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Records of the Herbarium (RG4)
HERBARIUM OFFICE  (1900-1997) [Bulk 1937-1996]
30 linear feet (24 boxes)

An 1896 agreement between the Board of Managers of the New York Botanical Garden and the Trustees of Columbia University made it possible to deposit, on permanent loan, the large and historic Columbia College (University) Herbarium at the Garden. The Columbia College Herbarium was begun in the early nineteenth century and included the historically significant private herbarium of Dr. John Torrey, which included specimens from many early explorations of the United States. The collections contained over 400,000 specimens at the time of the transfer, and included the collections of Professor F. Meisner of Basel, Switzerland; A.W. Chapman of Apalachicola, Florida; the mosses and hepatics accumulated by C. F. Austin; and the famous collection of mosses by Dr. J. G. Jaeger of Switzerland.

As the New York Botanical Garden Museum Building neared completion in 1899, the accumulation of mounted herbarium specimens was moved from temporary offices into newly installed oak herbarium cases. During the early years, the herbaria of the College of Pharmacy of Columbia College, consisting of the collections of Alphonso Wood, W. M. Canby, and Henry Hurd Rusby, and those of Princeton University and Hunter College were added. The Garden's herbarium incorporated the J. B. Ellis collection, at the time the largest accumulation of fungi in America, as well as the John J. Crooke herbarium of North American and West Indian plants; the F. M. Hexamer herbarium of European and North American plants; the H. E. Hasse herbarium of plants from North America, Greenland and Mexico; and the Per Axel Rydberg herbarium of specimens from  Sweden and the Rocky Mountain region.

Dr. Nathaniel Lord Britton, the first Director-in-Chief, and his associates continually secured new collections from all parts of the world by either exploration or exchange, and the collections continued to grow under the direction and leadership of the Head Curators and other herbarium administrators. In 1944, Bassett Maguire inaugurated a landmark exploration program in Venezuela and the Guianas, where he made extensive collections for the next 30 years. In 1964, Ghillean Prance began the Garden's program in the Brazilian Amazon, which continued until 1988. Exploration programs continue to this day and Garden scientists have led more than 800 expeditions to botanically unknown areas, mainly to the West Indies, the United States, northern South America, especially Brazil, the Guyana Highland area, and the Andes.

As one of the nation's largest herbaria, the Garden has a responsibility to rescue the smaller herbaria being abandoned by many universities, and to make these valuable specimens available for taxonomic research throughout the world. Orphaned herbaria collections are added to the Herbarium, as they are available, continually strengthening the scope and breadth of the collections.

The collections continue to grow by acquisition of exchange specimens and collecting activity of current staff. The geographical emphasis has always been on the flora and mycota of the New World. The collections of vascular plants, bryophytes, fungi, lichens, and algae are among the largest in the Western Hemisphere.


The Herbarium records were organized as a central file for routine Herbarium activities, from the inception of the Herbarium to 1997. Large gaps in the files exist, but additional administrative papers of the Herbarium may be found within the records or papers of individuals who served in an administrative capacity. The records encompass the work of various head curators and administrators as well as curatorial and other herbarium staff, including Richard Cowan, Arthur Cronquist, Patricia Holmgren, Avery Howe, Henry Allan Gleason, Howard Irwin, David Keck, Frank McKeever, Bassett Maguire, Harold Moldenke, Joseph Monochino, Iain Prance, David Rogers, Clark Rogerson, Fred Jay Seaver, Albert Charles Smith, William Steere, Gustav Ludwig Wittrock, and John J. Wurdack.

These records consist of incoming and outgoing correspondence pertaining to business matters, travel, botanical exploration, and taxonomy; and records regarding the overall operations and policies of the herbarium; minutes of meetings; internal staff memorandum; requests for identifications and general botanical information; documentation of specimens offered for sale, purchase, or received from collectors affiliated with, or sponsored by the Garden; annual reports; personnel files; and grant applications.


Series 1:     Administrative Files, 1900-1994
Series 2:     Collections, 1898-1989
Series 3:     Research (Grant Files), 1965-1993
Series 4:     Personnel Records (Staff and Graduate Students), 1959-1973
Series 5      Visitor Records, 1966-1990
Series 6:     Annual Reports and Herbarium Sheet, 1970-1995
Series 7:     Affiliations, 1975-1994

Series 1     Administrative Files,1900-1994
                  Arranged by subject within the years of the administration of the Head Curators,
                  then alphabetically by subject.

These files include routine office files such as the business records and subject files regarding the overall operations; on the care and maintenance of the herbarium cases; samples of mounting paper for herbarium specimens; fumigation procedures; formulas for glues used to mount herbarium specimens; general correspondence on the operation of the Herbarium; minutes of general staff meetings (including a bound notebook of weekly staff meetings called "Weekly botanical conventions"; internal staff memorandum; finance records; policies of the Herbarium; as well as the files on, and important correspondence between, Herbarium administrators and botanists in the field. The files encompass the work of various head curators and Herbarium administrators such as Fred Seaver, Bassett Maguire, Howard Irwin, David Keck, Ghillean Prance, and Patricia Holmgren; and the business and finance officers such as R. F. Kolkebeck, Roger Biringer, William Mooney, and William Beals.

General arrangement is chronological by the years covering the administration of the head curator or administrator. Files are arranged alphabetically by subject within the term of the administration. This series contains 6 boxes.

Series 2    Collections,  1898-1989
                  Arranged alphabetically.

This series includes files on the exchange of specimens; correspondence regarding collections offered for purchase or sale or of "orphaned" collections transferred to the Garden; letters from the public to various herbarium staff members requesting identification of plant material; correspondence to and from herbarium staff responding to requests for identifications of plant materials; lists of identifications and determinations of herbarium specimens from individuals and institutions; and requests for loans and exchange of herbarium specimens.

Correspondence regarding loans of herbarium specimens are arranged by outgoing, incoming, and returned. Within those groups, the files are arranged alphabetically by city. Loans are sent to and from institutions throughout the world and cover the period from 1943 to 1964. Correspondence regarding incoming and outgoing returned loans is intermingled.  Files on
collections purchased or offered for sale are arranged by the name of the collection or herbarium.

Series 3     Research (Grant Files), 1965-1993
                  Arranged alphabetically by name of principal investigator.

Grant applications filed under the name of the principal investigator dating from 1965 to 1993. Files also include the National Science Foundation facilities grants from 1965 to 1993 and are arranged chronologically by year.

Series 4    Personnel Records (Staff and Graduate Students), 1959-1993
                 Arranged alphabetically.

Files arranged alphabetically by individual and include correspondence as well as employment information. These files also include the records of graduate students in Garden affiliated programs. Access to files in this series is restricted. This series contains 3 boxes.

Series 5     Visitor Records, 1966-1990
                   Arranged chronologically by year.

Includes guest log and sign in sheets for visitors registering to use the Herbarium.  Files are arranged by year of visit.

Series 6     Annual Reports and Herbarium Sheet, 1970-1995
                  Arranged chronologically by year.

Annual reports from individual staff, scientists and curators dated from the years 1970 to 1995. The Herbarium Sheet chronicles the activities of herbarium staff and visitors from 1980-1995 (incomplete). This series contains 2 boxes.

Series 7     Affiliations, 1975-1994
                 Arranged alphabetically.

Files pertaining to organizations affiliated with the Garden or whose administrators, particularly Patricia Holmgren and Ghillean Prance, served as officers in the organization or association. Such affiliations include the American Association of Museums (AAM), American Institute of Biological Sciences (AIBS), American Society of Systematic Collections (ASC), the National Biological Survey (NBS), the National Science Foundation (NSF), and The Associations of Natural Science Institutions (TANSI). This series contains 2 boxes.


The New York Botanical Garden

RG 2 Records of the Board of Managers
RG3 Records of the Chief Executive Officers
RG4 Records of Nathaniel Lord Britton
RG4 Records of Arthur Cronquist
RG4 Records of Bassett Maguire
RG4 Records of Ghillean Prance
RG4 Records of Fred Seaver

NOTE: In September 2000, Dr. Patricia Holmgren retired her position as Director of the Herbarium. Her records have been transferred to the Archives, but the bulk has not yet been included in this guide. SF.

Processed February 2000 by Susan Fraser 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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