Museum accessions: 1855-1931

Before a museum can display a specimen of the California condor to the public, a specimen has to be acquired. These accessions to a museum’s collection may take the form of gifts or loans. Museums also purchase specimens from collectors and make trades for specimens with other museums.

In this post I note 7 reports of accessions of California condor specimens by museums. To provide context for these reports, I have included a few details that are not about the condor.

This acknowledgment appeared in the Proceedings of the California Academy of Natural Sciences for 17 September 1855, under the heading “Donations to the Cabinet”:

From Mr. A. C. Taylor, quills taken from a California Vulture (Cathartes californianus, Shaw) killed in the vicinity of the Red Woods of Contra Costa. The bird measured 13½ feet across the wings.

The thanks of the Academy were voted for the donation.

According to the Annual Report of the Director to the Board of Trustees for the Year 1900-1901, the Field Columbian Museum’s Department of Ornithology purchased “2 California vultures” and “1 egg of California condor”. (At the beginning of the 20th century, the names condor and vulture were both in regular use.)

In an article titled “Receive Valuable Specimens: Science Museum of Claremont Gets Several Rare Birds”, the Los Angeles Herald for 8 October 1904 reported that:

Mr. F. N. Cogswell of Pomona presented to the college a fine mounted specimen of the California vulture, a bird which is now nearly extinct. This bird was killed in Brea canon last May and its spread of wings measure over ten feet. Miss Ruth Richmond of the senior class spoke of the vulture and its habits.

(The college referred to is Pomona College in Claremont, California.)

The Forty-Fifth Annual Report of the Trustees of the American Museum of Natural History (1914) records that a “California Condor” was among “110 specimens received in the flesh from the New York Zoölogical Park”. (New York’s zoo had live California condors on exhibit in the early 1900s. Presumably, one of those birds died and was then given to the museum.)

This appeared in the Iowa City Press-Citizen for 10 March 1916:

An excellent specimen of the California condor has recently been added to the zoological museum. This rare bird, perhaps the only one in any museum in the middle west, was received from Dr. Kill__n [text illegible] of San Francisco, a friend of Professor Dill.

(The museum referred to is that of Iowa State University.)

Again from the Proceedings of the California Academy of Natural Sciences, this time for 1916, is this listing under the heading “Appendix to the Director’s Report: List of Accessions to the Museum and Library, 1916”:

Mailliard, Hon. John W., Sr., San Francisco: Two specimens of the California Condor (Gymnogyps californianus), collected in San Diego County, Cal., Jan. 1 and 3, 1894, by E. B. Towne; and one bound volume, “Egyptian Birds” by Charles Whymper. Gift.

The last examples are from the Smithsonian Institution. The Report on the Progress and Condition of the United States National Museum for the Year Ended June 30, 1931 includes two entries in a section titled “Accessions to the Collections During the Fiscal Year 1930-1931”:

PENNSYLVANIA, UNIVERSITY OF, Philadelphia, Pa.: 2 specimens of condor bones from University Museum (112375, loan); 55 specimens of plants from Massachusetts (113545, exchange).

SMITHSONIAN INSTITUTION: National Zoological Park: Skin and skeleton of a Murine opossum, skull of a wart hog, skin and skull of a monkey, … and egg of a California condor (115193).

(That egg had presumably been laid by the California condors that were in the national zoo in the early 20th century.)

Posts on related topics include Early attempts at captive breeding, Museum diorama postcards, and Museum guides: 1915-1967.