1871 CORAL

January 7, 2020


This was the first specimen catalogued by the American Museum of Natural History. To quote from the museum’s Third Annual Report of 1871 (page 33):


“A full series of the corals of Florida has been purchased of Capt. Medary, U.S.A.”


No further information on Captain Medary has been found. However, in the museum’s First Annual Report printed in January, 1870 (page 8), the Report of John Davis Wolfe, President, states that:


“Efforts are being made to enlist the services of owners and captains of vessels going from our ports, and we hope in this way to add largely to our collections.” It was vital to the future success of the museum to amass a large variety and quantity of natural collections from around the world. All great cities had natural history museums to both host scientists and to educate the public. New York needed one too (First Annual Report, page 5).


Perhaps Captain Medary was one of those who responded to the appeal from the museum executives to return with coral specimens pulled from the West Indies. Since there was little locality information accompanying the specimen, this makes sense. A ship’s captain might not have thought it important to gather any information on the specimens in his collection such as specific location, depth, substrate or method of collection.


So, this historic specimen is shrouded in mystery. Still, it is here at the museum, clean, catalogued and safe. It is ready to be studied by scientists. It can be placed on display for the public to see. Well cared for, it will be here long after we are.



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