The New York Botanical Garden’s paleobotanical collection was transferred in its entirety to the Division of Paleobotany at the Yale Peabody Museum in 1983.
This collection has a long history, originating in the early paleobotanical holdings of the School of Mines at Columbia College in New York City. In 1866 J.S. Newberry became Chair of Geology and Paleobotany at Columbia College, and it was during his term that the Columbia Geology Museum was established. Newberry had an extraordinary career. Before accepting the position at Columbia, he served as physician and naturalist on several expeditions between 1885 and 1859 led by the U.S. Army Topographical Engineers. These early expeditions gave Newberry the opportunity to gather significant fossil plant collections from Oregon, Utah, Arizona, New Mexico and Mexico. Newberry also obtained valuable Mesozoic and Tertiary fossil plants from the Washington Territories, the Yellowstone River and Bridge Creek, Oregon, that had been collected by American pioneer geologists and paleontologists F.V. Hayden, Reverend Thomas Condon and Colonel George Gibbs.
Like the original Yale collection, the New York Botanical Garden Collection is one of the founding collections for North American paleobotany. It includes what could be the oldest existing figured materials in American paleobotany, the glosspertids, collected in 1839 by Yale’s own J. D. Dana during the Wilkes Expedition.
After Newberry’s death in 1892, Columbia’s fossil plant collection went to the New York Botanical Garden in the Bronx, New York. Significant collections of late Cretaceous floras of New England, New Jersey and New York were added to it when Arthur Hollick, who had been teaching at Columbia, became an assistant curator at the New York Botanical Garden. Hollick also collected many Tertiary fossil plants from Puerto Rico and Cuba. Herman Becker succeeded Hollick as curator and spent his career studying the Tertiary floras of Montana, until his retirement in 1974. The collection remained uncurated until its transfer to the Yale Peabody Museum.