaki Paenga Hira, Published: 20 12 2018.