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George Newbold Lawrence correspondence

 Collection
Identifier: Mss .L39
The George Newbold Lawrence Correspondence collection consists almost completely of handwritten, signed letters received by Lawrence from other ornithologists and naturalists from the United States and Europe discussing the classification of birds and the exchange of bird skins. Some of the folders contain drafts or copies of Lawrence's replies. While there is a small number of official letters from institutions, almost all of the letters are from individuals. In addition to 228 documents from Baird, there are significant numbers from many other correspondents (number of items shown in parentheses) including: J.A. Allen (49); Maria Rebecca Audubon (5); Adolphe Boucard (29); T.M. Brewer (38); William Brewster (24); J.G. Cooper (11); Charles B. Cory (27); Elliott Coues (11); William Dutcher (14); Otto Finsch (25); George F. Gaumer (54); J.P. Giraud (20); John Gould (51); Johannes Gundlach (63); John Henry Gurney, Sr. and Jr. (20 combined); Henry W. Henshaw (16); Frederick A. Ober (47); Robert Ridgway (137); Osbert Salvin (25); Philip Lutley Sclater (100); George B. Sennett (19); A.L.J. François Sumichrast (71); and John Grant Wells (71). Some of the correspondence was conducted in languages other than English. August Wilhelm Heinrich Blasius and John Gundlach wrote in German, Dugès A. Paillieux and A.L.J.F. Sumichrast wrote in French and Jesus Sanchez wrote in Spanish. Only some of these foreign letters are accompanied by an English translation. The collection also contains an inventory of the correspondence compiled by Ralph J. Chodes in 1940.

Box 1 contains 18 folders of correspondence between Lawrence and various individuals and institutions. The folders are arranged in alphabetical order, starting with “Academy of Natural Sciences Philadelphia” and ending with “Baird.” There is also a folder of biographical information on Lawrence, a folder of two letters detailing the provenance of the collection, a folder containing earlier inventories compiled by Ralph J. Chodes in 1940 and a folder of unidentified correspondence or documents with illegible signatures. Correspondence between Lawrence and Joel Asaph Allen, an ornithologist and curator at the American Museum of Natural History, occupies three folders. Correspondence with Spencer F. Baird, an ornithologist and the first curator at the Smithsonian Institution, occupies nine folders. Box 2 contains more of the correspondence between Lawrence and Baird in five additional folders. A printed copy of the collection’s online library catalog sheet is included in Box 1 without a folder. Folder 11 contains the following label: “Letter from September 12, 1874 is missing.” They were still missing when the collection was updated by Cristina Vignone in June 2012.

Box 2 contains 32 folders of correspondence between Lawrence and various individuals and institutions. The folders are arranged in alphabetical order, starting with “Baird” and ending with “Churchill.” Correspondence with Spencer F. Baird, an ornithologist and the first curator at the Smithsonian Institution, occupies five folders continuing from Box 1. Correspondence with Thomas Brewer, a naturalist occupies two folders. Folder 47 contains the following label: “Chodes’ 1940 inventory shows 15 Butler letters. These were noted as missing when two Butler letters were added in 1989. The letters were still missing in 1995.” They were still missing when the collection was updated by Cristina Vignone in June 2012.

Box 3 contains 28 folders of correspondence between Lawrence and various individuals, institutions and companies. The folders are arranged in alphabetical order, starting with “Colardeau” and ending with “Gaumer.” Correspondence between Lawrence and Charles B. Cory, an ornithologist, occupies two folders. Correspondence between Lawrence and George Gaumer, a physicist and biologist, occupies three folders. Folder 66 contains the following label: “Letter of 1892 cited in Chodes’ inventory of 1940 was missing when the collection was updated by Eleanor Schwartz in April 1995.” It was still missing when the collection was updated by Cristina Vignone in June 2012.

Box 4 contains 38 folders of correspondence between Lawrence and various individuals and companies. The folders are arranged in alphabetical order, starting with “Giraud” and ending with “Nutting.” Correspondence between Lawrence and John Gould, an ornithologist and artist, occupies two folders. Correspondence between Lawrence and John Gundlach, a naturalist, occupies two folders. Folder 97 contains the following label: “The letter was not in this folder when the folder was opened on April 6, 1995 during the updating of the collection.” It was still missing when the collection was updated by Cristina Vignone in June 2012.

Box 5 contains 22 folders of correspondence between Lawrence and various individuals. The folders are arranged in alphabetical order, starting with “Ober” and ending with “Salvin.” Correspondence between Lawrence and Frederick A. Ober, a naturalist, occupies two folders. Correspondence between Lawrence and Robert Ridgway, an ornithologist, Curator of Ornithology at the Smithsonian Institution, founding member of the AOU and co-editor of The Auk, occupies nine folders. Folder 137 contains a money order of 30 Francs payable to August Sallé as well as a receipt of exchange from Morton Bliss & Co.

Box 6 contains 32 folders of correspondence between Lawrence and various individuals, institutions and companies. The folders are arranged in alphabetical order, starting with “Sanchez” and ending with “Zeledon.” Correspondence between Lawrence and Philip L. Sclater, an ornithologist, occupies five folders. Correspondence between Lawrence and A.L.J.F. Sumichrast, an ornithologist and professor, occupies seven folders. Correspondence between Lawrence and John Grant Wells, an ornithologist, occupies four folders. Folder 141 is labeled: “The Chodes inventory lists a letter from Robert Shufeldt, dated 1885. This was missing when the collection was updated in 1995.” It was still missing when the collection was updated by Cristina Vignone in June 2012. Folder 152 contains shipment records and receipts from the Smithsonian Institution regarding bird specimens. It also contains three pages from a “Distribution of Specimens” ledger of the Smithsonian Institution.

Dates

  • 1847-1894
  • Majority of material found within 1865-1894

Creator

Physical Description

The collection consists almost completely of handwritten letters in ink or pencil received by Lawrence from other ornithologists and naturalists. Some of the folders contain drafts or copies of Lawrence's replies. The collection also contains a small number of official letters from institutions.

Access Conditions and Restrictions

Requests to use the collection should be made in advance to the Senior Special Collections Librarian, who may be contacted at 212-769-5420 or at [email protected]

Extent

3 Linear Feet (6 boxes)

Biographical Note

George Newbold Lawrence, an amateur ornithologist and author, was born on October 20, 1806 in New York City and died on January 17, 1895. His collection of over 8,000 bird skins and 300 new bird species was donated to the American Museum of Natural History in May 1887. As a young man living in his father’s country home along the Hudson River, Lawrence enjoyed observing and studying avifauna in their natural habitats across the wooded areas of Manhattan including Fort Washington Point and Manhattanville. He eventually went into partnership with his father in the wholesale drug business and became head of the firm in 1834.

After being introduced to Spencer Fullerton Baird who would become the first curator at the Smithsonian Institution in 1841, however, Lawrence devoted his full time and energy to the study and classification of birds. He used his wealth and business background to outfit and finance several Smithsonian expeditions, and in 1842 published his first scientific paper on the Black Brant (Bernicula nigricans). This began Lawrence’s nearly fifty-year-long career of contributing ornithology papers—“mainly confined to the description of new forms, or lists of the birds in certain localities”—to natural science periodicals, the last of which appeared in The Auk: A Quarterly Journal of Ornithology, the official publication of the American Ornithologists' Union (AOU), in January 1891.1

For approximately ten years ending in 1858, Lawrence worked with Baird and American ornithologist John Cassin on the ninth volume of the Pacific Railway Reports, a government-funded exploration, study and survey of the American West intended to discover the best route for the trans-continental railroad. Lawrence’s contribution focused exclusively on water birds. The volume was eventually revised, expanded and republished in 1860 as The Birds of North America encyclopedia. From then on, Lawrence turned his attention to the birds of Central and South America, publishing 120 papers and describing 323 species.

Throughout his life, Lawrence was an active member of the New York Lyceum of Natural History as well as the New York Historical and Geographical Societies. He was also a Foreign Member of the British Ornithologists' Union, a Corresponding Member of the Zoological Society of London, and a member of both the Academy of Natural Sciences of Philadelphia and the Natural History Society of Boston. He eventually also became an Honorary Member of both the AOU and the Linnaean Society of New York.2 His knowledge of New World ornithology is widely celebrated: one genus and twenty bird species are named after Lawrence in recognition of his contribution to the science.3 He forms, together with Baird and Cassin, the “great triumvirate, of what has been termed the Bairdian Epoch of American Ornithology.”4

1 D.G. Elliot, F.R.S.E., “In Memoriam: George Newbold Lawrence,” The Auk: A Quarterly Journal of Ornithology. XIII (1896): 7. 2 Ibid, 8. 3 Ibid, 9. 4 Ibid, 5.

Custodial History Note

Contains letters detailing the custodial history of the George Newbold Lawrence Correspondence collection. In June 1906, Lawrence’s son John B. Lawrence sent his father’s correspondence to ornithologist and curator Joel Asaph Allen at the American Museum of Natural History. On November 6, 1929, Curator-in-Chief Frank M. Chapman delivered a box containing the correspondence to the American Museum of Natural History Library.

Source of Acquisition

Gift of John B. Lawrence, the son of George Newbold Lawrence, 1929.

Condition

Excellent to Good. The ink on the handwritten letters has not begun to fade, and the paper itself is in excellent condition. A large majority of the handwritten letters are enclosed in protective paper coverings labeled with descriptions or are enclosed in melinex sleeves. Although all handwritten letters have been unfolded, paper creases show signs of weakness to come with use by researchers.

Physical Description

The collection consists almost completely of handwritten letters in ink or pencil received by Lawrence from other ornithologists and naturalists. Some of the folders contain drafts or copies of Lawrence's replies. The collection also contains a small number of official letters from institutions.

Notes

Dates in container list refer to dates of correspondence. Dates in parenthesis on labeled folders refer to life dates of correspondents unless otherwise noted.
Title
George Newbold Lawrence correspondence, 1847-1894 (bulk 1865-1894)
Status
completed
Author
Cristina Vignone
Date
June 2012
Description rules
dacs
Language of description
English
Sponsor
The Gladys Krieble Delmas Foundation provided support to make this finding aid available in ArchivesSpace (2016-2017). This collection was made available as part of a project funded by the Council on Library and Information Resources, 2011-2012
Edition statement
Information for this finding aid expanded on the original catalog record written by Ann Herendeen, 2004.

Repository Details

Part of the Research Library Special Collections Repository

Contact:
American Museum of Natural History
Library Services, Special Collections
Central Park West at 79th Street
New York 10024-5192 USA US
(212) 769-5420