William Mitten Papers (PP)

Archives, The LuEsther T. Mertz Library
The New York Botanical Garden
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Bronx, New York 10458-5126
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URL: http://library.nybg.org/

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This finding aid was produced in English.

Finding aid produced using NoteTab Pro

Collectors: Mitten, William, 1819-1906.
Title: William Mitten Papers (PP)
Dates: 1846-1910
Quantity: 4 linear inches; 1 box
Call Phrase: Mitten (PP)

Biography of William Mitten

William Mitten (1819-1906) was the premier bryologist of the second half of the nineteenth century. A pharmaceutical chemist by trade and never a professional botanist, he classified and named thousands of bryophyte specimens which came into Kew Gardens from around the vast British Empire.

Successor to Thomas Taylor, the premier bryologist of the first half of the nineteenth century, William Mitten left his native England only once in his lifetime. He was one of the first to realize that the same taxa occur throughout broad geographical ranges. This is contrary to the prevailing opinion of his day which held that different geographic areas had entirely different flora. As he was able to see examples of all the major families of bryophytes, he developed a phylogeny reflecting these relationships. His concepts deeply influenced generations of British bryologists.

He was a member of the Botanical Society of London and maintained an active correspondence with Sir William Hooker. He published his first paper in 1846 at the age of 26.

By the time of his death, he had amassed the largest and most important collection of bryophytes in private hands. This collection of some fifty thousand specimens was purchased by the NYBG.

Scope and Content

The contents of this collection came to the NYBG along with the herbarium of Mr. Mitten. Included are correspondence, photographs, research notes, illustrations and a priced sale catalogue of Mr. Mitten’s library which was offered for sale. The Field Collectors' Notebook Series have two volumes of Mr. Mitten's field notebooks. Volume numbers 231, 232 and 233 contain his notes on collections processed from 1874 to 1894. The locations covered are Singapore, Sibu, Aejung River and Solomon Islands. These notebooks came to the NYBG in conjunction with the aforementioned purchase of bryophyte specimens.


The collection is organized into five series:
Series 1: Correspondence. 1846-1901. Arranged by date.
Series 2: Notebooks and Research Notes. Arranged alphabetically.
Series 3: Priced Catalogue of the Library of William Mitten. 1910.
Series 4: Photographs of the William Mitten Gardens.
Series 5: Copied Sketchbook.


Access restrictions

This collection is open for research with permission from Mertz Library staff.


Requests for permission to publish material from the collection should be submitted in writing to the LuEsther T. Mertz Library of the New York Botanical Garden.

Indexing Terms

The following terms have been used to index the description of this collection in the library's online public access catalog.
Britton, Elizabeth G. (Elizabeth Gertrude), 1858-1934.
Bryology -- Classification.
Bryology -- Nomenclature.
Gardens -- England -- Hurstpierpont -- Photographs.
Macromitrium -- Pictorial works.
Mitten, William, 1819-1906 -- Archives.
Mitten, William, 1819-1906 -- Library.
Musci -- Asia.
Musci -- South America.
New York Botanical Garden Archives.
New York Botanical Garden Herbarium.
Plants -- Malaysia.
Plants -- Singapore.
Plants -- Solomon Islands.

Related Material

New York Botanical Garden

CFN--Collectors' Field Notebooks

Administrative Information

Preferred Citation

William Mitten Papers (PP), Archives, The New York Botanical Garden.

Acquisition Information

This collection was transferred to the New York Botanical Garden Archives

Processing Information

Originally processed by Stephen Sinon, Assistant Archivist, March 1999. Converted to EAD in August 2006 by Kathleene Konkle under a grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH-PA 50678-04).

Container List


Series 1. Correspondence.

Scope and Content:

A series of dated letters found among the herbarium collections of Mr. Mitten.

Folder Title Date
1.1 William Thompson n.d.
1.2 William Wilson 1846
1.3 Richard Spruce 1865
1.4 Daniel Oliver 1879
1.5 (?) Mueller 1882
1.6 Antonio Bottini 1886
1.7 Robert Collie 1889
1.8 Alfred R. Wallace 1901
1.9 Berthold Seemann 1868

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Series 2. Notebooks and Research Notes.

Scope and Content:

This material was also included with Mr. Mitten’s herbarium. It consists of two notebooks, one entitled Spruce and four folders of notes, one of which is devoted to notes on “hepatics”. One notebook has been copied and it contains notes on Spruce’s mosses and refers to several collecting trips in Brazil, New Zealand, India, Ceylon and Java. It also contains Burchell’s itinerary in Brazil.

Folder Title Date
1.10 Herbarium notes n.d.
1.11 Herbarium notes n.d.
1.12 Herbarium notes n.d.
1.13 Notebook (untitled) n.d.
1.14 Notes on Hepatics, 15 pieces n.d.
1.15 Notebook entitled Spruce Musci Amazonici et Andini n.d.

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Series 3. Priced Catalogue of the Library of William Mitten.

Scope and Content:

This catalogue of 365 items was put together by Mitten’s daughter Flora and an attached note dated 1910 to Mrs. Britton states that the prices are approximated. Mrs. Britton (?) notes that the remainder of the library was purchased as a lot by Quaritch. Also included is a selected list of titles from the catalogue, presumably drawn up for purchase by NYBG.

Folder Title Date
1.16 Catalogue 1910

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Series 4. Photographs of the William Mitten Gardens.

Scope and Content:

Included is an envelope dated 1910 and addressed to Mrs. Britten with the handwritten note: “From Flora Mitten pictures of W. Mitten’s garden at Hurstpierpoint”.

Folder Title Date
1.17 Photographs 1910

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Series 5. Copied Sketchbook.

Scope and Content:

Dated July 1990, this bound sketchbook entitled Macromitrium Unpublished Drawings is copied from the William Campbell Steere Collection at the Missouri Botanical Garden Library. In the front of the volume is a copy of a letter dated 1937 from Flora Mitten to William Steere, Dept. of Botany, Michigan University. It states in this letter that this sketchbook was originally offered to the NYBG but no reply was received. She states that the war was probably the reason for this. This volume has been cataloged and given the call number QK 539.07b M57.

Box Title Date
1 Sketchbook 1990

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