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William Mitten (1819-1906)

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4 linear inches (1 box)


William Mitten (1819-1906) was the premier bryologist of the second half of the nineteenth century. A pharmaceutical chemist by trade, and never a professional botanist, he classified and named thousands of bryophyte specimens which came into Kew Gardens from around the vast British empire.

Successor to Thomas Taylor, the premier bryologist of the first half of the nineteenth century, William Mitten left his native England only once in his lifetime. He was one of the first people to realize that the same taxa occur throughout broad geographical ranges. This was contrary to the prevailing opinion of his day, which held that different geographic areas had entirely different flora. As he was able to see examples of all the major families of bryophytes, he developed a phylogeny reflecting these relationships. His concepts deeply influenced generations of British bryologists.

Mitten was a member of the Botanical Society of London and maintained an active correspondence with Sir William Hooker. He published his first paper in 1846 at the age of 26. By the time of his death, he had amassed the largest and most important collection of bryophytes in private hands. This collection of some fifty thousand specimens was purchased by The New York Botanical Garden.


The contents of this collection came to The New York Botanical Garden along with the herbarium of Mr. Mitten. Included are correspondence, photographs, research notes, illustrations, and a priced sale catalogue of Mr. Mitten's library, which was offered for sale. The Field Collectors' Notebook series contain three volumes of Mr. Mitten's field notebooks. Volume numbers 231, 232, and 233 contain his notes on collections processed from 1874 to 1894. The locations covered are Singapore, Sibu, the Aejung River, and the Solomon Islands. These notebooks came to the Garden in conjunction with the aforementioned purchase of bryophyte specimens.


Series 1: Correspondence, 1846-1901
Series 2: Notebooks and Research Notes
Series 3: Priced Catalogue of the Library of William Mitten, 1910
Series 4: Photographs of the William Mitten Gardens
Series 5: Xeroxed Sketchbook Entitled "Macromitrium unpublished drawings"

Series 1     Correspondence, 1846-1901
                   8 folders. Arranged by date.

This is a series of dated letters found among the herbarium collections of Mr. Mitten.

Series 2     Notebooks and Research Notes
                   6 folders. Arranged alphabetically.

This material was also included with Mr. Mitten's herbarium. It consists of two notebooks--one entitled "Spruce," and four folders of notes--one of which is devoted to notes on "hepatics." One notebook has been xeroxed and it contains notes on Spruce's mosses and refers to several collecting trips in Brazil, New Zealand, India, Ceylon, and Java. It also contains Burchell's itinerary in Brazil.

Series 3     Priced Catalogue of the Library of William Mitten, 1911
                  1 folder

This catalogue of 365 items was put together by Mitten's daughter Flora, and an attached note dated 1910 to Mrs. Britton states that the prices are approximated. Mrs. Britton (?) notes that the remainder of the library was purchased as a lot by Quaritch. Also included is a selected list of titles from the catalogue, presumably drawn up for purchase by The New York Botanical Garden.

Series 4     Photographs of the William Mitten Gardens
                  1 folder of 12 photographs

Included is an envelope dated 1910 and addressed to Mrs. Britten with the handwritten note: "From Flora Mitten pictures of W. Mitten's garden at Hurstpierpoint."

Series 5     Xeroxed Sketchbook
                  One volume bound in teal buckram, n.d.

Dated July 1990, this bound sketchbook entitled Macromitrium Unpublished Drawings is xeroxed from the William Campbell Steere Collection at the Missouri Botanical Garden Library. In the front of the volume is a xerox of a letter dated 1937 from Flora Mitten to William Steere, Department of Botany, Michigan University. It states in this letter that this sketchbook was originally offered to The New York Botanical Garden but no reply was received. She states that the War was probably the reason for this.


The New York Botanical Garden

CFN    Numbers 231-33

Processed April 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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