Milestones in the history of collecting: A meta-collection

Established since 2006 - Online since 2010

The main mission of the privately funded Tricottet Collection is the preservation and study of historic collections assembled by individuals who played an important role in their respective fields. Objects and documents part of The Tricottet Collection are thus associated with famous collectors, institutions and/or historical events. The Tricottet Collection is divided into four categories, the Hall of Minerals, the Hall of Life, the Hall of Meteorites and the Cabinet of Curiosities. The Tricottet Library of rare books, manuscripts and images on the history of collecting, completes this meta-collection. Although focus is made on natural history, cybernetic devices (from calculators to artificial intelligence via video games) are included in the Hall of Life. The Cabinet of Curiosities also extends The Tricottet Collection to material culture and to the general aspects of collecting (considering manufactured objects, such as everyday objects, toys, etc.). Finally, data collections (written eyewitness accounts, scrapbooks, etc.) complete The Tricottet Collection to investigate how humans see natural phenomena, from factual events (scientifica) to odd conjectures (forteana).

The Hall of Minerals brings us to the deep underground of the Earth and its many treasures. It is divided into the Galleries of Historic Ores, Crystals, and Gems. Highlights include cassiterite from the Arthur Flagg collection in three forms (raw, lab sample, tin bar), rare pseudomorphs from early 19th century collections (from Baroness Burdett-Coutts, Sir Ferguson) and an archive on John Sinkankas, author of the monumental "Gemology, An Annotated Bibliography".

The Hall of Life shows us the complexity of the biosphere, past, present and future. It is divided into the Galleries of Historic Fossils, Organisms, and Cybernetic Devices. Highlights include antique shells collected in the mid-19th century, unique manuscripts and rare association copies relating to different collecting themes (micro-organisms, extinct mammals, birds, seaweeds, automata). The oldest object in collection is Gersaint's 1736 auction catalogue and essay on shell collecting, listed itself in a 1762 sales catalogue.

The Hall of Meteorites leads us to the sporadic celestial objects that fall to Earth in hails of stones or in cataclysmic explosions. It is divided into the Galleries of Historic Meteorite Falls, Meteorite Finds, and Tektites (and other glasses). Highlights include the earliest meteorite publications, correspondence on meteorite trading, meteorite specimens from leading research institutions, a meteorwrong from Haidinger, Saul's field notebook on Ivoirites and a Philippinite from the Beyer collection.

The Cabinet of Curiosities consists of an heteroclite accumulation of curios that goes beyond natural history collecting. It is separated into the "Collectionnite", Forteana and Scientifica sections. Highlights include Eudel's 1885 anthology on French collections and collectors, a suite of 1980s objects from the White Mountain collection, a sketch of one of the legendary "Kubuyuruk" Eskimo pygmies, or "Mars People" of Welzl, newspaper clippings on insanity collected by Spitzka and documents about humain brain collecting.

The Tricottet Library contains books, articles, manuscripts, correspondence and images on the history of collecting, in particular: collection catalogues and notices, sales catalogues, bibliographies, letters about object trading and other material on the history of collecting, various documents on specific historic objects (both naturalia and artificialia) and historic phenomena (both scientifica and forteana). The oldest book in the library is Grew's 1681 "Musaeum Regalis Societatis".

Paul Eudel collections and collectors, letters, manuscripts

Fig. 1: Paul Eudel's 1885 anthology on French collections and collectors of the 19th century: (1) One of only two copies printed on rose-colored paper of "Collections et collectionneurs" (G. Charpentier et Cie., Paris, 300 pp.). With Eudel's signed autograph inscription on the title verso: "Il a été tiré sur papier rose deux exemplaires qui n'ont pas été mis dans le commerce. Paul Eudel. No. 2"; (2) "Correspondance, Collections et collectionneurs, avant et après", bound volume with over 80 letters & a manuscript on shell collecting. Among the letters are some from Arthur Maury (1844-1907), one of the pioneers of philately and author of the first stamp-collecting catalogues; some from Ad. Giraldon regarding the toy collection of Mme Agar; others from pottery collector Gustave Gouellain, to whom Eudel dedicated his book; etc. The Tricottet Collection themes are not forgotten since it also includes a few letters on shells, but most importantly, a 21-page manuscript on shell collecting by Eudel's brother Emile. Paul Eudel (1837-1911), one of the great French connoisseurs, bibliophiles and art critics of the 19th century, wrote prolifically on the subject of collecting - Source: The Tricottet Library.

The First Explicit Metacollection

Two different collecting behaviours exist, relating to the processes of curating or possessing. The curator, a scientist or historian, can be seen as the gatherer and protector of the information, or facts, contained in a collection or set of objects. The collector is anyone passionate about his collection or more exactly about the idea of completing a set of objects (e.g., Baudrillard, 1994). Metacollecting refers to the act of collecting collection-objects. In this case, the collection becomes a higher-level object. The concept of metacollecting thus yields a focus shift from objects of intrinsic scientific value to objects of extrinsic socio-historical value. The “collection-object” is defined by its attributes of being one specific collection prepared by one specific collector, i.e. by the information associated to the lower-level objects (or specimens) the collection contains (Mignan, 2016). It is similar to object biography and relates more generally to material culture.

Fig. 1 shows the 1885 anthology "Collections et Collectionneurs" by Paul Eudel, where the author collected himself stories about collectors. Eudel talks about antiques, toys, pipes, stamps and shells and how these objects are viewed in the eyes of their owners. It epitomizes what The Tricottet Collection is all about, which is collecting collections, or metacollecting. The Tricottet Collection and Library focus mostly on natural history collections:
Minerals: ores, crystals and gems;
Life: past (fossils), present (e.g., shells) and future (cybernetic devices);
Meteorites: falls, finds, tektites and other glasses;
Curios: "collectionnite", forteana and scientifica.
Art works and scientific instruments are also considered. All of these collection-objects are characterized by their labels and inventory numbers, by the way they are displayed and/or by their place in history (Fig. 2).

An Exhibit Collection

As natural history collecting is a limitless topic, The Tricottet Collection follows some strict rules to make its scope somewhat finite. While its coverage is broad, it is not a systematic collection, nor an objective one. This metacollection is the result of a personal adventure and uses several subjective filtering strategies, promoting:
• Specimens of historical importance (about the collected and/or the collector);
• Specimens with long documented chains-of-custody (i.e., high SHCI);
• The aesthetics and the unusual;
• Specimen sizes ranging from "Thumbnail" to "Small Cabinet".

The Tricottet Collection is before all an exhibit collection, whose aim is to tell stories about the history of natural history collecting with selected suites of specimens, books, and other memorabilia.


Fig. 2. Examples of collection-objects: Multi-source meteorites linking the Ward-Coonley collection to the Field Museum of Chicago (and to other collections): Forest City stone with painted numbers from FNHM, American Meteorite Lab. and University of New Mexico; Pultusk stone with painted numbers from Ward-Coonley and FNHM. This specimen was deaccessioned to R.D. Evans in the 1950s for chemical analysis - Source: The Tricottet Collection & Library.


in journals

Metacollecting and use of "collection-objects" in prosopographical studies of meteorite collections
Meteorites, vol. 4, nos. 1-2, pp. 11-22 (2016)

in magazines

The Monnig Meteorite Collection Numbers Revisited
Meteorite magazine, vol. 18, no. 3, pp. 10-13 (2012)
Claims of Indigenous Life Forms in Meteorites: A Short Review
Meteorite magazine, vol. 17, no. 4, pp. 34-38 (2011)

Socio-historical collection index

The goal of metacollecting, which is to identify and analyse, from collection specimens, the links between different individuals including museum curators, researchers, dealers and others, is now formalized by the socio-historical collection index (or SHCI). We are in the process of evaluating the SHCI of the objects contained in our collections. To learn more about this new index, please refer to Mignan (2016).

The Tricottet Collection Elsewhere

The Tricottet Collection's name is now on permanent display in the world's oldest and largest meteorite exhibit, at the Naturhistorisches Museum Wien! Follow the image trail below to find us (photographs reproduced with permission).

Objects from The Tricottet Collection are also featured in the following books: Brandstätter et al. (2013), Buhl and McColl (2012), Golia (2015) and Nicholl (2015).

Terms of Use

We encourage the dissemination of information contained in the Tricottet Collection. However the materials provided on this website are the intellectual property of The Tricottet Collection or of third parties, when stated as such:
Materials from The Tricottet Collection, which correspond to texts and images produced by The Tricottet Collection, may be used for non-commercial purposes only (education and scholarly research). When reproducing images, you agree to attach the copyright notice "© The Tricottet Collection" and, when reproduced on a website, to add a link to The Tricottet Collection. High-resolution images are available upon request, only for reproduction in scholarly articles and books;
Third party materials part of The Tricottet Library (recent letters, manuscripts, images not yet in the public domain) may be copyrighted. All efforts were made to obtain the consent of the copyright holders to publish their works on The Tricottet Collection website. We however do not provide the rights to reproduce third party materials elsewhere.