Seth Kaller, Inc.

Inspired by History

Other Great Gifts Offerings


Other Science, Technology, and Transportation Offerings


Louis Agassiz re: Sharing Specimens with German Doctor Famed for Research in Japan
Click to enlarge:
Select an image:

LOUIS AGASSIZ. Autograph Letter Signed, as Director of Harvard’s Museum of Comparative Zoology, to Dr. [Philipp Franz] von Siebold, July 24, 1860, Cambridge, Massachusetts. 1 p. In German. With integral printed circular letter in English, signed in type by Agassiz, dated May 1, 1860. 1 p.

Inventory #20074.03       SOLD — please inquire about other items

Translation of June 24, 1860 autograph letter signed:

Dearest Friend,

            Even though I promptly granted your request for the original images of my European freshwater fishes, years have passed and I haven’t heard back from you. Have you lost interest? Today I am sending you via my friend and former student, Prof. H.J. Clark, whom I highly recommend as an ambitious natural scientist and a meticulous microscopist, the first part of my monograph of the Acalephs; the 2nd part with the tables will follow shortly.

            If you recall Alex, you will be happy to hear that he has returned from a year and a half in California, loaded with the most marvelous collections and that he is about to get married.

                                                                        With my respect and warm feelings of friendship,

                                                                       Yours, L. Agassiz

Cambridge, July 24, 1860
Prof. von Siebold


Excerpt of May 1, 1860 printed circular letter:

The Museum of Comparative Zoology in Cambridge has already proceeded so far, that I am now prepared to make exchanges of the fishes. I have about 40,000 specimines of these animals preserved in alcohol, representing over 2,500 species, collected chiefly on the Atlantic and Pacific coasts of North America, in the Gulf of Mexico, and in the fresh waters of North America.... If you wish any of them, let me know.  In behalf of our Museum, I should like to obtain in return any species from localities not mentioned above, in numerous specimens, preserved in alcohol, as I wish to have the means of putting up a series of each species, and of making skeletons, and other preparations.” 

Agassiz adds a last sentence by hand: “Fossil remains would be equally acceptable.

Signed in type, “LOUIS AGASSIZ, Director of the Museum. / Cambridge, Massachusetts, May 1, 1860.”


Agassiz had just received the funding for his museum the previous year, and he was reaching out to von Siebold, who was in Japan at the time, for specimens.

His son Alexander Agassiz (1835-1910) graduated from Harvard University in 1855 and from the engineering school there in 1857. In 1859, he became an assistant in the United States Coast Survey. He married Anna Russell (1840-1873) in 1860, and they had three children.

Henry James Clark (1826-1873) was one of Agassiz’s students and assisted him in the preparation of Agassiz’s Contributions to the Natural History of the United States of America, published in five volumes between 1857 and 1862. Clark graduated from the City University of New York in 1848. In 1850, he began studying botany at Harvard under Asa Gray (1810-1888). He graduated from the Lawrence Scientific School at Harvard in 1854 and became an assistant to Agassiz until 1863.

Agassiz published his second monograph as Volume III of his Contributions to the Natural History of the United States of America in 1860. It had five parts, the first of which was “Acalephs in General,” in which he discusses “the so-called jelly-fishes or sea-blubbers or sun-fishes, and the animals allied to them.”


Louis Agassiz (1807-1873) was born in Switzerland and studies at the universities of Zurich, Heidelberg, and Munich, where he studied natural history and especially botany. In 1829, he received a Ph.D. from the university in Erlangen, and in 1830, a doctor of medicine degree at Munich. He moved to Paris, where he began a career in geology, zoology, and especially ichthyology. In 1832, he received an appointment as professor of natural history at the University of Neuchatel. Between 1833 and 1843, he published five volumes of his research on fossil fish. From 1842 to 1846, he released a zoological classification list with references. He first proposed in 1837 that the Earth had experienced an ice age. He first visited the United States in 1846, and the following year, Harvard University appointed him as professor of zoology and geology and head of the new Lawrence Scientific School at the university. He founded the Museum of Comparative Zoology there in 1859 and served as its first director until his death. He published four volumes (of a planned ten) of Natural History of the United States (1857-1862), and he also trained numerous students in zoology and geology, several of whom went on to prominence in their fields.

Philipp Franz von Siebold (1796-1866) was born in an area that became Bavaria and studied medicine at the University of Würzburg, earning his medical degree in 1820. He initially practiced medicine in Würzburg but soon became a physician in Dutch military service and traveled to the Dutch East Indies (Indonesia). After only a few months there, Dutch authorities posted him as resident physician near Nagasaki, Japan. Siebold started a medical school in Nagasaki, whose students helped him with his botanical studies. He collected many specimens of Japanese plants and animals and even smuggled out seeds of tea plants that began tea culture in Java, a Dutch colony at the time. When Siebold obtained some maps of Japan from the court astronomer, Japanese authorities accused of him of being a spy for Russia and expelled him in 1829. He returned to the Netherlands in 1830, when the nation was in turmoil that led to Belgian independence. Siebold settled in Leiden, taking the major part of his collection with him, and Dutch King William II appointed Siebold as his advisor on Japanese affairs and raised him to the nobility as an esquire. Siebold wrote an ethnographical and geographical work on Japan, beginning in 1832, with the last part published after his death in 1882. American Naval Commodore Matthew C. Perry consulted Siebold before his voyage to Japan in 1854. The Japanese government lifted its banishment of Siebold in 1858 and he returned to Japan in 1859 as an adviser to the Dutch Trading Society, but the Society ended the relationship in 1861, considering his advice of no value. Siebold gained an appointment as adviser to the Japanese government, but the Dutch Consul General asked for his removal, and he returned to Europe. He spent the rest of his life attempting unsuccessfully to gain employment from the Dutch, Russian, or French governments as a representative to Japan.

Condition: overall Very Good