Major Collectors And Their Collections At The Grigore Antipa National Museum Of Natural History

The first collections were set up at the National Museum of Natural History and Antiquities more than 175 years ago and have been available to the public for over a century. Their success has proved to be quite remarkable, as they have attracted an ever-growing number of visitors and world specialists. The permanent exhibition is being currently reorganized and brought up to date as part of a project that runs from January 2009 until March 2010. The change was also brought about especially by the request of our younger visitors, who appreciate the multimedia content. They want to be able to see the plants and animals they have only seen on TV and we try to offer them a wide choice of galleries. In the background however, our researchers and preservers permanently work on identifying species and organizing the collections, while restorers prepare the specimens for display. Yet our specialists have many more tasks, such as taking part in local and international expeditions, or enriching the museum collections and ensuring that they are preserved appropriately. Moreover, the enthusiastic collectors who spend decades gathering specimens and eventually donate them to museums have always been important figures. One of the first collectors, Aristotle was able to write his Compared Anatomy and Classification of Animals treaties after careful study of his specimens, just as Pliny wrote the 37 volumes of his Naturalis Historia on the basis of his own collection. The ancestors of modern museums were the Renaissance cabinets of curiosities set up by aristocrats both for pure display and research. The respective private collections became public over time and the first museum was opened in Switzerland, to house the collection and library of Conrad Gessner (1516-1565), the author of a major encyclopaedia. Other museums were soon founded throughout Europe. The first natural history museum in Romania was inaugurated in Aiud in 1796. Similar institutions were subsequently opened in Iaşi and Bucharest in 1834, or in Sibiu in 1895 (the latter incorporating the collections of the Transylvanian Natural Science Society, dating from1849).The Bucharest Museum of Natural History was set up on the basis of the private collections of Mihalache Ghica, ruler Alexandru Dimitrie Ghica’s brother, to which specimens (primarily molluscs) from the Zoology Cabinet of the Vienna Natural History Museum were soon added. Carol Wallenstein, the first manager of the Bucharest museum starting in 1837, encouraged exchanges and donations. After 1859, his successor Carlo Ferrerati established a link with the Turin Museum, from where he obtained 600 minerals and 1,119 invertebrates, fish, amphibians, reptiles and birds. Gregoriu Ştefănescu, the third museum manager from 1867 to 1893, was also the one to discover the superb giant elephant fossil (Deinotherium Gigantissimum) in the sands of the Bârlad Valley in 1890.The physician Hilarie Mitrea (born in Răşinari, Sibiu County) should be mentioned among the great collectors from the second half of the 19th century. He spent 25 years (between 1869 and 1893) working in the Indonesian Archipelago as a physician in the Dutch Army. At the same time, he collected and prepared several hundred crustaceans, amphibians, reptiles, birds and mammals, which are exhibited to this day in the ‘Grigore Antipa’ Museum of Natural History. He captured 146 birds from 75 species (28 families) in Sumatra, Banka, Kalimantan, Java and Celebes. Mitrea also gathered several warrior trophy heads from Papua and Kalimantan, which became part of the ethnography collection at Antipa. Last but not least, he donated his own library consisting of 254 specialty books to the museum. A fire in the building of the Bucharest University (March 24, 1884) spared only the specimens collected by Mitrea that had been deposited in the basement. The Mitrea collection was therefore the basis of the zoology department, which Dr. Grigore Antipa took over from Professor Dr. Gregoriu Ştefănescu.The next major donor was the mentor of Dr. Grigore Antipa, Ernst Haeckel from the Jena University, who offered a collection of invertebrates brought from the Challenger expedition. Professors Kükenthal and Semon from the same university sent specimens from Sri Lanka, Australia, the Maluku and Spitzbergen Islands, while Professor Steindachner from the Vienna museum offered a fish collection. Professor Anton Dohrn, who managed the Marine Research Institute in Naples, sent numerous Mediterranean fish to Dr. Antipa. The museum also acquired mammal and bird trophies from Dr. Emil Holub, an African explorer, and from the brothers Nicolae and Dumitru Ghica-Comăneşti, who had been on a hunting trip in Somalia. Mihai Şuţu donated birds he had hunted in Egypt and Dr. Mihai Cantacuzino marine specimens gathered at the French Institute Villefranche-sur-Mer. With such rich collections, Dr. Grigore Antipa finally inaugurated on May 24, 1908 the Natural History Museum, an institution “worthy of a nation’s capital”.Another important donor was Professor Gheorghe Voicu, who gave the museum remarkable fossil echinoderms, ichthyosaurs and statoliths for the palaeontology collection. The rarities of the invertebrate collection include the marine spongiae (many of them collected by the museum specialists on an expedition in the Indonesian Archipelago in 1991). Valuable coelenterates (corals and medusae) were brought back from Tanzania (1974) and the Mediterranean (offered by the physician Zibrovius), or from the Indonesian Sea. The specialist J. Rodriguez donated numerous echinoderms, while Mihai C. Băcescu (member of the Romanian Academy and manager of the Antipa Museum between 1964 and 1988) created a full collection of Black Sea invertebrates. The 11,400 specimens from 230 species cover crustaceans, pycnogonidae (such as Callipalene fantoma), polychaetes, echinoderms (e.g. Amphiura lacertosa, Phiura texturata), molluscs (Patella pontica, Cyclope brusinay, Pecten glaber, Donax trunculus) etc.The museum also owns a collection of 42,000 specimens of sea and freshwater crustaceans from 900 global species, many donated by Dr. Grigore Antipa, Hilarie Mitrea, the biospeleologist Emil Racoviţă, Dr. Mihai Băcescu, Dr. Ileana Negoescu, Dr. Caraion Francisca, Dr. Modest Guţu, Dr. Iorgu Petrescu or Dr. Aurelian Popescu-Gorj. The Amsterdam Zoology Museum also gave 2,829 amphipods to the Bucharest museum. The most valuable crustaceans of the entire collection are the 1,200 type specimens, covering almost 400 species such as Tanaidacea, Cumacea, Mysidacea, Ostracoda, Copepoda and Isopoda. They were all described by the above-mentioned museum specialists, disciples of oceanographer Mihai Băcescu.The ‘Grigore Antipa’ Museum of Natural History houses more than 130,000 specimens of sea, freshwater and land molluscs from 1,700 species. 98,000 of them come from the E. A. Bielz collection, whereas 11,000 Romanian freshwater and land molluscs were donated by I. P. Licherdopol. The Arnold-Lucien Montandon collection has brought 1,124 specimens of 320 European species to the museum. The most valuable specimen is the Neopilina ewingi, found at a depth of 6,300 in the Peru-Chile Trench by the American expedition on the Anton Bruun, in which Mihai Băcescu also participated. Last but not least, the collection of Professor Alexandru Grossu includes 3,000 specimens from 500 species and subspecies, as well as 40 holotypes. On the more recent expedition to the Indonesian Archipelago in 1991, the museum specialists collected more than 1,300 molluscs from 300 species.As insects dominate the animal realm, they also occupy a considerable portion of the Bucharest Museum. The foundation of the collections was laid in 1911, when Dr. Grigore Antipa purchased valuable lepidopterans, hymenopterans and orthopterans from the German company Dr. O. Staudinger & Bang-Haas. The museum subsequently acquired important butterfly collections from amateur entomologists (Fr. Deubel from Braşov and Eduard Fleck from Azuga) and from Deszö Kenderessy and Arnold-Lucien Montandon, totalling almost 35,000 specimens of 5,400 species and subspecies.In 1962, Dr. Nicolae Săvulescu donated over 30,000 coleopterans from 700 species. The collection was further enriched with 20,000 specimens through expeditions or exchanges and the efforts of Dr. Aurelian Popescu-Gorj, Dr. Ştefan Negru or Rodica Serafim. At the present, the museum prides itself with more than 100,000 coleopterans of 7,500 different species. We should also mention here the smaller heteropteran collections, such as that of Arnold-Lucien Montandon, containing 34,000 insects from 2,800 local and international species and 60 type specimens. Due to the continuous work of museum specialists, the collection has grown over the past thirty years to 35,000 specimens pertaining to 3,500 species.An older collection is that of butterflies and lepidopterans, containing 15,000 specimens donated by Eduard Fleck, 8,000 by Franz Salay, as well as the largest butterfly collection in the world, which belonged to Prince Aristide Caragea. Among the 110,000 insects, there are more than 3,000 type specimens and a wide range of microlepidopterans from Europe and Central Asia (especially from Central and Southern China) or Rhophalocerae and Papilionoidea from the Palaearctic ecozone, Indo-Malaysia, Africa or Central and South America. Another donation of 21,000 specimens from 2,400 species came from the lepidopterologist A. Ostrogovich, while 18,000 more were given by Beregzasi. The current butterfly collection of the ‘Grigore Antipa’ Museum of Natural History now counts 250,000 specimens of 20,000 different species.There are over 27,000 hymenopterans from 3,000 species and 22,000 dipterans of 1,856 species (110 type specimens) in the museum collections, as well as smaller orthopteran, neuropteran, Palaearctic trichopteran, Opiliones and arachnid collections of 2,000 to 500,000 specimens.Some of the most remarkable specimens in the vertebrate collections are the 170 sturgeons collected and studied by Dr. Grigore Antipa, a species of global interest that has preserved its economic and historical value. Yet the most important fish collection is undoubtedly that of Petre Mihai Bănărescu (member of the Romanian Academy) and the ichthyologist Teodor Nalbant, covering all the Romanian species of freshwater fish, as well as important sea specimens gathered by Nalbant during his Atlantic expeditions.Furthermore, the ‘Dr. Ionel Fuhn’ collection brings together 3,200 amphibians and reptiles (2,580 international specimens), to which we should add the herpetological collections of Hilarie Mitrea, Werner Holub and Mihai Băcescu. The bird section houses 4,000 skins collected by R. Dombrowski, and just as many nests, eggs and skins gathered by Aurel Papadopol and Matei Tălpeanu. Last but not least, more than 6,000 valuable skins, skulls, skeletons and trophies were brought back from Indonesia in 1991, thus enriching the mammal collection.Thanks to the efforts of all the professionals and amateurs who have created the collections of the Natural History Museum, we can now offer continuous wonder and enjoyment to our visitors. We are also honoured by the appreciation and interest of foreign specialists who spend time with us, studying our collections. In a nutshell, the ‘Grigore Antipa’ Museum of Natural History is forever open to everyone! Translated by Brânduşa Ciugudean

by Dumitru Murariu