On the Acquisition of the Philippine Collection

Somehow form a family

Somehow form a Family

On the Acquisition of the Philippine Collection

Lawrence Ypil


The 1904 St. Louis World’s Fair provided a rare opportunity for the University of Iowa Natural History Museum to extend its ethnographic collection by purchasing objects right on American soil. The acquisition of the Philippine objects was headed by Charles Nutting then the curator of the museum who was sent by President George Maclean on a series of trips to St. Louis starting November 1904.

At the Special Archives of the UI Library are five letters addressed to President MacLean related to the acquisition. Four of them are written by Nutting dated November 10, 26,  30, and Dec 3. One is written by William R. Patterson dated Nov. 30.

What is revealed in these letters is not only the excitement with which the acquisition was made but also the extensive bureaucracy and stiff competition Nutting faces in order to make the acquisition. In the letters, we discover the process of acquisition: from Nutting’s initial interest in the objects, to his skillful negotiation for them, and his eventual purchase of the Philippine objects at $120.

Also listed in the letters are other objects taken from different ethnographic exhibits in the fair including a set of educational materials and photographs from the Philippine Reservation which has since been lost.

By December 3, the day before the fair closes, Nutting writes: “The Philippine material will not be divided for at least three weeks. I feel sure that we have the inside track there […] and we ought to make a fine thing of it.”



Transcript of the letters

                                   Nov. 10th 1904


Dear President MacLean:

      Your letter received. I am doing all that

I can for all interests, and have received con-

siderable material that will be of value to the

School of Commerce, especially in the way of raw

products. Prof. Sessuus is not here, his place being

filled by his son. The Board of control have the only

authority regarding State Property and all other

exhibits are moved by Schook or private individuals

not represented here. Charts and furniture seem

to be all that the Board controls. Have secured

list of exhibitions to be appealed to by Professor

Breton if he desires.

     The prospect is that we will secure about

as much material, good material, as the

University will want to handle. I would

not be greatly surprised if it would amount

to a car-load. From present prospects it seems

likely that the greater part will be from the



Philippine Exposition. Have promises also from

Puerto Rico, Honduras, New South Wales, Ceylon

and Alaska.

     My instructions from the board of regents

 were to “go to St. Louis and secure what I (he)

 can”. I am doing it, but it will cost

something for packing and transportation.

     I will return to Iowa City on Sunday

morning. Am afraid that it will be abso-

lutely necessary to come back here at the

end of the Exposition. Am going to try

Germany, China, and Japan today. It is

very cold and uncomfortable here.

     Will try to see you on Monday afternoon.

 Am after a good collection of “drug plants.”

      In haste,

                Very sincerely yours,

                         C.C. Nutting.



(Written on stationery from the Forster Hotel) West End Hotel Saint Louis)

                             Nov. 26th 1904


President George E. MacLean,

                 Iowa City, Iowa.

Dear President MacLean:

          I write simply to report progress regarding

the work here.

     So far as I have thus far discovered nothing

has slipped away from us that I felt that I had

a grip on when here before.

     From New South Wales we are to have quite a

good collection of Native woods, all named, as

well as a lot of samples of cereals.

     From Ceylon we get a collection of 55 specimens

of rare mounted birds, with the nests of some of

them, which I purchased for $30.00 (less than half

their value) and thus secured a lot of other material

from Ceylon, in the way of native products.

     As I told you before leaving, the big hand will

be from the Philippine Exhibit where I am going

to expend $75.00 from my own departmental



appropriation and $50.00 from the money

appropriated at the last meeting of the Executive

Committee. There will be a good $250.00 worth of

Zoological material alone, besides large collections

of swords, medicinal plants, models of fish-houses,

traps and boats etc. I also secured today

what I believe will be quite an extensive lot

of Educational material from the same exhibit,

consisting of photographs, ordinary school work

and a number of models, toys and various

other things illustrating the work of the native

children. I confidently believe that with the

material that we will secure from this great

exhibit we will be able to make a strong feature

of the Philippine material in our New Museum.

     The man in charge of the Educational exhibit

suggested that I back up a dray against

his building on Dec. 2nd the inference being

that he would load it.



     I went to the Customs House this morning, and

found that the paper you gave me would answer

its purpose. I think that everything of ours will

go through free of duty.

     Next week will be a strenuous one with me,

but I am going to do my very best for the Univers-

ity. I have a pass, secured through Dr.

Taylor, good for admission to the Exposition for

ten days.

     I received notice today from the National

mus U.S. Fish Commission that they had

packed ready for shipment 280 specimens

of American Fishes and 215 specimens of

Hawaiian Fishes, with other collections to fol-

low, all to be donated to our University. This

will be an important accession to the university


          Very sincerely yours,

                      C. C. Nutting.





Rec’d DEC 2 1904

Written Nov. 30th 1904

Written on West End Hotel Stationery


Nov. 30th, 1904


President George E. Maclean,

             Iowa City, Iowa.

Dear President Maclean:

          I received your letter this evening, and

will try to see Miss Evert’s friend tomorrow


     We are getting quite a lot of material and

still more experience. I have had to swear,

in various ways, in and at the Custom

House, and placed the University under bind

not to sell the material secured.

     Dr. Patterson has written you of many of

the things secured. Nothing can be removed,

or even packed, until Dec. 2nd. We will

nail down everything as soon as possible

to keep it out of the hands of other rapacious

museum men. The trip will pay, so far as

the University as a whole is concerned, but

the Chair department of Zoology will secure

comparatively little. We have both been working

for the whole university.

     I have seen the Iowa Board of Control and

found that the Iowa building goes to Knoxville.

The other matters are still to be settled.

     So far as I have discovered, ours is about the

only university that is getting anything to

speak of. Others have depended on written

requests which are useless.

     We hope to start home Monday night, as we

have secured a trustworthy party to help in

packing and see to transportation. It will

probably be two weeks before the Philippine

material will be divided. Will see about that


     We will need the prayers of all good friends

for the next few days, as we go into what

will be a wild scramble against heavy odds.

               Very sincerely yours,

                             C. C. Nutting .





                   Nov.30, 1904


My Dear Pres. MacLean

          The chase goes merrily on, but

the pace is quickening and it is possible

the rear of the procession may be

ours. We love the distinction, however,

of being the only university represented.

Nebraska it seems was here awhile

and Ames had a representative here

but to date but little trace of them has

been found.

          I feel quite well satisfied with

the outlook from my side. Prof Nutting

finds less that will aid his work.

So for the following in which I am

interested has been obtained

Egypt – a full line of grain and over 60 cotton samples

Jordan – Spices grains &c 40 samples

Ceylon – grains, nuts     teas     coffees

          fibers,    oils    –      Perhaps 100 samples




India – Tea, coffee, Cardamom 50 samples

Venezuela – Ores, medicinal plants

                   Coffee ……. about 60 samples

Connecticut—grains & seeds….. 75 “


       Dr. Millspaugh of Clucojo took

dinner with us and upon leaving

remarked he would give me a full

line from Portugal.

     It remains to be seen what more

may be added or ------- subtracted.

      If Prof. Nutting were not a

Presbyterian and under like influence

I fear he would swear at the

Customs officials. It seems they

are in no particular hurry & we


     As yet it is impossible to say when

we can get back – I hope soon

                   Very truly yours,






Dec. 3rd, 1904


President George E. MacLean,

                State University of Iowa,

                         Iowa City


Dear President MacLean:


     We have just finished a decidedly stren-

uous week’s work. We have packed and marked

the boxes and barrels of material from various

sources and have had packed for us 13 boxes

of specimens from the American Clay Working

Machinery Company. About 6 other boxes of

material have been secured with a lot more

in sight. We hear fearful tales of extortion

on the part of the company that seems to

have a monopoly of the removal and shipping

of material from the Exposition, the report

being that it charges 6 cts per pound.

This must certainly, it seems to me, be

a gross mistake.

     My return ticket reaches its limit

on Monday night, and I intend to return

at that time. Things are now in such

shape that I can leave them safely with


     The Philippine material will not be

divided for at least three weeks. I feel sure

that we have the inside track there, and ,

unless the expense of getting things away

from the Exposition is prohibitive, we ought

to make a fine thing of it. We have

promises of considerable material also from

several other foreign sources, but these col-

lections can not be divided for some time


     I will see as soon as possible after

returning Tuesday morning and put the

situation before you as clearly as possible.

           Very sincerely yours,

                       C. C. Nutting



On the Acquisition of the Philippine Collection