Who's Who - Notable benefactors’ donations and how they came to be a part of AMNH’s collection: Part 1

by Alexis Fleming on

Gottesman Research Library News

Image of AMNH Accession Card Archive boxes. Boxes from the American Museum of Natural History Accession Card Archive
H. Knapp/© AMNH

As we move further into the Archives, the Registrar’s Office is re-discovering more than just the American Museum of Natural History’s extensive collection. Over the last 150+ years, the Museum has also received a variety of specimens from notable figures.

Coat of arms of the house Wied-Neuwied after 1784
Coat of arms of the house Wied-Neuwied after 1784, via Wikimedia Commons
©MostEpic, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

One of the earliest contributors was Prince Alexander Philipp Maximilian zu Wied-Neuwied (b.1782-d.1867), an explorer, ethnologist, and naturalist from a sovereign county in the Rhineland-Palatinate region of Germany. Grandson to the ruling Count Johann Friedrich Alexander of Wied-Neuwied and the 8th of 11 children, Maximilian would focus on his studies under the tutelage of fellow Museum benefactor Alexander von Humboldt, his friend and mentor of biological sciences.

These influences would eventually lead the prince to travel, creating watercolors that would become a blueprint for future ethnographic illustrations, and encounter several different cultures including the Botocudos of Minas Gerais from the southeastern highlands of Brazil. His short but authoritative chapter from his book Maximilian Prince of Wied’s Reise nach Brasilien (1820-1821) was and still is a revolutionary look at the highland tribe in situ and has since been reprinted internationally in multiple languages.

Over the years, Prinz von Wied would collect birds, mammals, fish, and reptiles amongst other specimens that would later be recorded as the first accession at the American Museum of Natural History after the collection was purchased for the Museum by William T. Blodgett, a wealthy merchant and collector, along with his associate Daniel Giraud Elliot around 1869-1870. One of the largest donations included “4,000 mounted birds, 600 mounted mammals, and about 2,000 fishes and reptiles mounted and in alcohol.”

AMNH Digital Asset Management Systems, Collection Card: 1341, 101
AMNH Digital Asset Management Systems, Collection Card: 1341, 101

As we progress through the Museum’s extensive archival collection of Registrar records, we hope to continue highlighting interesting and insightful accessions. A special thank you to the IMLS team and the Shelby White & Leon Levy Archive Initiative to better serve our collection, staff, and museum visitors.  

This is the fourth post in a series about the Registrar’s Accessions Archive Digitization Project. This entry was written by Project Digital Archivist Alexis Fleming.

This project was made possible in part by the Institute of Museum and Library Services, IMLS Grant #MA-249747-OMS-21.