It is with sheer joy that I discover an original data label – the tiny pieces of paper behind pinned specimens – that are often a glimpse into a bygone era.
Labels tell just snippets of a story, a tale of where specimens were found, by whom, and a date. With no figurative language or tantalising descriptions, they are skeletal stories at best that rely entirely on how much information the individual who made the label provided.
Very often the labels are illegible, partly as a result of age, more often because they were scribbled hastily in the field and never properly transcribed. Many of my late 1800s butterflies and moths are complete with labels showing their copperplate script; feathery slanting letters written in sepia ink, so utterly romantic.
This recent discovery is a favourite.. ‘Golf course, Singapore, Edge of Jungle 9/9/62’. This shortest of stories conjures up an ex-patriate life perhaps, of khaki shorts, whirring fans and cocktails on the terrace, and a day in September almost 60 years ago when a collector - who will be forever mysterious - discovered a beautiful butterfly on the edge of a jungle.