Most of our afternoon today was spent with Roger Conant. A museum herpetologist, Conant was a meticulous and precise individual to say the least.  The processed portion of the collection housed in the Manuscript department (which does not include the portions of his collection housed in Herpetology or the unprocessed portions) spans 57 linear feet and is comprised of 117 boxes!  The picture hardly does the immensity of this collection justice.  But you get the idea.

The collection was largely correspondence, which was easy enough to go through as far as risk assessment is concerned.  But as we made our way through all of his boxes, we found ourselves confronted with, and stunned by, the plethora of formats and the sheer volume of it all.

While going through a box containing a handful of miscellaneous notebooks we also found 11 old passports belonging to Roger, his second wife Isabella, and one of third wife.  In older passports (which were not always blue, by the way) there was a section where you were supposed to mention any distinguishing characteristics of the bearer.  Turns out Conant was missing his left thumb. We had to find out how and why, and knew that the answer had to be somewhere in these boxes.

And it was.  And the story makes complete sense in the end.  Conant studied snakes, predominately of the southwest. As a 20 year old student, Conant apparently tried to capture a Crotalus mitchelli, commonly known as a speckled rattlesnake, or Mitchell’s rattlesnake.  Tried, and was bitten in the process.  The photo at left was found among some of Conant’s personal papers towards the end of the collection.  The annotation on the back identifies the top photo as being of Conant’s left hand, after being bitten by the snake in the second photo. Yikes!

Risk assessment wise the collection was in great shape with exception of some mounted oil paintings of snakes, lizards, and frogs.  In color these pictures are still enclosed in non-archival plastic with decaying adhesive.

Conant’s archive was full of personal and family records including pictures from his childhood in the early 20th century and memorabilia from his time as a boy scout and a math tutor.  Seeing small artifacts such as these just makes you smile, and then wonder how on earth you are supposed to classify them.  Two wooden boats, one metal cannon, 5 award ribbons…

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