The collections of the Division of
Mineralogy can be traced to the 1802 appointment of Benjamin
Silliman to Yale University’s new professorship of chemistry and natural
history. Silliman began to acquire material for Yale College at home and on his
trip to England and Scotland in 1805 and 1806. The first significant addition
was this material from Europe, the Perkins Cabinet, in 1807.
Between 1811 and 1812, Colonel George Gibbs of Newport shipped his mineral collection to Yale to be set up “where it could be useful to science” (it was ultimately purchased in 1825). The Gibbs Cabinet consisted of 2 large separate collections and several smaller ones purchased by Gibbs, as well as specimens collected by him during his travels.
One of the 2 larger collections, with over 4,000 specimens, was that of M. Gigot D’Orcy of France (who lost his head during the French Revolution). Several hundred of these specimens have been identified (the handwritten catalog is in the Yale University Library).
The other large collection, that of Count Grigorii Kyrillovitch Razumovskii (d. 1837), contains minerals of the Russian empire, Germany and Switzerland. Another smaller collection was acquired by Gibbs from Jacques Louis, Comte de Bournon (d. 1825). Unfortunately, it has not been possible to identify positively which specimens came from these different subcollections of the Gibbs Cabinet.
In 1843, Yale purchased a collection of American minerals assembled by Baron Alois J.X. von Lederer, the Austrian Consul-General to the United States (d. 1842). This collection contained 3,000 specimens that Lederer collected himself or exchanged with the noted mineralogists and naturalists of the time. Many of these specimens have been identified by the labels used by Lederer.
With Silliman’s retirement in 1853, James D. Dana inherited the curatorship. The collection was developed through the investigations and publications of Dana and Edward S. Dana, which formed the basis of The System of Mineralogy (now in its 7th edition, it remains a principal reference in the field; many 19th century mineralogists sent material to the Danas for inclusion in the System).
In 1866, the collection was included in the newly established Peabody Museum, and George J. Brush, Professor of Metallurgy and Mineralogy in Yale’s Sheffield Scientific School, was subsequently appointed the first official curator of the Museum’s mineral collection. Throughout his career Brush acquired specimens through personal collecting, purchase and exchange, and he built his collection specifically for research and reference purposes. After Brush was named Sheffield’s first director in 1872, E.S. Dana became Curator. Meanwhile, Brush continued to develop his own collection. Samuel Penfield curated the Brush Collection after its donation to the Peabody in 1904; at his death in 1906 he was succeeded by William E. Ford.
The Blum Collection of pseudomorphs was acquired in 1871. This collection of over 1,700 specimens was assembled by Professor J. Reinhard Blum of the University of Heidelberg, the first authority on pseudomorphs, and was the basis for his publications of 1842 through 1852. The material was catalogued by Michael Fleischer.
The Lazard Cahn Collection of micromounts, numbering just under 5,000 specimens, was acquired in 1958 and curated by L. Neil Yedlin.
With E.S. Dana’s retirement in 1922, the curatorship of the Peabody collection was combined with that of the Brush Collection under Ford. Other Yale scientists who assisted with the curation of the collections include Louis V. Pirsson, Charles H. Warren, George Switzer and Adolf Knopf. Horace Winchell was named Curator in 1951. Karl K. Turekian served as Acting Curator since 1985, until Jay Ague became Curator in 1998.