Alderfer Auction notes demise of the passenger pigeon Dec. 12

passenger pigeon

Framed grouping of 19th century items related to the capture of passenger pigeons in Pennsylvania. Alderfer Auction image

HATFIELD, Pa. – On Dec. 12, at its Fine & Decorative Arts Auction, Alderfer Auction will offer a relic of the past that holds a valuable moral in today’s world. The item that is being offered for sale is a shadowbox containing various items used to trap pigeons in the 19th century. Items included in the frame include a whistle, cord and other tools to make nets to trap pigeons. Absentee and Internet live bidding is available through LiveAuctioneers.

The pigeons that were being trapped were passenger pigeons, a migratory bird indigenous to North America that numbered in the billions in the 19th century. This bird became a cheap and readily available source of food that could be shipped from the countryside to the growing cities of eastern North America. In the 19th century the trapping/hunting of these birds was commercialized to meet that demand. This extreme pressure on the species as well as deforestation of the pigeon’s breeding and nesting grounds sent their population numbers into a downward spiral. The last known surviving passenger pigeon died at on Sept. 1, 1914. In less than 100 years the species had gone from billions to extinct.

Many of the items in the case belonged to Jacob Weisel (1802-1884) a pigeoneer/trapper that lived north Williamsport, Pennsylvania. The documentation states that many of these items were used in the 1850s. The items themselves were collected by Charles H. Eldon (1852-1930) a taxidermist from Williamsport. Eldon mounted these items for display and presented them to Henry Wharton Shoemaker (1880-1958) several years after the last passenger pigeon had died. Shoemaker was a Pennsylvania renaissance man who excelled as a writer, folklorist, historian, diplomat and soldier. His family was well acquainted with Theodore Roosevelt and his family. Shoemaker espoused Roosevelt’s ideas on conservation and was well known in his own right for supporting various conservation ideals in Pennsylvania. The presentation of this case may have been a representation of what can go wrong if man’s actions go unchecked in a fragile environment.

In today’s news of threatened species and quests for environmental responsibility, these framed relics serve as evidence and a warning to future generations.

The framed grouping devoted to pigeon capture will be sold on Dec. 12. The two-day event of Collector’s Dec. 11 and Fine Art Dec. 12 Auctions will be held live at 501 Fairgrounds Road in Hatfield, Pennsylvania.