Feb 8, 2014

Aquarium Fishes in Color

by G. Mandahl-Barth

This book was enjoyed for its aesthetics, not particularly valued for the information contained therein. It is very dated, and the care/technical data is rudimentary at best, although I can see that some basics have never changed. In some ways it was amusing or enlightening to read how different methods and equipment were of the past. Aquarium heaters had no thermostat, it was either on or off, you had to flip the switch and try and regulate it yourself. Siphons were made of rubber hosing and a glass tube, commercial fish food was not that great so it was recommended to catch, raise or prepare your own foods, and there is no mention of dechlorinating water at all (the book says to collect rainwater or use water from a well). There is some mention of beneficial bacteria in a tank, but none of establishing a cycle. And it seems that most standard size tanks were relatively small- repeatedly throughout the book any fish over four or six inches is deemed too large for most people to consider keeping!

But what I loved were the pictures. The first half of the book is full of color plates hand-painted by one N. Norvil, illustrating many popular species. At least, popular of the time! It was interesting to see which ones I could recognize and which have subtly changed shape or color over nearly five decades. Many which are deemed unpopular because of their particular habits, unattractive colors or difficulty in keeping are actually more familiar to me. Others I had never seen mention of at all, so those have obviously fallen out of favor by now. I was surprised to find that this book states emphatically that goldfish should never be kept in a round bowl, in fact it advises against keeping them indoors at all and says their only proper habitat is an outdoor pond. Nearly fifty years, what we still haven't learned.

In spite of the fact that the color plates occupy the first half of the book, and information on each species the end, it was easy to flip back and forth between them. Species info was very basic, often noted that this fish or that one had never been known to breed in captivity, whereas I know that's not the case for many of them today. Helpfully, all the plates and the species notes have corresponding numbers, so if you look a fish up in the index you simply have to find its numbered illustration or listing.

I featured a few images of the artwork out of this book at the end of this post.

Rating: 3/5    138 pages, 1966

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