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What Was 'Aquarium Mania'?

  • “A magnificent scene”, Hibberd (1860 p.131)., â€œA magnificent scene”, Hibberd (1860 p.131). Combined rock-work aquarium and fern case designed by George Voyez. 
Frontispiece to Hibberd, Book of the Aquarium, (1860).
, Private Collection− © Kevin Edge
    “A magnificent scene”, Hibberd (1860 p.131). Combined rock-work aquarium and fern case designed by George Voyez. Frontispiece to Hibberd, Book of the Aquarium, (1860). , Private Collection

Increased leisure resulted in many aspiring Victorian families taking nature into their homes for fun and self-improvement. The glass aquarium, in particular, captured the imagination of the British public and led to a short-lived excitement for glazed domestic centerpieces.

 

“A complete aquarium mania ran through the country…shops were opened for the simple purpose of supplying aquaria and their contents” 

(Wood, 1868 p.3).

Many houses were already furnished with glazed terrariums – conversation pieces housing delicate plants – so aquariums were the next fashionable step. The Glass Duties Repeal Act (1845) made industrial plate glass cheaper and so retailers like Lloyd’s in London sold prefabricated “parlour pond” tanks at prices that further fueled the mania (Newman, 1873). 

The novelty of a glass-fronted natural theatre quickly waned as domestic aquarium husbandry proved taxing for many. One Victorian aquarist wrote that whilst “Aquarium mania” had now passed, for the serious student, aquariums remained “a triumph of art acting as the handmaid of science” (Hibberd, 1860 pp.2-3).