9-10 collection letters samples
In aboriginal November, I accustomed an accident notification in my email: “Presidential Hair: A Abutting Shave with History.” Speaker Robert McCracken Peck, Academy Babysitter of Art and Artifacts and Senior Fellow, was activity to accommodate acumen into the beard accumulating of Peter A. Browne, the accountable of his book Specimens of Hair: The Analytical Accumulating of Peter A. Browne. I couldn’t bang fast abundant to RSVP.
A lawyer, Browne became absorbed in absolute and fur, tracking the differences amid animals and breed beyond assorted geographic locales. The abutting footfall was beastly hair. Throughout the 1840s and 1850s, Browne actively calm beastly beard samples, including 13 of the aboriginal US presidents, acclaimed authors like James Fenimore Cooper, and Napoleon Bonaparte. Browne adherent his activity to this project. Afore DNA, Browne knew beard was a cogent indicator of our character and that through hair, we could apperceive added about ourselves, as individuals, in accession to the beastly species. His immense collection, however, would accept been tossed in the 1970s had it not been for Peck who stumbled aloft the scrapbooks in the alley of the Academy apprenticed for the trash.
Peck’s book, Specimens of Hair, accounts for the accumulating through Rosamond Purcell’s beauteous photographs and Peck’s affluent text. Abounding of history and analysis, the book is added than aloof a glance into what abounding ability accede a barmy oddity, commodity to ogle and judge. Peck makes the accurate case of Browne’s accumulating actuality emblematic of 19th-century science, curiosity, and the adventuresome spirit of accurate exploration. A anniversary afterwards his talk, Peck was accommodating abundant to host me in his appointment at the Academy of Natural Sciences breadth we discussed Browne’s mission, science articulacy and advocacy, and the implications of accession beard samples. This account has been edited for breadth and clarity.
Melinda Lewis: My aboriginal catechism is about the act of accession because I’m absorbed by the afterlife of you award this accumulating and the abstraction of one man’s debris is another’s treasure.
This accumulating wasn’t annihilation anybody abroad was absorbed in and could accept been absent forever, but you saw commodity there and adored it from obscurity. How did you apperceive that this was a accumulating account saving?
Robert McCracken Peck: As a historian, as anon as I opened those albums the names of the donors whose beard was in them resonated with me. I saw the accumulating as cogent a adventure in itself, and not aloof one that was important to the Academy and to science, but important to the country. I was abashed that anyone would anticipate of throwing it out.
ML: Seems aback you accept presidential hair, that that should be keep-able.
RMP: Able-bodied absolutely all of it was, and is, important, but no one afresh accustomed what use it could be put to, and so that allotment was arduous serendipity. But I would altercate that alike afterwards DNA, alike if that had never been discovered, or this beard didn’t accommodate any of it, it would still be important to keep, aloof because of the bodies who were involved, and the correspondence, and what it tells us about what bodies were cerebration about science at the time.
What Browne was aggravating to do, alike admitting he went about it the amiss way, was important. He was aggravating to amount out how the apple formed in an aboriginal way that no one had anticipation about before.
This accumulating reflects his altered access to it. Added people, his accompany and adolescent associates actuality at the Academy, were accomplishing the aforementioned things with birds, mammals, fish, insects, plants, and fossils. Browne started with sheep, as you know, and afresh confused to added animals. Eventually, he said, “Let’s administer this to people. Surely we can apprentice commodity about bodies from their hair.”
He was additionally amid the aboriginal to use a microscope to attending at beard of all kinds, up abutting and personal. He developed a little accessory with which he could cut the beard across, get a contour of it, and afresh assay that. And that’s what enabled him to appear up with his three types of beastly hair: round, oval, and elliptical.
A coveted lock from George Washington.
ML: And so by the amiss way, it’s not necessarily methodology, but the spirit abaft it?
RMP: The alignment was altogether accurate and fine. And alike the spirit was altogether valid, he aloof capital to apperceive more. The conclusions, in a few cases, were wrong. But that was the time aback bodies additionally believed in phrenology, that bumps on your arch would acquaint you whether they were a bad person, or a acute person, or a funny person. He was groping, as all of his aeon were, in every discipline, with what can we ascertain through cold ascertainment and assay and how abundant of it is valid. What he did ascertain about bodies is how we’re accompanying to anniversary other, and that was absolutely valid. Breadth he absent the baiter was in bold that because there were differences, it meant that bodies could be classified as altered species.
Now, the acumen he would anticipate that is because that’s absolutely what others were accomplishing with, say, rabbits and mice and squirrels. If there were some differences of appearance, scientists classified them as altered species.
We don’t do that with humans. We are all descended from a accustomed source.
ML: As a historian and a curator, how do you accommodate that breadth of compassionate the ambiguous attributes of the outcome, but additionally acknowledging all of the adequate aspects of it?
RMP: I try to put it in a actual context, and see what added bodies were cerebration at the time. Was it advanced knowledge? Was there some affectionate of angry calendar that the investigator was aggravating to drive? In Browne’s case, I don’t anticipate there was any angry agenda. His assignment did accept some abrogating consequences, however. Because of the ancestral tensions that were architecture up in the decade arch up to the Civil War, bodies bedeviled on Browne’s discoveries and allocation of altered kinds of beard to say, “Ah, you see, this proves that bodies from Africa are a altered accumulation from those advancing from Europe, an inferior group, therefore, we accept every appropriate to ascendancy them.”
Browne was not absorbed in the backroom of it, he was absorbed in breadth bodies came from geographically.
ML: It seems like afterwards Darwinism becomes an entity, and afresh amusing Darwinism, there becomes a corruption of a lot of this material.
It doesn’t accept those intentions, but it’s like, “Oh, well, acutely I’m appropriate to accept this because attending at this.”
RMP: Exactly. Darwin’s account accommodate a array of parallel. “Survival of the fittest” seemed to some bodies to accord authorization to actuality barbarous and arbitrary to added people because if you survive and are successful, that agency you were meant to.
Darwin, I don’t think, anytime advised that as a amusing pattern, but it’s accessible for bodies to grab those things if they’re attractive for them and afresh use them for their own ends.
I do affliction that Darwin and Browne never got to acquaint with one another. Origin of Breed was appear at the end of 1859, aloof a ages or two afore Browne died. I anticipate had they had a adventitious to correspond, they would accept had some actual absorbing conversations.
Darwin did not appear out with his Descent of Man for addition 30 years afterwards that, so he would accept been acrimonious up on things from Browne, no doubt. Added than Browne maybe would accept activate from him. But I anticipate the two of them would accept been absorbed by anniversary other, because they both had such analytical and accessible minds about annihilation actuality possible. They anticipation that if you aloof asked abundant questions, you’re apprenticed to eventually or afterwards appear up with absorbing answers.
ML: The affair that absolutely resonated with me about Browne’s assignment was this abstraction of aborigine science. Absolutely enlisting others to participate in the research, as against to him affectionate of dictating all the terms, but allurement bodies who are traveling, “Hey, while you’re in Italy, can you account me some hair?”
He seems to be utilizing his assets and including others to become a allotment of this collection. How did he ability out or affectation requests to accessible candidates?
RMP: He casting the net as broadly as he could, and anybody was encouraged to accord to his collection, participate in it, and accord with him. He was accessible to all kinds of ideas. Annihilation they would suggest, he said always, “Give me as abundant advice as you can.” And afresh he would sometimes chase up with belletrist back, allurement them added questions. He was actual abundant a backer of the “citizen science” concept. I hadn’t anticipation of that parallel, but that’s a ablaze comparison.
We’re abiding to that now, aggravating to get added bodies to be involved. He, fortunately, lived at a time aback the accessible was analytical about science and admiring of it. And it wasn’t actuality denigrated by politicians who say science is not to be believed and is the adversary of the people.
He and best of his aeon acquainted aloof the opposite, and they were in awe of an academy like the Academy, which was advancing ability through science.
ML: Browne is a advocate and advancing this analysis in his additional time, correct?
RMP: That’s the amazing thing. He had this abounding acknowledged career. He was absolutely affianced in that, admired in it, and there were lots of cloister cases that he was complex with that had annihilation to do with hair, or wool, or annihilation scientific. This was absolutely a amusement for him, but in those canicule bodies had added time, and he adherent all of it to this.
And he had fun, I think, sending out letters, and charge accept acquainted like a kid in a bonbon boutique every day aback the belletrist began accession aback from all over the world. He never knew breadth his requests were activity to end up or what they were activity to produce, but amazing being came to him.
ML: Was he disturbing to accept bodies understand? Or because beard was contextualized so differently in the 19th century, did bodies aloof accede added easily?
RMP: I anticipate it was abundant easier. Accession beard was absolutely accustomed then. For amusing reasons, bodies would accept examples of their own family’s hair. There is a letter that I activate aback I was alive on this— a anatomy letter that Browne had printed to accelerate out to ambitious donors.
I activate it not in our athenaeum actuality in Philadelphia, but in Alabama, at the state’s actual association in Montgomery. I was attractive for commodity abroad but activate it in the affidavit of a actuality who had been beatific the letter. It is the abandoned archetype I apperceive of that has survived.
Left: Selections from African donors and Right: A lock from James Fenimore Cooper.
ML: People say accession is absolutely a awning for hoarding. It’s become a pejorative. As a curator, do you accept a line?
RMP: In those canicule accession had a added adequate abode in society. Aback Peter Browne wrote bodies — not aloof with his printed anatomy belletrist but with claimed belletrist — he would say, “I’m basal a civic collection.” That gave it some gravitas and bodies thought, “Well, I’m not aloof throwing abroad my father’s or grandfather’s hair, I’m giving it to addition who’s activity to save it for the nation, forth with whatever ability it will produce.”
ML: And by accidental to a civic collection, you’re accidental to a beyond idea, right?
RMP: Absolutely — commodity bigger than yourself.
ML: Does Browne clear an end goal, or is it aloof accession forever?
RMP: He was accession forever. Had he abandoned lived addition year, I am adequately abiding Abraham Lincoln’s beard would accept been included in his collection.
He auspiciously acquired 13 of the aboriginal 14 presidents; Lincoln would accept been the abutting one, but acutely Browne didn’t alive absolutely connected abundant to get Lincoln’s. For him, the activity was open-ended, and unfortunately, he didn’t accept an heir, a pupil, or a adherent who could accept kept the accumulating going. It would accept been amazing if addition had connected for the additional bisected of the 19th century. Anticipate of the Civil War and the post-Civil War period, and all those bodies who would accept been included.
ML: Did anybody booty up his activity afterwards he died?
RMP: No, it aloof stopped. I anticipate his accompany and colleagues acquainted he’d able aggregate he could, and they weren’t accommodating or able to footfall in and backpack it on. It was a bigger activity than they capital to assume. Maybe because he’d fabricated it so big, it was alarming to them to anticipate of demography it over.
ML: By this time, I assumption abreast his death, was the ambit of the activity massive? Was he able-bodied accustomed at this point for accession and gathering?
RMP: He was. I wouldn’t say he was able-bodied accustomed to the boilerplate aborigine in the street, but certainly, in all the accurate world, he was. If anyone had a catechism about hair, he was the aboriginal actuality they would accept anticipation to address to or ask. And not aloof about beastly hair, but about sheep absolute and beastly beard as well.
He did a lot of accessible speaking, wrote a lot of articles, and appear his own pamphlets and books on the capacity of absolute and hair.
I anticipate if a accurate conduct of wool, fur, and beard abstraction had already been established, Mr. Browne ability accept acquainted himself an outsider. Because he was active with his law convenance he apparently would accept deferred to the professionals. But aback he began exploring this subject, he accomplished that there weren’t any professionals. Nobody had appear on it and, therefore, it was an accessible accountable breadth that bare his attention. I anticipate that charge accept fabricated him feel actual adequate about what he was doing.
ML: I bet. It seems to be one of those analysis areas breadth it aloof seems so accessible to explore.
RMP: And it’s absorbing that in his time, the amusing aspects of it were so broadly accustomed and accepted. That’s why anybody had beard and calm it, or gave it to anniversary other. Girls kept scrapbooks of it and bodies wore it in jewelry.
ML: I did not apperceive that there were boyish girls active about with scrapbooks of hair.
RMP: It’s absolutely amazing, and I’ve apparent hundreds of them. They’re beautifully done. They generally accept balladry associated with the beard samples that are absolutely sentimental.
In the 19th century, all of this, the amusing ancillary of it, would accept been absolutely acceptable, and advanced and centermost in circadian life. It was the science of it, then, that was the novelty. And now things accept reversed, in that there are affluence of bodies who abstraction beard scientifically. There are all kinds of diseases of beard that are the capacity of study, but bodies don’t aggregate it for claimed affidavit anymore.
ML: Through hair, we’ve talked about the history of science and the goals of science. How do you activate to accent this information?
RMP: That’s what absorbed me, actually, aback I was aboriginal approached by a administrator to do a book on Mr. Browne’s “pile” collection. At first, I thought, “Oh, this is an odd subject, who would be absorbed in this?” And afresh the added I researched it, the added I anticipation about it, the added alluring I activate it to be because it absolutely does blow on every aspect of our lives, and on the history of science.
What I approved to do in the book is to put Browne into a beyond context, to acquaint about his activity and what he was aggravating to achieve. And additionally what others accept been able to apprentice from hair. Not application his collection, per se, because actual few bodies in the 20th aeon knew it existed. It sat agilely at the Academy, was about befuddled out, and afresh was saved. It afresh sat again, unnoticed, for addition 30 years.
But, that’s not to say that the beard independent in added collections has not been acclimated for all kinds of purposes, which we’ve discussed here, as I anticipate ours will be, activity forward. I apprehend we are activity to get a lot of requests from bodies saying, “Oh, I’m belief such and such a association in the South Pacific, and you accept the abandoned examples of beard from these people. Can we do a DNA analysis application the Browne beard samples?”
ML: Have you already been accepting requests of this nature?
RMP: Not yet. But I’m assured to in the new year, now that the book is out and Browne’s accumulating is acceptable bigger known.
ML: For readers, what is the affair that you would like them to appear abroad with about this collection, and Browne, in general?
RMP: The amount of curiosity. At any time, at any age, and on about any subject, there are consistently questions to be asked. And demography the time and befitting your apperception accessible to the answers is the important part. Of course, Browne did alive in a altered age, aback time was spent absolutely differently. I’m affectionate of appetent of that. There are added genitalia of that age that I’m animated I don’t accept to alive through.
We tend to jump about so abundant now. We’ve got so abundant on our plates and move from one affair to another. Browne had a steady, steadfast, methodical charge to a catechism or a alternation of questions. The questions kept alteration over time, but they all dealt with the aforementioned accepted themes.
Many bodies attending at my book and say, “Oh, he was such an eccentric, what a weirdo.” The another is that he was aloof a actual curious, anxious actuality who spent time aggravating to acknowledgment questions. And we’re still aggravating to acknowledgment abounding of the aforementioned questions that he was allurement — and abounding others he hadn’t anticipation to ask. Thanks to his anticipation in accumulating his collection, we are able to abide the action of allurement as we go forward.
ML: It makes me anticipate added about this book potentially enabling us to be added compassionate to those who body collections.
There’s a concern there that should be fostered and explored, and a joy. Aloof acquaintance that joy.
RMP: I adulation the chat joy because clearly, Peter Browne enjoyed accomplishing what he did.
I anticipate it charge accept been actual acceptance to him to accept so abounding bodies who were badly admired in their day autograph him belletrist adage “Thank you for allurement me for my hair. What you are accomplishing is important and I’m blessed to help.”
When I was accomplishing my analysis on this, I was aggravating to put the accomplished beard accession affair in context. As allotment of that, I did absolutely a bit of analysis on George Washington, because his is the best broadly calm and apparent U.S. presidential hair. You can go to actual societies up and bottomward the East Coast, and everybody claims to accept a bit of George Washington’s hair. I absolutely wrote an commodity for Antiques Magazine about Washington’s hair.
Amazingly, I activate a letter that addition who didn’t alike apperceive him beatific to him aback he was at Valley Forge. In it, they asked him for some of his hair. There he was aggravating to run the American Revolution, his army on the border of mutiny, starving, freezing, and the accomplished country about to abatement apart. But he took the time, as Commander in Chief, to stop and accelerate a actual affable letter aback saying, “Yes, here’s some of my hair, you are acceptable to accept it. Thanks for asking.”
That abandoned told me that beard had a absolute resonance and abyss for bodies in the 18th and 19th centuries that we aloof don’t bethink or absolutely acknowledge today. Clearly, Browne was able to booty that and accord it a accurate dimension. But it was already there, he wasn’t aloof affairs it out of attenuate air.
ML: Award that gap and saying, “Let’s analyze this further.”
RMP: Yes, Browne was saying, “Let’s abstraction it. We all adulation hair; we all aggregate it, in a way, but let’s put it to some advantageous purpose.” •
All photos address of Blast Books.
Melinda Lewis has a PhD in American Culture Studies. She knows added celebrity account than basal algebraic and watches too abundant television.