Reptile Life. Zdenek Vogel

vogel 2I can remember the day I discovered and bought this book. I was in the local post office to buy a stamp when I saw a small display of books. The post office never had books before. I suddenly saw Reptile Life. I took it off the shelf and was astounded by what I read. Here was a book from behind the Iron Curtain describing reptiles and the happenings to the author on expeditions and in his herpetological institute in Czechoslovakia. I then looked at the price on the inside flap: 35 shillings. Too expensive for me. But then I looked at the display again and found it was not 35 shillings but was reduced to 10 shillings and 6 pence! That I could manage with a little help. I ran to my grandparents house and borrowed the necessary 10 shilling note and a sixpenny piece and then ran back to the post office arriving a few minutes before closing time.

So there I was with an amazing new book, bought from the local post office, six miles away from the proper bookshop in Nottingham (which I checked every week or so in the hope that a book on reptiles might appear) and a Saturday evening to read it.

Before moving on to the book and its author, I need to explain how it was possible to make a find like this in 1959 in a local post office but not in a regular book shop. The publishers were Spring Books of London and the printing was done, like the writing and photography, in Czechoslovakia.

Book publishers in London in the 1950s (and much later) had a very cosy scheme with book sellers—the Net Book Agreement—that enabled them to fix the price of books in the UK. Book sellers were not permitted to reduced the price, even of excess stock and the rule was that such books were pulped. But the rules of the cartel allowed excess stock to be sold to remainder merchants who could then sell these books to the public at reduced but by no means low price through shops other than established book shops.

Starting out as a remainder merchant under the Books for Pleasure imprint, Paul Hamlyn, later Lord Hamlyn (1926-2001), then moved into the reprint business, buying copyright of existing works and reprinting in large numbers. He set up Spring Books to handle the reprint end of the business.

Hamlyn’s story and success is explained in Immigrant Publishers: The Impact of Expatriate Publishers in Britain and America in the 20th Century, edited by Richard Abel and William G Graham (Transaction Publishers, 2009):

A key element in Hamlyn’s early success was Paul’s association with ARTIA, the state-controlled Czechoslovak agency…After some aggressive bargaining both with ARTIA and his clients, Paul was granted exclusive rights to sell ARTIA publications in the English language.

The book bears the statement that it was designed and produced by Artia for Spring Books.

The binding and paper of Reptile Life are of high quality. Again, Immigrant Publishers explains why:

It is probably a well-kept secret to this day that Paul was given an elaborate signed and sealed contract granting him exclusive use of Czechoslovak printing for books in the English language. Reliability of supply on agreed dates was not a feature of the relationship, and paper quality could vary, not always downwards, without warning. Very cheap books would arrive beautifully bound in real book cloth, because “Rexene”-type materials were not available in Czechoslovakia.

Spring Books from the maverick Paul Hamlyn, like the remaindered books, were sold to whoever would stock them for retail to the public. Because they fell outside the Net Book Agreement between established publishers and retailers, they were not available through the book trade. Hence, my local post office had Reptile Life for sale. I think the pricing was also a ruse to make customers feel they were getting a bargain: 10/6 vs 35/- (£11 vs £37 in today’s money)—you can’t go wrong.

So, that explains how Vogel’s Reptile Life appeared on the British scene in 1958. It was just totally different from anything else on the British market. Here was an author with a private herpetological station in a country behind the Iron Curtain describing reptiles from all over the world (especially central Asia) and how to keep them, his expeditions, and his bites from venomous snakes.

vogel 1The author, Zdeněk Vogel, was born in 1913. He explains in the Preface:

In 1947, at my home in Suchdol near Prague, I founded a herpetological station. I had two reasons for doing this. In the first place it was necessary to lay the foundations of an institute for conducting intensive research into the bionomics of amphibians and reptiles, which would later extend its activities to further branches of science connected with herpetology. In the second place, I had received requests from friends and colleagues abroad for help in making exchanges of amphibians and reptiles from different parts of the world for terraria and for scientific purposes. This meant that the animals which passed through the herpetological station must be cared for and acclimatized.
I therefore got in touch with other institutes, zoological gardens, breeders and hunters abroad and was thus able to obtain a considerable number of animals, both small and large, many of which were very rare and some of which had never, or only very seldom, been previously brought to Europe alive. I began in particular to import many species of reptiles from Central Asia and the Far East. In exchange, breeders abroad send exotic specimens from their own terraria.
In 1948 I embarked on the building of a special glass reptile house for breeding purposes and for scientific research work. The temperature can be regulated quite easily, there is the maximum possible light and air, and conditions for photography are very good. It is not, of course, equipped for visits by the general public, since it is not intended to, and cannot, serve the same purpose as the reptile house in a zoological garden…

The Smithsonian marks him out as having made particular contributions as an amateur to exotic animal husbandry. Their website says that he ‘primarily supported his scientific studies via popular writing, although he was also a breeder and supplier of reptiles’. How he did what he did during the communist regime and a command economy, and managed to travel so extensively, I cannot imagine. Was he supplying animals within the Soviet bloc or to other countries as well?

He is described in a Czech publication as having discovered new species and having published several hundred scientific and popular scientific articles and papers in domestic and international journals. He wrote 16 books, including a popular aquarium book. He was, of course, the author of Reptiles and Amphibians. Their Care and Behaviour published by Studio Vista, London in 1964 (the original German version was published as Wunderwelt Terrarium in 1963.

He died on 9 December 1986 in Prague.

Here is a review of the book by Alfred Leutscher in Fishkeeping and Water Life, June 1959:


The book can be downloaded here or the Downloads page above:

Reptile Life


Vivarium Life. 2nd edition. Alfred Leutscher

Screen Shot 2014-09-11 at 17.08.40The second edition of Vivarium Life was published in 1961.  I had never seen this edition until I bought one a few days ago from a book dealer for very little. As far as I can judge the first edition is the one usually on offer so I suspect that the second edition did not sell so well.  Alfred Leutscher explained in the Preface what had been changed:

This edition meets, it is hoped, the principal wish expressed by many users of the original version: that it should not only describe the individual creatures likely to inhabit a vivarium, but should give some general information on how to set one up. The author has provided an introductory section on this subject, with a number of drawings of suitable constructions…

Leutscher himself drew replacements for most of Humphrey Dakeyne’s illustrations of reptiles and amphibians. I got to 37 replacements but I may have lost count. Unfortunately, Leutscher’s drawings are no better than Dakeyne’s and some are much worse.  Indoor and outdoor vivaria, reptiliaries and pools are covered in the new section with reference, in some cases, to the designs of other herpetologists of the 1930s and earlier. One example is L.G. Payne’s ‘Toad Hall’ (see my post of 22 February 2014 on Payne on this site); another is Bateman’s aqua-terrarium, using a laboratory bell jar as the aqua part (no mention of glass accumulator jars which were commonly used in the 1950s as a replacement for the  expensive bell jar or as simple aquaria).

The errors in the first edition remain: ‘Conrana‘ for Conraua and ‘parotid’ for parotoid are two examples.

Much of the content of this edition of Vivarium Life was carried forward to his Keeping Reptiles and Amphibians published by David & Charles in 1976 and on which there will be more later.

The book can be downloaded here or the Downloads page above:

Vivarium Life 2nd edition

Humphrey Dakeyne – Illustrator of Vivarium Life

frogAs well as Alfred Leutscher’s Vivarium Life, Humphrey Dakeyne also illustrated the book on tropical aquaria by Ian Harman (see my post on Ian Harman of 2 July 2014). Recently, by digging in genealogical search websites, newspaper records and in Google I have been able to identify him with a very high degree of certainty. There is also some plainly incorrect information, as is so often the case, in an online family tree.

Humphrey Beresford Peter De la Pole Dakeyne was born in Staffordshire on 21 May 1914. He could well be the Humphrey Dakeyne who was in amateur dramatics in Bath in the early 1930s and who was let off by the magistrates for not having a driving licence in Wiltshire in 1933 (he had applied for one). As an ‘art student’ he sailed from Southampton to New York on the SS Bremen in 1934.

In 1939 and 1940, I found him in Lynchburg, Virginia, described as a labourer and then as a helper in a foundry. An unlikely occupation perhaps but his presence in Lynchburg at this time was confirmed by a later entry record into the USA from Canada. He joined the Royal Canadian Air Force on 7 December 1941 and on 16 January 1942 entered the USA again, I would guess for training. The contact for his previous visit to the USA was stated to be his fiancée, a Miss Taylor. He served in the RCAF as a pilot (Flying Officer in 1944 in the only record I found) but could find no further information on his service.

monitorAfter the war, I found him in London, in 1946 living with Helen Dakeyne (probably his sister or mother). He married Margaret Dowling in 1947 in London. They lived in Eccleston Square, according to electoral records, between 1947 and 1950.

The next records of him are from Kenya. He was appointed a driving test examiner in 1956. There is an account of his racing cars with his wife ( a Mrs E Dakeyne, not M Dakeyne). The final record is of his death in Nairobi on 10 May 1973, aged 58.

I have found no record of his having illustrated any other books, other than for Leutscher and for Harman. His fish drawings were very good as were some of his amphibians and reptiles. I always particularly liked his Common Frog, the first illustration of in Vivarium Life, as well as the Nile Monitor that was used for the jacket and, in the first edition, on the front binding.

Vivarium Life by Alfred Leutscher

Screen Shot 2014-09-03 at 15.39.56This is the book that started me off in zoology, first with a burning interest in amphibians and reptiles. I found it in the local library, along with a couple of elementary books on biology, and remained glued to it, renewing the loan as necessary or re-borrowing it until I was bought a copy for my birthday. It had to be ordered from Sisson and Parker’s bookshop in Nottingham and must have arrived after my birthday since my mother wrote September 1958 along with my name and address inside the front cover. It was published in 1952 by Cleaver-Hume Press (later incorporated into Macmillan).

With hindsight, it is not a very good book but it was the only one I could get my hands on (Maxwell Knight’s book, Keeping Reptiles and Fishes, appeared in the library somewhat later). Vivarium Life is a curious book, because it describes the animals and plants that might be found in vivaria and aquaria but contains very little information on how to keep them. One very curious omission is that of mealworms, then the only commercially-available food, apart from maggots used as fishing bait, for lizards and frogs.

Sadly, Vivarium Life was the butt of a number of jokes because of the quality of the drawings by Humphrey Dakeyne. Some were good, some acceptable and some were completely wrong, that of the Surinam Toad being an example of the last category. I suspect Dakeyne had never seen a live, nor a properly mounted museum specimen of many of the animals he was asked to draw.

These points were picked up in an anonymous review of the book in the Aquarist (December 1952, volume17, number 9):


A second edition of Vivarium Life was published in 1961. I will consider the changes to that edition in a later post.

I perpetuated an error from the book when writing about the Goliath Frog. Leutscher had its scientific name as Conrana goliath. That looked logical; frogs were Rana so Conrana looked alright. Only some years later did I realise that the correct generic name was Conraua, for Gustav Conrau, and had nothing to do with Rana at all.

Later, Leutscher wrote another book, Keeping Reptiles and Amphibians, that was of more practical use. I will write more on this book later but there were, again, curious omissions.

The Leutschers were originally Swiss Mennonites who had emigrated to Holland to escape religious persecution in 1711. Alfred George Leutscher was born on 30 October 1913 in Wanstead, then in Essex but now part of north-east London, to Izaak Leutscher (1886-1976) and his wife, Lammechien Hendriken Huizinga (1886-1970). Both of his parents were born in the Netherlands and married there in 1912. They appeared to have been in Wanstead for the rest of their lives. Alfred was one of four children. His brother, a sergeant pilot in the RAF, was killed in 1942.

He married Phyllis Muriel Carter in 1940. In the 1960s they lived at 24 Overton Drive, Wanstead. She died in 1969 and in 1971 he married Barbara Joan Farr who predeceased him. Alfred died in 1992.

Alfred Leutscher was an honours graduate of the University of London. In 1951 (about the time he must have been writing Vivarium Life) he was appointed Guide Lecturer at what is now the Natural History Museum; he was later described as Senior Guide Lecturer. At the time he wrote Vivarium Life, Alfred Leutscher was Secretary of the British Herpetological Society which had been founded in 1947. The Scotsman reported on 2 November 1950:

Many of the London members [of the BHS] have snakes in their gardens. The secretary of the main body, Mr Alfred Leutscher, even keeps six in his suburban flat, including an aesculapian…

Also in 1950, the Evening Telegraph had a report of residents of the Romney Marshes in Kent complaining about the croaking of the introduced Marsh Frogs (then Rana ribibunda, now Pelophylax ribibundus). Leutscher is quoted as saying: The noise made by the male frogs in the mating season, which has now begun, is certainly considerable and likely to disturb anybody’s sleep.

Leutscher was an active field naturalist and teacher. His entry in the 1971 Author’s and Writer’s Who’s Who shows him as President of the British Naturalists’ Association and a member of the Wildlife Youth Service as well as a member of the Authors’ Club. There are a number of references online to his participation as a lecturer in courses, to his encouragement of young naturalists in Epping Forest and to his records, of glow-worms held in jam-jars used to light tents, for example.

He wrote, co-authored or translated a number of books after Vivarium Life, a number of which were aimed at young naturalists. There is a list at the bottom of this post.

I never met Alfred Leutscher. I hoped to when I joined the British Herpetological Society in 1961 and attended a meeting in London that summer. I was told that he rarely attended. I find though that I am not the only one who was enthused by Vivarium Life. Terry Thatcher was a main player in Britain in the rapid advances in reptile breeding and husbandry that occurred during the 1970s, as others in continental Europe and in the USA realised and demonstrated that reptiles would breed in captivity. In his website Terry writes: A gem I discovered was Vivarium Life by Alfred Leutscher, first published in 1952. It was rarely in the library because I was constantly scanning the black and white pages…

While researching this article I came across reference to Leutscher’s explanation of the mystery of the The Devil’s Hoofmarks that appeared in the snow in Devon in 1855. There will be more on this in my other blog, Zoology Jottings.

This is a photograph of Alfred Leutscher (Water Life and Aquaria World, January-February 1952):

Alfred Leutscher

Alfred Leutscher

The book can be downloaded here or the Downloads page above:
Vivarium Life


Zoology Jottings:
Terry Thatcher:

Books, in addition to Vivarium Life (which also appeared as Le Vivarium in a French edition published by Payot in 1953), written, co-authored or translated by Alfred Leutscher include: Tracks and Signs of British Animals (1960). Animal Camouflage (1961), Wonderful World of Nature—Reptiles, Reptiles and Amphibians, an Introduction (1957), A study of reptiles and amphibians, including their care as pets (1963), Curious World of Snakes (1963), Life in Fresh Waters (1964), Field Natural History—A Guide to Ecology (1969), Tropical Aquarium Fishes by Nieuwenhuizen (translator, 1960), The Young Specialist Looks at Reptiles (1969), Reptiles and Amphibians of Europe by Hellmich (English editor, 1962), Dinosaurs and Other Prehistoric Animals (1971), The Ecology of Water Life (1971), The Ecology of Woodlands (1971), The Marshland (1972), The River (1972), The Pond (1972), Badgers (1973), Deer (1973), Squirrels (1973), Woodpeckers (1973), Seashore (1975), Epping Forest: Its History and Wildlife (1975), The Ecology of Towns (1975), Mammals (1975), How to Begin the Study of Reptiles and Amphibians (1975), Keeping Reptiles and Amphibians (1976), The Ecology of Woodlands (1977), The Ecology of Mountains (1978), Prehistoric Monsters (1981), A Field Guide to the British Countryside (1981), A Walk Through the Seasons (1981), Pond Life (1982), Prehistoric Man, Water (1983), Earth (1984), Flowering Plants (1984). In 2009, his early book on animal tracks was republished with a co-author as Animal Tracks and Signs—a mere 17 years after his death.

NOTE ADDED 29 March 2018

This book was sold through Facebook recently. It was signed by Leutscher and there was a letter inside to to James Clarence Battersby (1901-1993), herpetologist on the technical staff, also working at the British Museum. This was Battersby’s copy. The use of the term ‘Mr Battersby’ is an interesting reflection of the time.

Leutscher Letter