The Ladies’ Library Association, while undergoing a major renovation project this past spring, came upon a collection of rocks, shells, and fossils that was tucked away in one of their back rooms. They offered the collection to the Museum. While the Museum rarely accepts natural history specimens anymore, this box contained something very special. It contained part of the first donation that formed the Museum in 1881.
That year, local businessman Horace M. Peck donated a collection of corals, shells, fossils, and marbles to the Kalamazoo Board of Education. According to their meeting minutes, published in the Kalamazoo Weekly Gazette on April 22, 1881, “These specimens shall be and are hereby accepted as the beginning of a museum; they shall be known and preserved as the Peck Collection.”
Among the current membership of the Ladies’ Library, no one could recall where this box of specimens had come from, just that they had been in their building for a very long time. When Museum staff first examined the specimens, they were intrigued because they looked very similar to items in the original Peck Collection, which is still part of the permanent collection at the Museum. But without any documentation, how could one be sure?
After unboxing all of the specimens, an old handwritten label was found at the bottom of one of the boxes; it read: “Shells and Minerals from Early Museum.” This confirmed that the items were very likely part of the Peck Collection. It is unclear how they ended up at the Ladies’ Library Association or how long they had been there, but one clue may be the handwritten label. It is written on the back of an old carte-de-visite paper mount – a type of photograph popular between the 1860s and 1880s. That one clue may tell us that this little part of the Peck Collection had been lent to the Ladies’ Library way back in the 1880s.
Today, the two collections are reunited thanks to the members of the Ladies’ Library Association.