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Henry Nichols cover

Henry W. Nichols.
Early geological history of Chicago.
Chicago: Field Museum of Natural History, 1925.
Field Museum of Natural History, Geology Leaflet, number 7.
30 pp., 10 plates with other illustrations.
bound chronologically in one volume with:
Henry W. Nichols.
Model of an Arizona gold mine.
Chicago: Field Museum of Natural History, 1922.
Field Museum of Natural History, Geology Leaflet, number 1.

Henry W. Nichols.
Models of blast furnaces for smelting iron.
Chicago: Field Museum of Natural History, 1923.
Field Museum of Natural History, Geology Leaflet, number 2.

Oliver C. Farrington.
Amber.
Chicago: Field Museum of Natural History, 1923.
Field Museum of Natural History, Geology Leaflet, number 3.

Oliver C. Farrington.
Meteorites.
Chicago: Field Museum of Natural History, 1923.
Field Museum of Natural History, Geology Leaflet, number 4.

Orthoceras

Henry W. Nichols.
Soils.
Chicago: Field Museum of Natural History, 1925.
Field Museum of Natural History, Geology Leaflet, number 5.

Oliver C. Farrington.
The Moon.
Chicago: Field Museum of Natural History, 1925.
Field Museum of Natural History, Geology Leaflet, number 6.

Oliver C. Farrington.
Agate: Physical properties and origin.
Chicago: Field Museum of Natural History, 1927.
Field Museum of Natural History, Geology Leaflet, number 8.

Sharat K. Roy.
How old are fossils?.
Chicago: Field Museum of Natural History, 1927.
Field Museum of Natural History, Geology Leaflet, number 9.


Silurian map of North America

On the pre-continental drift Earth, continents and oceans were not interchangeable, like so many jigsaw puzzle pieces. Conservative geologists thought Pangaea was Alfred Wegener’s (1880–1930) joke; have you heard the one about Gondwana? In static geology, continents were frequently flooded with marine waters to account for thousands of feet of tropical limestones far inland, well north from the equator. I always enjoyed old-time paleogeography, where continents were always continents and nothing less. I cherished Charles Schuchert’s (1858–1942) Atlas of paleogeographic maps of North America, published in its adorable spiral binding by John Wiley & Sons in 1955. I literally wore out my copy of Schuchert, flipping through those maps on many travels, wondering about the depth of Paleozoic seas under my feet.

It was with great delight that I discovered as a youngster Early geological history of Chicago by Henry Nichols at the Field Museum. This pamphlet, published in 1925, was part of a series, entitled Geology Leaflets, produced by staff to acquaint the public with science in printed form, much like a diorama or mounted skeleton in the Museum’s halls. Nichols’ 30-page pamphlet was important to my imagination especially for its nine plates and frontispiece. Six of the plates are color paleogeographic maps of North America, with the location of Chicago clearly tagged. The most important map appears after page 30, with Chicago immersed at the bottom of a tropical Silurian ocean.


Silurian fossils

Two-thirds of this work is dedicated to describing the fauna and conditions of the ancient Niagaran sea, with two plates illustrating fossils from the Silurian exposed in quarries around the Chicago area. These plates were important as checks on my identifications of discoveries in limestone outcrops exposed around Thornton quarry and elsewhere. I was quite proud when I could claim that I found every fossil illustrated on those two plates, as well as some scarcer fossils not pictured, like bryozoans.

As if my imagination needed any additional fuel, there are fine pen-and-ink drawings scattered throughout the text, reconstructing Silurian creatures. There are the obvious reconstructions of a crinoid and trilobite, but my favorite is Orthoceras, a wonderful cephalopod that occupied the top of the Silurian food chain. These clever images were created by Carl F. Gronemann, staff artist at the Museum.

My current copy of Early geological history of Chicago is part of a beautifully bound volume of the first nine Geology Leaflets published by the Field Museum between 1922 and 1927. The blue morocco and moire binding denotes that someone quite valued these leaflets as much as I do. A bookplate on the inside front cover indicates that this work belonged, at one time, to Joseph Nash Field (1911–1985), son of the long-time president (for 56 years!) of the Museum, Stanley Field (1875–1964). Joseph was actually Joseph Nash Field II, for he was the grandson of Joseph Nash Field I (1831–1914), brother of Marshall Field (1835–1906), founder of the Museum and a certain well-known department store in Chicago. Joseph Nash Field II was born on January 10, 1911, so would have been 16 or 17 years old when this bound set was presented to him, depending on how long these leaflets awaited their precious leather covers.


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