Last week I, Jake Adams marine aquarium writer, had the rare opportunity to visit Zoo Med Laboratories, the most well known brand name in reptile products.While I had expected to see quite a spread of live reptiles, especially the turtles and tortoises that Zoo Med is known for breeding, something altogether different was really the main event, at least for me.
Built into the walls of the customer support center of Zoo Med, is the most exquisite gallery of vintage glass fish bowls I’ve ever seen. As if it’s not even enough to have row after row of these beautiful antique aquarium glass wares, each of the fishbowls is supported by some kind of base, some kind of stand, and/or some kind of equally old adornment on the rim of the bowl or inside of it.
So to our incredulous surprise, we came to learn that Zoo Med founder Gary Bagnall is a die hard aquarist and he entertains a collection of vintage fishbowls that he documents and deals in on his website, Vintage Fishbowls. In addition to slinging a few surplus vintage fish bowls here and there on the side, SLO Mermaids is a line of hand painted reproductions of aquarium ornaments that are intended to bring back some of the 1920’s fish bowl feel.
Our favorite group of vintage/antique fish bowls on display at Zoo Med are the ones that have the eery greenish glow. I didn’t expect to visit the reptile people and get schooling on aquarium history but apparently, during the great depression it was popular to make glass with some uranium thrown in for good measure, creating the eery greenish yellow glass known as Vaseline Glass.
This particular row of vintage fish bowls made with the uranium-laced vaseline glass was illuminated by near-UV LED strips which helped to give the fluorescence of the glass even more glow. Even the shapes of the fish bowls can vary widely as you can see in the stunning example of the “geometric” fish bowl with the polar bear peeking into it.
As if all of this awesome antique aquarium stewardship wasn’t enough to blow your mind from a reptile product company, the actual live animal display areas also house three large antique aquariums. Each of these antique aquariums are framed in a copper-colored brass with beautifully ornate motifs all throughout, the two largest having been built Matson Navigation Company.
These antique framed aquariums may be old school in appearance but they are mostly powered with canister filters and sporting mostly old school freshwater plant species. The especially awesome part of seeing what basically amounts to a living aquarium museum is the meticulous care with which they are presented; excellent lighting and dust-proof casing for the fish bowls, and live displays in the older, larger aquariums.
With the aquarium hobby ever growing and expanding into more mainstream cultures around the world, it’s probably only a matter of time, even if it is decades, until we see an actual aquarium museum but in the meantime, it was a real treat to see what Zoo Med has secreted away within its own walls.