Copyright - M.Bandli - Historic Meteorites
No. B259.1 - a 20 gram part-stone that was deaccessioned from the Academy of Natural Sciences of Philadelphia (ANSP) in 2006.
1933: a photo-excerpt from Gordon's "Meteorites in the Collections of the Academy of Natural Sciences of Philadelphia". Note the matching collection numbers and weights.
ANSP 225: A French Meteorite Rich in American History
By Mike Bandli
Researching the chain-of-custody of any piece accessioned into our collection is mandatory, as provenance is more than just pedigree - it is the story of a specimen's interaction with the people that cared for and studied it. Surely a two-centuries-old meteorite must have some interesting tales to tell. When we first acquired this l'Aigle a few questions immediately arose:
1. How did ANSP acquire this specimen?
After several inquiries to the good folks at modern-day ANSP, we received a rather interesting reply from the Collection Manager of Minerals, Ned Gilmore. Mr. Gilmore had discovered that ANSP 225, our 20 gram l'Aigle, was deposited into their collection by America's oldest learned society - The American Philosophical Society (APS). Founded in 1745 by Benjamin Franklin, APS was created "to promote useful knowledge in the colonies". It was also one of the most prolific contributors to ANSP. Numerous important minerals, fossils, and botanical deposits were made during the course of the 19th century including specimens from the historic Lewis and Clark Expedition and Thomas Jefferson's fossil collection. Though Mr. Gilmore couldn't nail down an exact date of accession to ANSP, he believes it was probably during the 1840's. Perhaps the ancient label could provide some clues.
Through correspondence with several experts on ANSP minerals we have learned that the ancient label is one of the earliest ANSP variants that dates back to around the 1840's. This would seem to support Mr. Gilmore's belief of an 1840's deposit.
We also discovered that “Argyle” or “l'Argyle” is an early synonym for l'Aigle, which was likely lost or misspelled in translation. We were able to locate at least two 19th Century meteorite references that use this synonym. A third reference would eventually come to light, this time, referencing our very own l'Aigle specimen.
In 1862, ANSP sanctioned the publication of its first guide to its museum and its collections. The handbook, edited by J.H. Slack, was intended to “present to visitors an idea of the general arrangement and position of the objects of interest in the museum…” Below we present some excerpts from the minerals section in the handbook:
The handbook goes on to list fifteen meteorite specimens that are exhibited in the case. Thirteenth on the list: "Argyle, France"! Indeed, our l'Aigle was displayed in Case 560 and the spelling matches the label:
Further evidence of its exhibition includes the broken bead of glue on the base of our specimen (shown below). Most of the meteorites on display in this case were glued on wooden display stands and displayed with their respective specimen cards.
Following Slack's 1862 Handbook, our l'Aigle would go on to make additional appearances in published works:
1961: a photo-excerpt from Richard W. Barringer's "List of Meteorites in the Collections of The Academy of Natural Sciences of Philadelphia".
Top: Modern ANSP label. Bottom: Ancient label.
And what of that little white glued-on label? Two of the experts we contacted, including Paul Pohwat at the Smithsonian, believe the label is likely from the American Philosophical Society. Paul is researching some APS specimens that were deposited into ANSP and subsequently donated to the Smithsonian by Peter Megaw. Many of them have this identical style of white label glued on them. An example of one of those APS/ANSP specimens can be viewed in this link:
Still, not the smoking gun we were hoping for. For now, the question of the white glued-on label will remain unanswered until we have more facts and examples.
In the end, our l'Aigle would eventually leave its residence of the last 150 or so years when, due to unfortunate circumstances, most of ANSP's mineral collection was sold to a consortium of mineral dealers. From there it would find a new home here in The Bandli Collection where both the history and specimen itself will be carefully preserved for the next generation of curators and custodians.
Though we've told most of the story, a new question is presented: How did our l'Aigle get from France to APS? It turns out that Jean-Baptiste Biot had some involvement with APS during the early 1800's and there is a box in the APS archives containing manuscripts and correspondence from him. Of course, we are very curious to see these documents. It would appear that a trip to Philadelphia is in the near future.
To be continued…
Barringer, R.W. (1961), List of Meteorites in the Collections of The Academy of Natural Sciences of Philadelphia. Self-published.
Slack, J.H. (1862), Handbook to the Museum of the Academy of Natural Sciences of Philadelphia. Philadelphia: Collins.
Stroud, P.T. (1997), The Founding of the Academy of Natural Sciences of Philadelphia in 1812 and Its Journal in 1817. Proceedings of the Academy of Natural Sciences of Philadelphia, Vol. 147, pp 227-236.
Website: American Philosophical Society, http://www.amphilsoc.org/
Website: The Academy of Natural Sciences of Philadelphia, http://www.ansp.org/
A Blemish? No! A 150-year-old bead of history.