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Bashford Dean papers

Identifier: Mss .D433-.D434

Scope and Contents

The Bashford Dean Papers primarily consists of correspondence and sketchbooks. In addition to the letters, notes, and postal cards, there are memorandums, invoices, minutes, a photograph, a death notice, and an excerpt of Dean's will. It's arranged into five series (I-IV: correspondence, V: sketchbooks).

Among the individuals Dean corresponded with are Richard Rathbun, Tarleton Hoffman Bean, William Clark, Charles Rochester Eastman, David Starr Jordan, William Kepler, and George William Kosmak, as well as staff at the American Museum of Natural History (especially William King Gregory and Francesca LaMonte). Topics covered include his writings, European oyster culture, fish of Fowler Lake (Wisconsin), the Bashford Dean Library, and medals awarded to Dean.

He ascribed two 1892 sketchbooks (26 July and 19-20 August) to the British Museum. His pencil drawings of fishes, many of them double-page spreads and captioned, fill both books. This collection encompasses many of Dean’s colleagues and friends, several from outside the United States. Series II (1892-1908) has the most material, while Series IV (1891-1892) consists solely of letters (written in London, Munich, and other foreign cities) from Dean to George William Kosmak. Series III (1915-1959) contains posthumous material, including some correspondence to and from the family of Bashford Dean. Museum staff is well represented here. Visual observations at the British Museum comprise Series V (1892).


  • 1888-1961 and unknown
  • Majority of material found within 1901-1902



Materials predominately in English. Some are in Spanish, French, German, Spanish, Italian, Latin.

Access Conditions and Restrictions

Please contact Special Collections; materials are sometimes restricted.

Biographical Note

Bashford Dean (1867-1928) was a teacher, ichthyologist, and armor scholar. As curator, he headed emergent departments at the American Museum of Natural History (Reptiles and Fishes, 1903-1910) and the Metropolitan Museum of Art (curator, Arms and Armor, 1904-1912) in New York City. In 1890 Dean received his doctorate degree in zoology and paleontology from Columbia University. A lifelong resident of New York City, he married Alice Dyckman, also of New York City, in 1893. He became Chevalier of the Legion of Honor in 1910 for work on French naturalist Jean-Baptiste Lamarck. The National Academy of Sciences awarded Dean the Daniel Giraud Elliot Medal in 1923 for his Bibliography of Fishes (1). Dean participated in the American Society of Ichthyologists and Herpetologists, becoming its first president in 1916, and other associations (2). He served in the Bureau of Ordnance, U.S. Army, in World War One (1917-???). Dean died on December 6, 1928, in Michigan.

His career at the Museum began in 1897 (Osborn, 102). It culminated with his Bibliography, published 1916-1923, and the Hall of Fishes (later called the Hall of Ocean Life), which opened in 1928. Among the cultures and regions Dean examined were Japan, including the Ainu (1901, 1917), and American rivers (3)

He tutored at the College of the City of New York (1886-1991), an alma mater, and worked briefly for the United States Commission of Fish and Fisheries (1889-1890??). In 1891, he started a lengthy career in teaching at Columbia University, another alma mater. (It named him assistant professor of zoology in 1896, professor of vertebrate zoology in 1904, honorary professor in 1927.) In 1925, Dean became professor of fine arts at New York University.


1 Linear Foot (2 boxes)


Bashford Dean (1867-1928) was a teacher, ichthyologist, and armor scholar. As curator, he headed emergent departments at the American Museum of Natural History (Reptiles and Fishes, 1903-1910) and the Metropolitan Museum of Art (curator, Arms and Armor, 1904-1912) in New York City. The Bashford Dean Papers primarily consists of correspondence and sketchbooks.


Arranged in five series.
Series I. Letters, 1888-1927
Series II. Letters, 1891-1920
Series III. Letters and other material, 1915-1961
Series IV. Letters to Kosmak, 1891-1892
Series V. Sketchbooks, 1892
Series IV was rearranged in ascending chronological order in 2015 (previously in descending chronological order overall).


Good overall. Many papers encapsulated (due to acid burn). Several items have torn edges or are folded. Supports recommended for sketchbooks (because of damaged spines and back cover).

Source of Acquisition

Received from Department of Ichthyology in 1938 (E. W. Gudger), June 1993 (James W. Atz), and on October 20, 1994 (Miscellaneous Filing Cabinet Collection). Letters from Bashford Dean to George William Kosmak donated by Katharine Kosmak on March 2, 1978. (Katharine's letter to the Museum is included in Series IV.) Two sketchbooks received from Helena Dunkle in 2000.

Related Materials

In American Museum of Natural History: Album with explanatory text that documents Dean's early research. Aquaria and biological laboratories of Europe by Bashford Dean, Columbia College, NY. In Special Collections. Local call number RF-18-J and –K. Please contact Special Collections librarian in advance for access (who may be contacted at 212-769-5420 or [email protected]).

Scrapbook that contains invitations, letters, clippings, obituaries, and memorials to Bashford Dean. In Special Collections. Local call numberRF-18-J. Please contact Special Collections librarian in advance for access.

At other institutions: See Bashford Dean record at Social Networks and Archival Context (SNAC),


Metropolitan Museum of Art. Collection Online: Lamarck Medal., accessed Oct. 7, 2015.

Dictionary of Scientific Biography. Ed. Charles Coulston Gillispie. Vol. 3. New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1971: 610-1.

Gregory, William K. “Bashford Dean.” Science LXVIII, no. 1774 (Dec. 28, 1928): 635-638.

Physical Description

Correspondence (a small portion include sketches): handwritten in ink or pencil, otherwise typed. Originals, many on letterhead, and copies (usually carbon). A few folders of thick paper (stapled, lined with fabric) that hold correspondence. Printed material. A folded, double-sided drawing on oversized paper. Black and white photograph (without inscription). Two small sketchbooks containing pencil drawings with some ink.

Processing Information

An inventory of materials received from Eugene W. Gudger, Department of Ichthyology, was created by Howard Back in August 1991. (He probably prepared inventories for Series II and Series III.)

Contents of Series I-III were previously housed in three separate containers. Those materials were described in a finding aid (including an inventory) and re-housed by N. Creshkoff on February 16, 2000. That fInding aid was revised in 2015 by Luise Trabucchi.

Bashford Dean papers, 1888-1961 and unknown (bulk 1901-1902)
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
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Language of description note
The Gladys Krieble Delmas Foundation provided support to make this finding aid available in ArchivesSpace (2016-2017). Finding aid created with support from the Council on Library and Information Resources (CLIR) Hidden Collections grant, 2012.
Edition statement
Information for this finding aid expanded on the original catalog record written by Ann Herendeen, 2004.

Repository Details

Part of the Museum Archives at the Gottesman Research Library Repository

American Museum of Natural History
200 Central Park West
New York NY 10024 USA
(212) 769-5420