100 Years – 100 Objects: Black Diamond

The Houston Museum of Natural Science was founded in 1909 – meaning that the curators of the Houston Museum of Natural Science have been collecting and preserving natural and cultural treasures for a hundred years now. For this yearlong series, our current curators have chosen one hundred exceptional objects from the Museum’s immense storehouse of specimens and artifacts—one for each year of our history. Check back here frequently to learn more about this diverse selection of behind-the-scenes curiosities—we will post the image and description of a new object every few days.

black-diamond-historical-photo

This description is from Dan, the museum’s curator of vertebrate zoology. He’s chosen a selection of objects that represent the most fascinating animals in the Museum’s collections, that we’ll be sharing here – and at 100.hmns.org- throughout the year.

During a circus parade in Corsicana, TX during the 1920’s, this famous elephant attacked members of the public audience while his handler wasn’t paying attention. 

What ensued after the attack would surely have been one of the strongest publicized cases regarding humane treatment of captive elephants.

You can see more images of this fascinating artifact – as well as the others we’ve posted so far this year – in the 100 Objects section at 100.hmns.org

100 Years – 100 Objects: Salvaged Bird Casualties

The Houston Museum of Natural Science was founded in 1909 - meaning that the curators of the Houston Museum of Natural Science have been collecting and preserving natural and cultural treasures for a hundred years now. For this yearlong series, our current curators have chosen one hundred exceptional objects from the Museum’s immense storehouse of specimens and artifacts—one for each year of our history. Check back here frequently to learn more about this diverse selection of behind-the-scenes curiosities—we will post the image and description of a new object every few days.

This description is from Dan, the museum’s curator of vertebrate zoology. He’s chosen a selection of objects that represent the most fascinating animals in the Museum’s collections, that we’ll be sharing here – and on hmns.org – throughout the year.

salvaged-bird-casualties-6x3Blue Jay (Cyanocitta cristata, VO 987)
Magnificent Frigatebird (Fregata magnificens, VO 1968)
Common Loon (Gavia immer, VO 2076)

A number of HMNS’ bird collection specimens are salvaged by wildlife rehabilitators.  These dedicated ‘rehabbers,’ as they are known in their industry, do everything in their power to heal the sick and injured wildlife that comes into their care, with the ultimate hopes of re-releasing the individual back into the wild.  Sadly, some of the rehabbers ‘patients’ never make it back into the wild, let alone back to the holding facility, as their injury resulted in their death.

In the HMNS collection, we have three such specimens, a blue jay that choked to death on an acorn, and two less common seabirds that died from ingesting fishing hooks and tackle.  These incidents were published by HMNS staff in Bull. Tx. Orn. Soc. in 2002 (35: 11-12) and 2007 (40: 31-32), respectively.

You can see larger and more detailed images of this rare specimen – as well as the others we’ve posted so far this year – in the photo gallery on hmns.org.

100 Years – 100 Objects: Accession Ledger

The Houston Museum of Natural Science was founded in 1909 - meaning that the curators of the Houston Museum of Natural Science have been collecting and preserving natural and cultural treasures for a hundred years now. For this yearlong series, our current curators have chosen one hundred exceptional objects from the Museum’s immense storehouse of specimens and artifacts—one for each year of our history. Check back here frequently to learn more about this diverse selection of behind-the-scenes curiosities—we will post the image and description of a new object every few days.

This first description is from Lisa Rebori, the museum’s Vice President of Collections. She’s chosen a selection of objects that represent our Museum’s history, and our collections of historical technologies, that we’ll be sharing here – and on hmns.org – throughout the year.

The ledger book shown in these 2 photos (open and closed) is one of the six original such volumes in which the museum’s collections are recorded or registered.

Accession Ledger #1 for the Houston Museum of Natural History.

Beginning in 1929, Mr. Valentine Gesner, the Museum’s first curator, recorded each item which belonged to the museum. His initial work involved recording the backlog of objects which had been collected or given to the Museum beginning in 1909. Once this was completed, he began listing all of the new donations to the Museum. Each record includes the name of the item, where it came from and who gave it. It also lists the date it was entered into the collection and the number of the gift and lastly, the individual catalogue number assigned to the object. The catalogue number was also written directly on the object in India ink so that the information would not be lost. As you can see from the writing across the top, when Mr. Gesner began his work, the Museum went by the name “Houston Museum of Natural History.”

The cover of Accession Ledger #1

These early record books are special based on the information they contain, but they also stand as a record of the hard work of Museum employees over the years, the people who cared for the same objects that we continue to care for today. From their writing, it’s easy to imagine that you know them, that you can learn a little bit about their personalities from their writing. The early recorders, like Mr. Gesner, wrote with a fountain pen and had very fancy writing – you can tell that penmanship was important, and also see that penmanship and writing styles changed over the years. In the 1950s, employees began to write with ball-point pens; in the late 1970s, they printed with drafting pens.

From 1929 – 1993, everything in the museum’s permanent collections was listed in books like this. In the late 1980s, we started to duplicate these records on computers. In 1993, we stopped recording the individual gifts in ledger books altogether. Today, we enter the records on computer and print the Accession records annually to add to the archives. There are no additional handwritten Accession ledgers. The computer and the print-outs do the same job but they don’t have the same sense of personality.

Check back soon for more of the 100 most compelling objects from the museum’s collections – we’ll be posting the series throughout 2009 as we celebrate a centennial of science in Houston.

‘Tis the Season…

20080927_7701
The world’s largest
shell, an object from
the HMNS collection that
is currently on display.
Creative Commons License photo credit: etee

This is the time of year when we’re all thinking about what we’re giving to friends and family. Especially this year, when most of us are being more thoughtful about what it is we’re giving. Since my job duties entail the registration and processing of donations to the museum’s collections, I encounter gift giving all year long. But especially at the end of the year and this month has kept me busy! Currently, I’m plowing through recent donations of things as varied as Amazonian spears to a swan specimen to Native American pueblo pottery. All of these donations will enhance our collections and all of us in the Collections Department are most appreciative of our generous donors.

However, these are the most recent acquisitions. The Houston Museum of Natural Science wouldn’t be where it is today without nearly a century of far-sighted people who generously and intelligently gave entire collections of natural specimens and cultural artifacts. They entrusted things they had collected with passion and zeal to a museum that was just beginning to grow so that Houstonians could learn about the natural world around them. In the coming year of 2009, as the museum celebrates its centennial, you’ll hear more about the names of Attwater, Westheimer, Milsaps, McDannald but their generosity was the foundation of the museum’s collections.

A spectacular mineral specimen in the
HMNS collection.
Creative Commons License photo credit: Lori Greig

And that’s what it takes – generosity. I wonder what our past donors would think of today’s natural history auction market? Fossils and minerals can fetch exorbitant prices, far more than most museums can ever pay. Would those long ago donors who thought so highly of museums as institutions for the public approve of specimens and artifacts staying in the private hands of the highest bidder? After all, these early naturalists, amateur and professional, were often wealthy and acute businessmen themselves. But they did give and the museum has been fortunate that that kind of generosity has prevailed for a century. Indeed, it continues today and our collections continue to grow.

So, I’ll continue to measure and count amazing artifacts and specimens and make sure each donor is properly acknowledged. It’s just my small part in witnessing how the thoughtful generosity of our donors makes the museum a better place for us all.