World-wide Specimens

Thomas Pape thomas.pape at NRM.SE
Tue Mar 31 21:35:51 CST 1998

At 12.29 1998-03-31 -0600, Patricia Koleff wrote:

>We are interested in knowing the total number of specimens holded on
>herbaria and museums of the world.
>Any idea of the total number and the current rate of specimens incorporation?

Total number of specimens will require an explicit definition of what is
considered a museum 'specimen'.

At the Swedish Museum of Natural History we have recently adopted a policy
of counting "items" defined as 'the least inclusive labeled units'. That is,
a skeleton of a blue whale counts as one item, as does one jar with a soup
of 1000 gnats, or one pinned beetle. Each item can be moved around without
loss of information, but it cannot be split into more items without such a
loss. Each item can be registered in its own right in the collection
database. Of course, labeling of the 'parts' makes such moving around,
registration, etc. possible, and accordingly would create more items.
Separating the bones of the whale skeleton and labeling these with all the
original information would create more items, as would a separate labeling
of the gnats, or the making of a separate, properly labeled slide of the
beetle genitalia.

We just had our insect collection 'censused' following this definition of
'items' and by counting about one seventh of all drawers. After simple
extrapolation we had to scale our holdings down to 2.5 million. I would
suppose that several other museums also operate with gross overestimates.

A grand total for the Swedish Museum of Natural History is being tallied at
the moment but will probably be around 8-9 M.

As for yearly accessions, our entomological collections date from 1748, that
is exactly 250 years or an average of 10.000 items/specimens per year (not
counting deaccession).

Thomas Pape

Thomas Pape
Department of Entomology
Swedish Museum of Natural History       Voice: +46 8666 4094
Box 50007                               Fax:   +46 8666 4099
S - 104 05 Stockholm, SWEDEN            e-mail: thomas.pape at

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