200 Years. 200 Stories. Story 19: “The Academy's First Major Purchase ”

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photo of the cabinet that held the Seybert mineral collection
This cabinet originally held the Seybert Mineral Collection.Photo by Alan Andersen

The Academy's First Major Purchase

During the 18th and early 19th centuries, Adam Seybert was the only American with extensive knowledge of mineralogy. He had developed an increasing interest in the subject while studying under the famous crystallographer René Haüy in Paris. Seybert acquired a substantial study collection of minerals, which he kept in a specially built mahogany cabinet. He continued to add to his collection upon returning to Philadelphia, where he became the local authority on minerals.

During the year of its founding in 1812, the Academy scraped together funds to acquire the Seybert mineral collection. Seybert sold the collection to the Academy for a staggering $750, but he continued to work on it and went on to prepare a handwritten catalog. The collection of more than 2,000 specimens remains at the Academy and is the oldest intact collection of minerals in the United States, containing more than 90 percent of all known minerals. It includes scientifically significant minerals, vials of ash and sulfur, and the only known minerals collected on the Lewis and Clark Expedition.

The minerals are now housed in a modern cabinet in our Mineralogy Collection, and antique-furniture conservator Alan Andersen has restored the empty cabinet. It is on display in our Ewell Sale Stewart Library & Archives. Come see it today!

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