Christmas edition: Foraminiferal Christmas cards

Christmas greetings slide 1912, by Arthur Earland. Image credit: © The Natural History Museum, London

During the early decades of the 20th-century, Arthur Earland and Edward Heron-Allen were volunteers at the Natural History Museum. They both studied Foraminifera, a group of single celled protozoa with shells of different composition and granuloreticulose pseudopodia. The first record of the group is from the Early Cambrian (540 million years ago) and extend to the present day. Their size range is from about 100 micrometers to almost 20 centimeters long. Their importance as tool for paleoclimate reconstruction was recognized early in the history of oceanography.

Each Christmas, Earland and Heron-Allen exchanged unusual but beautiful Christmas cards made with foraminifera. The most popular of these Christmas-themed slide is from 1912 and has Earland’s initials (“AE”), the word “Xmas”, and the year. This lovely tradition ended when their partnership dissolved, possibly because Heron-Allen alone was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society for his Foraminifera work in 1919.

Portraits of Heron-Allen and A. Earland. Image credit: © The Natural History Museum, London

Arthur Earland was a Civil servant and employed in the Post Office Savings Bank Department. He was born at Lewisham on November 3, 1866. In the late 1880 he joined the Quekett Microscopical Club, and by 1891 he had published his first paper. He was one of the several researchers that worked with the material collected by the HSM Challenger.

Edward Heron-Allen was a lawyer and polymath, who translated the works of Omar Khayyam. He was born on 17 December 1861 in London. His interest in science began during his days at Elstree Preparatoy School. In 1894 he published his first paper, entitled ‘Prolegomena towards the Study of the Chalk Foraminifera’, a practical guide to the preparation and study of fossil foraminifera. In 1907, he start working with A. Earland. This association lasted until 1933.

Christmas greetings slide 1921, by Arthur Earland. Image credit: © The Natural History Museum, London

Among the many achievements of ArthurEarland and Edward Heron-Allen are the description of 650 species of Foraminifera from the famous Terra Nova Antarctic expedition.

Edward Heron-Allen died on March 28, 1943, in Sussex, England, shortly after the dead of his wife. The Heron-Allen collection (containing 740 slides of foraminifera) and associated library are held by Natural History Museum. Arthur Earland was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society of Edinburgh in 1942. He died on March 27, 1958.


HEDLEY, R. Mr. Arthur Earland. Nature 181, 1440–1441 (1958).

Gregory Richard Arman (1943), Edward Heron-Allen 1861-1943 Obit. Not. Fell. R. Soc.4447–454

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