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Herman F. Becker (1907-1985)

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2.5 linear feet (3 boxes)


Herman F. Becker (1907-1985) was a renowned paleobotanist whose specialty was the Tertiary paleobotany of southwest Montana. He was employed by The New York Botanical Garden from 1958 to 1974 and served as Curator of Paleobotany from 1965.

Born in Dusseldorf, Germany, Dr. Becker studied horticulture at the Berlin Botanical Gardens and emigrated to the United States in 1930. He was initially employed as a horticultural assistant and eventually became Superintendent of the Conservatory for the Brooklyn Botanic Garden. He attended Brooklyn College from 1939 to 1947, when he received his B.A. He went on to study botany at Columbia University and received his M.A. in 1952. Dr. Becker then went to the University of Michigan to study paleobotany with Chester Arnold and received his Ph.D. in 1956.

From 1947 to 1968, Dr. Becker made a total of ten summer expeditions to the Ruby River basin of southwestern Montana. These shale deposits provided him with the research material he needed to complete his dissertation and he continued to write extensively about the deposits of this area. He also was known for his work in clarifying the structure of the controversial Sanmiguelia from the Triassic deposits of Colorado.

Dr. Becker received many honora during his lifetime. He was a member of the American Society of Plant Taxonomists, the Cactus and Succulent Society of America, and the New York Academy of Sciences. He served as a fellow of the Geological Society of America and as president and vice-president of the Torrey Botanical Club. In 1977 he received a Distinguished Service Award from the Botanical Society of America. In 1981 he received a Distinguished Achievement Award from the Brooklyn College Alumni Association, and in 1985 a symposium was held in his honor entitled "Evolution of the Modern Vegetation of the Northern Rocky Mountains." The symposium was jointly held by the Botanical Society of America and the American Association for the Advancement of Science.


This collection consists entirely of the correspondence relating to Dr. Becker's professional life, both during his years at the Garden (1958-1974) and prior to that time.. It is divided into two series and was organized by Dr. Becker himself.  Many correspondents began their relationships with Dr. Becker before he came to the Garden and continued to correspond with him until his death. There are several groups of fossil photographs with their related correspondence attached. Dr. Becker's existing field notebooks are located in the Collectors' Field Notebooks Series. Notebook number 626 covers the Bronx,  Manhattan, Palisades Interstate Park in New Jersey, and Prospect Park in Brooklyn. Notebook number 627 covers Montana's Ruby River basin and Washington, D.C.


Series 1: Domestic Correspondence, 1948-1983
Series 2: International Correspondence, 1958-1981
Series 3: Herbarium Records, 1959-1980

Series 1     Domestic Correspondence, 1948-1983
                  18.5 lin. in. Arranged alphabetically and then chronologically.

Materials in this series include correspondence concerning Dr. Becker's publications, professional memberships, fieldwork, grant applications, student recommendations, and requests for reprints. The series also includes inter-office correspondence within the New York Botanical Garden Herbarium, and a brief history of the New York Botanical Garden Paleobotany Collections. Many correspondents are listed under the institution they are affiliated with rather than by their personal name. Dr. Becker maintained a close personal correspondence with many colleagues, especially Chester Arnold, Roland W. Brown, Harry D. MacGinitie, John A. Dorr, and Joseph Wood.

Series 2     International Correspondence, 1958-1981
                  6 lin. in. Arranged by country and then correspondent.

Correspondents in this series are arranged geographically. Dr. Becker maintained a close personal correspondence with Julius Nagele of Stuttgart, Germany and Toshimasa Tanai of Sapporo, Japan. Germany, Poland, and Japan are the countries most represented in this series.

Series 3     Herbarium Records, 1959-1980
                   4 lin. in. Arranged by subject.

These files relate to the storage, display, identification, acquisition, and loaning of the New York Botanical Garden fossil collections. Included are lists of unidentified specimens, Dr. Hollick's numbering system (Becker's predecessor), requests for illustration material, fieldwork expense reports, and budget planning. These files were found among Dr. Becker's personal papers and have been transferred to the Herbarium Records Group.


The New York Botanical Garden

PP The Herman F. Becker Papers

RG4 The Charles Arthur Hollick Records

CFN Numbers 626-627

Yale University

In 1983, the New York Botanical Garden Paleobotanical Collections were transferred to Yale University's Peabody Museum of Natural History on long-term loan, where they are maintained as a discrete collection.

Processed March 1999 by Stephen Sinon under a grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) PA-23141-98 and a grant from the Harriet Ford Dickenson Foundation.

For more information and a complete description contact:
Susan Fraser, NYBG Archivist
The LuEsther T. Mertz Library
The New York Botanical Garden
Bronx, NY 10458-5126
(718) 817-8879

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