The O.H.M.S. cover was addressed to C.W. Richmond Esq., Assistant Curator Dept. Birds, U.S. National Museum, Wahington D.C., United States America, and was sent from the Queensland Museum, Brisbane, 4-9-1897. The 2½d QV stamp of Queensland is cancelled with a poor Brisbane postmark, but in addition there was an octagonal Brisbane G.P.O. cancel with V/ P 5 B/ BRISBANE/ SP 4/ 97 (Figure 1).
This does not conform to the expected configuration of O/ P 5 B/ BRISBANE/ SP 4/ 97, the ‘O’ showing that it was posted in the overseas box. The enlarged present postmark is shown, and for comparison a correct format for an overseas postmark are also shown (Figures 1A & 1B).
The reverse had a transit cancellation of VICTORIA B.C./ AM/ CANADA (Figure 2).
Charles Wallace Richmond was born in Kenosha, Wisconsin on December 31, 1868 and he was the eldest son of Edward Leslie and Josephine Ellen Richmond. His mother died when he was 12 and after that his father who was a railway mail clerk moved to Washington DC and joined the Government Printing House there. His father remarried and he had the additional duty of taking care of younger stepbrothers. During his early life he earned extra income for the family by leaving school and working as a page in the House of Representatives. At the age of 15 he got a position as a messenger in the Geological Survey. In 1897 he graduated after he studied medicine in Georgetown University and in the next year he married Louise H. Seville.
On the 29th of January in 1897, Charles Wallace Richmond, then Assistant Curator of Birds in the United States National Museum, wrote to his friend Witmer Stone telling him of a great task he had undertaken. ” I am employing my spare time in making a card catalogue of described species of birds, both living and extinct, and genera, giving the names, as originally spelled, complete reference and date of publication, type locality; also data for the type specimen when given. During the past year I have compiled about 1500 of these cards, going through works where the date of publication was more or less certain”.
Begun in 1889, when Richmond was 21, the card catalog of birds became his life’s work. Every evening at his apartment on 9th Street N.W.,Washington, Richmond would edit and extend the list of names, and print the blank forms he used for the common journals on his own small printing press. The printing press and type cases stood in one corner of the room and his book case in another. After the table had been cleared and a reading lamp adjusted, he removed his coat, then he would get out his box of cards and the volume upon which he happened to be working, light a cigar, wind up an early variety of phonograph in which he took great delight, and begin the compilation.
By 1912 Richmond considered the catalog three-fifths complete, with 30,000 finished cards and 10,000 more containing fragmentary information. At this time he devised a publication plan, under which individuals or institutions would subscribe and receive printed copies of all the new cards as they were completed, much in the same way as libraries could subscribe to the catalog cards of the Library of Congress. Richmond printed several sets of sample cards, but for whatever reason the plan was not carried through. Another publication plan, to print a new list of all the generic names of birds as a replacement for the earlier work of Waterhouse (1889), had the misfortune of being sponsored by a German zoological society on the eve of the First World War, and it fell through as well. The card catalog continued to serve as the basis for some important nomenclatural publications of the National Museum (Richmond, 1902, 1908, 1917, 1927), but its overall usefulness remained restricted to those few specialists who could consult it in Washington, or who were on close enough terms with Richmond to ask him to consult it for them. Now at last the fruits of Richmond’s labor, labor begun nearly one hundred years ago, are available to the whole ornithological community, just as he had always wished. He was appointed to the head curator of National Museum for the Bird’s Department on the death of curator Robert Ridgway on July 1, 1929, but relinquished the position voluntarily on September 16, to assume his past position as associate curator.
Charles Wallace Richmond’s publication in systematic ornithology has without doubt the record for the longest. The Richmond Index to the Genera and Species of Birds, 70,000 cards long and the product of forty years’ work, will, as Witmer Stone declared in1932, “ever be a monument to his knowledge and industry.” He died May 19, 1932 and a picture of Charles and a copy of his signature is seen in Figure 3.
The purpose of the letter from the Queensland Museum was either to consult with Richmond on Queensland birds or to obtain a reprint on one of his papers about birds.
I would be pleased to hear from readers about the anomalous octagonal Brisbane G.P.O. postmark.