by Robert Verish

The Last in a Series of Articles:
Museums Are Selling-off Their Collections - the Original Editorial


The original set of articles by the editor and publisher of Mineral News that exposed a well-known museum of selling-off their mineral collection

My last few articles made reference to a newsletter article that was titled, "Philadelphia Museum Attempts to Liquidate Historic Mineral Collection". Because copies of that newletter (and that referenced article) are so difficult to obtain, I've received several requests to transcribe that original expose.
Therefore, my article this month is a transcription of that "original" editorial which triggered all of those subsequent articles.

My June, August, and September 2005 "Bob's Findings" installments were a series of articles about mineral collections which originally appeared in the monthly newsletter, Mineral News. These articles were inspired by the very controversial subject matter of the earlier editorials by the publisher (Tony Nikischer) and the editor (Mitchell Portnoy) in the November 2004 edition of Mineral News In that issue they published a set of articles which went into detail about the contentious manner in which a historical mineral [?meteorite?] collection was being sold by the well-known Academy of Natural Sciences in Philadelphia. Given the negative impact that this sale would have on the meteorite collecting community, particularly if this practice were to become commonplace, it is only fitting that my article this month bring attention to this subject.

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Mineral News, Vol. 20 No. 11  November 2004

 

Philadelphia Museum Attempts to Liquidate Historic Mineral Collection

by Tony Nikischer, Publisher Mineral News

 

And yet another deplorable effort to abandon mineralogy is underway, this time by the well-known Academy of Natural Sciences in Philadelphia. It has not had a paid full-time curator for more than twenty-five years, and the Academy's historically important collection has languished. It has escaped some of the ignominious ends foisted upon other mineral collections by the bureaucrats and similar ill-informed administrators left in charge of important holdings without the knowledge and expertise to manage them properly. But while the collection has suffered great neglect in the past several decades, its death knell now looms on the horizon. The situation at the Academy gives us all a glimpse of what could happen to other significant mineral collections left without appropriate curatorial care for an extended time. (Take note, Denver!)

 

The Academy of Natural Sciences in Philadelphia is one of oldest natural history institutions in North America. It was founded in 1812, and it built a substantial mineral collection over the ensuing years through the efforts of noted collectors and mineralogists, often through significant bequests by its many patrons and sometimes supported by large monetary endowments from their estates. (A brief historical summary of the Academy and some of its mineralogical contributors has been written by noted author, historian, mineral collector and publisher Jay Lininger just prior to his untimely death, and it is reproduced elsewhere in this issue. - Editor)

Famous collections and collectors, the likes of George Vaux (vauxite), Samuel Gordon (gordonite), and Edgar Wherry (wherryite), contributed greatly to mineralogy in general and to the Academy of Natural Sciences in particular. Unfortunately, the current administration at the Academy has no appreciation for its mineral holdings, nor seemingly any respect for the wishes of its many donors, and it now seeks to sell off its holdings without full regard for the legality of its intended actions. Its judgment has apparently been clouded by the lure of money, and lots of it.

An appraisal figure in the range of $5.0 million has supposedly been suggested to the Academy administration, and they are apparently leaning towards auctioning off their mineral holdings for the cash. Whether the Academy can legally do so is subject to much speculation: is it permitted by its collections management policy? What of its responsibility as a 501(c)(3) organization? What about the stipulations placed on donated specimens by the donors, their heirs and their estates? Worse, does it not see the obvious conflict of interest that exists in having the appraiser also act as the seller as has been rumored? Most importantly, the Academy is abrogating its responsibilities as a natural history museum, violating the spirit of its very raison d'etre, disgracing its storied heritage.

When museums and similar institutions are formed, one of the primary requirements from an official recognition standpoint is the development of a collections management policy. Having worked long and hard on one for the Hudson Institute of Mineralogy, I can attest to the importance and rigorous nature of such a policy. It defines not only what is preserved, but how it is to be cared for, how specimens are acquired and how they may be de-accessed, what happens to its artifacts if the institution can no longer meet its obligations of care, and many other factors regarding the management and preservation of its holdings. Poor stewardship, like that at the Academy of Natural Sciences in Philadelphia, might be suitable grounds for the administration to surrender its holdings. However, that surrender should first be an intact transfer to another suitable and capable institution, not a massive sell off of the artifacts! For organizations deemed tax exempt by the Internal Revenue Service (commonly called a 501(c)(3) organization), transfer upon dissolution to another 501(c)(3) organization is typically required.

John S. White, former curator at the Smithsonian, has written several times to the Academy president D. James Baker in an effort to prevent this terrible loss. John's latest letter is also reproduced in its entirety elsewhere in this issue, with John's permission. It is self-explanatory. If you would like to echo John's sentiments, write CEO Baker yourself; his address is printed in John's letter. While the Academy's website no longer even mentions its historical mineral collection, it offers a telephone number for donations (215-299-1011). Give them a call and tell them what you think.

(The following letter from former Smithsonian curator John White expresses some of the frustration in dealing with the Philadelphia Academy's administration regarding their ill-advised attempt to jettison their historical mineral collection. It is reprinted with John's gracious permission. - Mitchell Portnoy, Editor, Mineral News)

 

October 6, 2004

 

D. James Baker

President & CEO

The Academy of Natural Sciences 1900 Benjamin Franklin Parkway Philadelphia PA 19103-1195

 

Dear Dr. Baker:

 

My earlier attempts at persuading you to provide details about your intention to market the Academy's mineral collection have been disappointingly unproductive. I would, in fact, consider your two written responses akin to stonewalling. If I am not mistaken, any institution that qualifies as a 501C3 organization must be willing to display a considerable degree of openness, so I find your reluctance to share your intentions with me, and others who have written to you, puzzling.

About all that you have been willing to state in your two responses to my letters is that I should be able to rest assured that whatever is done at the Academy with respect to deaccessioning the mineral collection will be in accord with the "guidelines of the American Association of Museums." Unfortunately, according to virtually everyone that I have spoken with, you have already done something that is considered unethical, whether it is smiled upon by the AAM or not. Using one person to appraise the market value of the collection while employing that same person to act as an agent for the sale of the collection is not considered appropriate and should raise eyebrows in any overview of your management of this effort.

Furthermore, I have been told that your sales agent has been extraordinarily reckless in his handling of the minerals in this important collection. I have been told that in showing the collection to a hoped-for buyer he carelessly pulled open a drawer which collapsed, dumping the minerals in that drawer onto those in the lower drawer. He did not appear at all upset by this mishap. I have also been told that he held a fragile crystal in his hand to show to a guard how the heat of one's hand can make the crystal crack. It has even been suggested that your appraiser/sales agent purposely set the value of the collection at an excessively high number because he knew there is no "institutional buyer" that can afford it, thus forcing the breakup and sale of the collection via the auction route.

I understand that the only institutions that were in consideration; the Carnegie, the Smithsonian, and the Houston Museum, have all displayed a lack of interest in purchasing the collection. This being the case, can you suggest other alternatives? I cannot think of any.

In your letter to me of 24 June, 2004, you state that the "Academy has not had a curator of Mineralogy since 1981." This unfortunate fact cannot be used to justify the sale of the collection. I should think that you would be embarrassed to admit that the Academy has been so derelict in its role of caretaker of this exceedingly important collection that it has not seen fit to take the necessary steps to professionally care for it. Similarly with your statement that "most of the collection is not on view." How much of the Smithsonian's collection do you suppose is "on view"? Very little. This claim, too, cannot be used to justify selling off the collection in order to raise revenue for other functions of the Academy that today happen to appear more fashionable, to you at least. It is also disgraceful, in my view, that there are no programs at the Academy that involve minerals or rocks or geology, with the possible exception of dinosaurs. Natural history still includes earth science, even if many in the biological sciences appear willing to overlook this fact.

I am enclosing a short account, written by Jay Lininger, which details some of the reasons why this mineral collection is one of the most important in the U.S. I trust that you will take the time to read it. What should be obvious to anyone who reads this bit of history is that early American mineralogy and the Academy are intimately linked. This is a fact that should be celebrated, not ignored. This is something that Philadelphia can claim with pride, just as the Liberty Bell, and it should be featured in the museum, not relegated to dusty storage and inexcusable neglect, finally to be so scorned as to be looked upon only as a source of revenue to be spent on other unrelated Academy functions.

Jay Lininger and I and countless others are dedicated to preventing the sale of this collection, or any part of it. We are determined to do whatever we can to see that this does not occur. It is equally important, to us at least, that the Academy recognize the significance of this collection by providing appropriate care for it. It requires a curator, and it deserves to be professionally managed, which means that it needs to be cleaned up, properly labeled, inventoried, and appropriately housed, even if none of it is currently being displayed. Somewhere down the road, who knows, the Academy might have a president who appreciates the importance and significance of this collection and will want to celebrate its remarkable history and its links to so many important American scientists. Philadelphia is without dispute the cradle of American mineralogy, but one would be hard pressed to see evidence of this connection in any of the materials or exhibits produced by the Academy. This is nothing short of disgraceful.

Not only have I been unsuccessful in obtaining information about your deaccessioning plans, I have also had my request for the names and addresses of your trustees denied. I have been told that you will pass along these materials to your trustees, and I wish that I could believe that. I would be far more confident that they will see my communication if I am allowed to send copies to each of them directly.

 

Sincerely,

John S. White



Some of the History of Mineralogy at the

Academy of Natural Sciences, Philadelphia

 

Jay Lininger
Matrix Publishing Services
1920 Bank Lane
York, PA 17404

(The following was prepared by Jay just a few short weeks ago, and it provides a glimpse into the historical significance of the Academy of Natural Science's mineral collection. Just prior to his death, Jay asked that we print it with our cover story, in conjunction with John White's letter Mitchell Portnoy, Editor, Mineral News)

 

The Academy of Natural Sciences of Philadelphia has a long heritage spanning 192 years in the natural sciences; just the mineralogical perspective alone is rather overwhelming. Encapsulating it in this streamlined version is like engraving the Constitution and Bill of Rights on the head of a pin!

Before providing specific details of Academy mineral history, a few background comments are helpful. Natural science itself flourished in the early environs of Philadelphia. The liberalism of the Quaker faith encouraged the open exchange of information, with natural science in all forms at the forefront. This incubator of knowledge blossomed in the last decades of the 18th century and in its wake Philadelphia came to be known as the "Athens of America." Even more fortuitous for the new science of mineralogy was Philadelphia's location along the eastern edge of the Piedmont Uplands. This complex metamorphic environment, host for many igneous intrusions, was the storehouse for a wide variety of unique and beautiful mineral species, all within a 100-mile radius of Philadelphia. These two factors created an ideal spawning ground for the development of mineralogy at the Academy.

When the Academy was founded in 1812, interest in the natural sciences was already established in Philadelphia. The American Philosophical Society was already several decades old, as was the natural history museum of artist/naturalist, Charles Willson Peale. 

The Proceedings of the Society had already published the first mineralogical papers in America and Peale's Museum had already presented the first public display of minerals in the new nation. Adam Seybert, a local chemist, was the first American to be trained in mineralogy at the Ecole des Mines in Paris. His cabinet of minerals was the first organized collection in the United States. About this time natural science was popularized in the public imagination through the Lewis and Clark Expedition (1804-1806), which essentially began in the Philadelphia scientific community.

Other noted Philadelphia naturalists included Benjamin Franklin (a polymath whose achievements are well-known), John Bartram (whose botanical gardens were the most famous in America), David Rittenhouse (astronomer), Caspar Wistar (anatomist and early paleontologist) and Thomas Jefferson (Virginian, statesman and American President) whose Philadelphia years were used to promote science as president of the American Philosophical Society.

By 1812 a new wave of natural scientists met to establish an organization more suited to the disciplines of mineralogy, geology, zoology and botany. The new Academy of Natural Sciences of Philadelphia elected Gerard Troost as its first president.

This Dutch-trained mineralogist served in that role until 1817, when the Scotch reformer, philanthropist and mineralogist William McClure came on the scene. McClure served as ANSP President from 1817 to 1840. It was during this time that the Academy acquired its first major cabinet, the collection of Adam Seybert. From a mineralogical perspective, mineralogists served as leaders of the Academy through the first 28 years of its existence. An additional note of interest on McClure: he is remembered for creating the first geological map of the United States based upon his own field observations, and using colors to denote geological formations. He was also instrumental, along with Robert Owen, in establishing the utopian scientific community at New Harmony, Indiana.

Once established, the Academy attracted to its ranks nearly all the leading naturalists of Philadelphia (including foreign naturalists who found their way to the Quaker City). Among the local luminaries were Reuben Haines, Caspar Wistar, Issac Lea, Henry Seybert, George Carpenter, John Price Wetherill, Thomas Harvey and William Shaw, but to name a few. Among these men, a few interesting notables are worthy of a few comments. Issac Lea, publisher (Lea and Febiger), was an early investigator who authored some of the first locality articles. His fine gem collection became the core of the National Gem Collection housed at the Smithsonian Institution. Henry Seybert, the European-trained mineralogist (and son of Adam), discovered the elements fluorine (in chondrodite) and beryllium (in chrysoberyl). George Carpenter spent a summer in the primitive countryside of Chester and Delaware Counties searching and recording new mineral localities (then published by the ANSP). John Price Wetherill, a member of the Quaker paint manufacturing family, wrote the first description of a Pennsylvania metalliferous deposit (the old Perkiomen Mine, Montgomery County), and then recorded it in the Academy proceedings.

The Academy mineral collection grew rapidly in this period because new local localities were being uncovered. A few exceptional ones included the Leiper family quarrying operations near Chester, the Wood Mine chrome operation in Lancaster County, iron mining at Cornwall, Lebanon County and Morgantown, Berks County and the noted amethyst occurrences near Media. Fine beryls, garnets, tourmalines, and the world's finest brucites poured into the Academy collection.

In the decades of the 1850s, unprecedented industrial expansion blossomed in the Delaware Valley. A new generation of naturalists came upon the local scene. Among them: Henry Darwin Rogers (first state geologist), Lewis White Williams (for whom the gem species williamsite was named) and Charles Moore Wheatley (naturalist, mineralogist, metallurgist and owner of the famous specimen producing Wheatley Mine located near Phoenixville, Chester County). These men were all members of the Academy. The postwar period heralded unrestrained industrial/economic expansion. Mineral collecting became a popular pastime, and the ANSP served as a nucleus for these activities. A great mineralogical treasure was endowed to the Academy at this time. The world class collection of William S. Vaux (some 12,000 specimens) was given to the Academy, along with an endowment to sustain it. The Academy was suddenly among the leading institutions, mineralogically, in America.

This era produced a new crop of mineralogical enthusiasts who brought even more prestige and specimens to the Academy cabinet. Among these were William W. Jefferis, Col. Joseph Willcox, Charles Pennypacker, Theodore Rand and Frederick A. Genth. The fabulous Jefferis Collection escaped the confines of the Academy when Andrew Carnegie intervened, purchasing it for the new Carnegie Museum in Pittsburgh. The Rand Collection also escaped the Academy and was endowed to Bryn Mawr College. Genth, an academy member was perhaps the most skilled mineralogical chemist in the United States. This German born scientist wrote the first mineralogy of Pennsylvania (1874), taught chemistry at the University of Pennsylvania, and managed his own analytical laboratory. Numbered among his closest associates (and Academy members), were James C. Booth (first geologist for the state of Delaware) and George Koenig (later a luminary at the Michigan School of Mines).

By the turn of the century a new generation of mineralogists added their impact to the Academy history. Best known are George S. Vaux, Edgar T. Wherry and Samuel G. Gordon. It was the latter gentleman who perhaps brought the Academy its greatest fame as a mineralogical institution. Gordon, virtually single-handedly, rebuilt the Academy collection into a major contender among American museums. As an associate curator he was not accorded the credit which he clearly deserved. His museum display techniques became the standard in American museums. The four famous expeditions funded in part by George Vaux, the Academy and by Gordon himself produced a treasure trove of new and superb specimens. The trips (to South America, Greenland, Africa and, again, South America) were extremely successful. Gordon discovered five or six new mineral species (a major accomplishment) and built a collection of minerals unequaled by any other museum.  If that were not enough, Gordon (along with Wherry) founded the American Mineralogist, now the organizational periodical for the Mineralogical Society of America. Gordon also wrote Mineralogy of Pennsylvania (1922) which is still acknowledged as the best of four produced. Just as Gordon brought the Academy to the forefront of mineral museums in the United States, unnamed forces at the Academy began the gradual undoing of the mineral section which has led to the problem we face today. This began in the 1950s with the horrific termination of Gordon's employment. He never recovered from the shock, dying a few years later.

For five decades we have experienced the insidious undoing of a heritage that is unequaled by any other natural history organization. There is so much more, details that I have chosen not to include in this short outline. I didn't even mention the Philadelphia Mineralogical Society, the second oldest club organization in the United States (1894) founded under the auspices of the Academy. The Academy ceased allowing the Society to use their facilities just a few years ago, and details of this can be provided if desired. I have attempted to keep this account from becoming too lengthy out of a fear that I might lose any interested parties who find it too tedious to read. The new issue of MATRIX will address this problem in my editorial and through the stories included.

November 2004 Mineral News

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The above articles were originally published in the monthly periodical Mineral News in November, 2004.

 


REFERENCES:

British Museum Sold Benin Bronzes by Martin Bailey from his April 03, 2002 article published in Forbes.com.

ROBERT S. PEABODY Museum of Archaeology published in 2002 ROBERT S. PEABODY MUSEUM News.

Debt ridden Milwaukee museum selling off collection by Alice Maggio from her July 26, 2003 post published in That Rabbit Girl.

Debt ridden Milwaukee museum selling off collection by Robert Z. Pearlman from his April 07, 2005 article published in Space.com.


The article REFERENCED above, is courtesy of Mineral News:
Mineral News was founded some twenty years ago by Lanny Ream of Coeur d'Alene, Idaho, author of the book "Idaho Minerals". Over the years, it developed a following of avid mineral collectors seeking timely information about new finds and other items of interest to the collector community.

With the purchase of Mineral News by Excalibur Mineral Corp in 2003, the monthly newsletter has expanded to sixteen pages a month, revitalized its look by improving paper and print quality, and it has added significant features such as frequent book reviews, photographs to supplement new mineral descriptions and a greater focus of articles directed to descriptive mineralogy.


My previous articles can be found *HERE*

For for more information, please contact me by email: Bolide*chaser