With books, as with the science
of taxonomy, priority of publishing
dates is quite important. From my
point of view here, it allows one
to ascertain which aquarium book
first mentioned catfishes as aquarial
animals. From a historical point this
is, I believe, of great importance.
Al Klee, in a limited distribution
2004 publication, provided some
good historical detective work
that showed in general terms that
the Edwards book had publishing
priority over that of Butler’s. As
some additional, and more specific,
information has come to hand, I would
like to present it herein to bolster the
material provided by Klee.
Klee suggested that a specific
book reviewer, whose review was
published in September 1858, may
have had the Edwards book “as
early as July, 1858.” It can be
shown that it might have been
even a bit earlier. An early small
broadside sheet from the publisher
(H. Bailliere, New York) of the book
lists, and quotes from, four reviews
that were published in June of
1858. The earliest of these is dated
June 14, 1858, so it is probable that
the book was probably published
in May or early June as opposed to
“probably about July or August” as
suggested by Klee.
In regards to the publishing of
Butler’s book, Klee provides no
specific information, but does note,
in that the preface is dated June 1,
1858, that it is unlikely that the
book could have been published
prior to that of Edwards. Again,
Klee’s reasoning is on target. There
is a publisher’s (Dick & Fitzgerald,
New York) first advertisement for
the Butler book, and it is of the type
that really narrows things down.
This ad, which was published
in the New York Times of Friday,
July 9, 1858, specifically states
the following regarding the book:
“Published this day.” It is hard to
get more specific than that.
So the Butler book was published
a bit closer to the Edwards book
than Klee suggested, but the priority
of Edwards as the author of the first
American aquarium book is still
firmly in place.
Pimelodus maculatus; while the genus Pimelodus is used in modern times for a group of South
American catfishes, it was applied more widely in the past to a number of catfish species across
or Aqua Vivarium by Henry D. Butler. At
the time that his book was published,
Butler was in charge of the aquarium
at P. T. Barnum’s American Museum in
New York City. He was also involved with
James Cutting of Boston, and the two of
them opened another public aquarium,
the Aquarial Gardens, in that city in early
1859. Butler lists one catfish (Pomelodus
[sic – should be Pimelodus] pullus, which is
another synonym for Ameiurus nebulosus,
the brown bullhead). Nothing specific is
said regarding it, and only in general terms
relating to it and some other species is it
noted to be a fish for a large tank.
Note should be made regarding the use
of the genus name Pimelodus. While today
this name is still in use, it is limited to a
group of South American catfishes. In the
past this name was widespread and used for
a great variety of worldwide catfishes.
In this year, The American Parlor
Aquarium, or Fluvial Aqua Vivarium by J. H.
Collier and J. Hooper was published (J. H.
Collier, Publisher, New York). This book
is solidly aimed at covering freshwater
fishes of the United States, and catfishes
receive some major coverage. It is not
overwhelming, but almost four pages out
of a total of 144 pages, plus some other
mentions, is not too bad.
In the main section of fishes in this book,
three catfishes are considered. The three
species are: Pimelodus atrarius, P. pullus, and
P. catus. As previously noted, the first two
names are synonyms of Ameiurus nebulosus.
The latter name is now correctly Ameiurus
catus, the white catfish. Each catfish is
illustrated (drawing), and information on
“specific character” is provided. Other
tidbits, such as size, are also noted. In the
case of P. atrarius it is noted that this species
will breed in the aquarium. This appears to
be the first such mention regarding any
In a section of the book dealing with
feeding aquarium fishes, it is stated that the
catfishes are voracious and carnivorous and
require “considerable introduced food.”
This is a condition not unfamiliar to many
catfish aquarists today.
Lastly is an interesting listing of 13
additional catfish species that are outside
of the general area covered by the text.
There is substantial synonymy on the list,
but a number of today’s aquarium favorites
(including a madtom) are represented.
For the coverage that is provided this
book, though obviously not the first, it
must be considered a groundbreaking
publication when it comes to catfishes as
Although the African electric catfish is
noted to have been imported to Germany
as an aquarium fish in 1904, this was not
its first live appearance outside of Africa. In
1870, J. Bird, a missionary, carried a 4-inch
electric catfish (Malapterurus sp.) to England
from Nigeria. It is reported to have survived
for six months in an unheated aquarium.