Primary types in private collections

Ron at Ron at
Thu Sep 26 15:02:46 CDT 2002

----- Original Message -----
From: "Bill Shear" <wshear at hams-hsc.HSC.EDU>
Subject: Primary types in private collections

> Trying to return the discussion once more to the original thread-- Does
> anyone out there think that primary types belong in private collections?
> Bill Shear

OK.   Types (holo, syn, lecto, neo) are types.  What does it matter if they
are in a private collections as residents (Robin's post) or on loan from a
major museum?

There are particular taxa I have written to museums about to get the loan
of primary material and have been told they are unavailable as the types
have been on loan to some other worker - for years and years.  And this is
not only a problem with types but entire series of specimens.   There is an
undescribed subspecies of critter in the Florida Keys that has never been
named (fully acknowledged as distinct in all the lit - but undescribed).  I
have often been tempted over the last 30 years to do it myself, but have
not because "the expert" in that group has staked it out as his own decades
ago.  He also has on "loan" the largest and entire series of this bug from
a major museum.  And yes, you guessed it, he has had the specimens for

Millions of specimens are on loan from major "professional" museums to
private researchers.  Many of them primary types.  I was once mailed a  200
year old butterfly type from Europe (MNHN), think of the risks in transit.
I then mailed it the Allyn Museum in Florida to be examined by an expert on
antique insect pins.  The process was then reversed - the conclusion was
the validation of this as the actual holotype.   The point is that as long
as we (correctly) view biological types as tools (rather than display
artifacts) they will of necessity continue to be handled in house (dropped
museum drawers or other museum accidents), passed around to researchers
(public mail, personal transit in cars, private collection loans) and be
"at risk".

Lastly, my solution to the problem was to formally incorporate a few years
ago and become a "museum".   We are as formally legal as any large
institution here in the states.  We are a tax exempt, non-profit,
educational institution with a board of directors, and currently two
locations.  Our primary repository is planned but not built.  So now we
enlarge the issue to not just private vs. public, but small public to
enormous public.  So who is going to eventually draw the line?   As
Christian Thompson said, the ZN Commission wisely did not draw such a line.
Sloppy selfish private, responsible armature private, responsible PhD
private,  responsible institutionally employed but private home research
collection, small poorly kept but institutional,  large institutonal but
still poorly curated,  small institutional but extremely well kept, and on
and on.   It all looks pretty darned subjective -- holotypes on loan (for
years) in a private collection are fine, but as resident property no?
Looks like the real issue is ownership and not location of specimen.

Ron Gatrelle
TILS president
Charleston, SC - USA

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