Carl V. Hartman and the Costa Rica Collections

Letters: May 27, 1907

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C. V. Hartman, Curator.

May 27, 1907.

Mr. C. C. Mellor,
Chairman of the Museum Committee,
Carnegie Institute, City.

Dear Sir:-

[1] I hereby take the liberty of addressing you, asking you to kindly lay before the Committee, of which you are the Chairman, the following respectful request for a regulation and increase of my salary as Curator of the Section of Ethnology and Archeology. The reasons which I consider might entitle me to the consideration of a raise of salary now, when entering the beginning of the fourth year of my service, I will here state, asking your indulgence for the rather lengthy recital of details involved.

[2] In March 1903 I was appointed by your Committee as Curator of the Section. After a few days hasty preparation I left, via New Orleans, for Costa Rica, in order to realize an old plan of mine, which had met the hearty approval of the Director, to carry out certain archeological investigations and procure for the Carnegie Museum some valuable collections, known and investigated by me during my previous expedition to that country under the auspices of the Swedish Ethnographical Museum.

[3] According to the written instructions given me, I had first of all to proceed to San José, the capital, in order to purchase the famous Velasco collection of antiquities, since some time deposited by the owner in a Philadelphia museum. For said collection I was authorized to apy [sic] a sum not exceeding $3000. Verbally I was told, that I, if necessary, could pay $500 more, but in such a case I ought first to notify the Director.

[4] Regarding the expenses during my adjournment in Costa Rica, the Director informed me on the day before my departure that the custom observed at the Institution in all such cases was that the men while in the field paid all their living expenses, except some smaller amounts of an extraordinary nature, which after their return could be refunded. Although I was surprised and disappointed over this severe condition, which, as I told the Director at the time, was contrary to the rules of other similar institutions, I realized that the principal object of mine was now to carry on the investigation and complete my archeological work in Costa Rica, wherefore, I submitting to the rules of the Institution left for the South.

[5] In San Jose, after some legal difficulties regarding the purchase of the Velasco collection had been removed, I could, after a month [’]s stay, report to the Director, that I had not only been able to secure the entire collection for a sum of $2200, but that I had also induced Mr. Velasco to turn over to the Carnegie Museum another collection hardly less valuable, consisting of 2181 specimens, principally ancient ceramics, the only one of its kind from the Pacific Coast, beside my own former, yet undescribed collection, from that region, in Stockholm. This second collection as stated I obtained without any additional outlay whatsoever of money.

[6] I could also inform the Director, that I had discovered not far from the Capital an extensive burial-ground containing an entirely new class of pottery, representing a highland culture heretofore never described. At that place I obtained during my own excavation more than 1000 specimens of pottery and stone implements. On receipt of this information, the Director in a letter dated Pittsburgh, May 1st, wrote me as follows:

"I was greatly pleased to receive your cablegram, and to have the cablegram confirm your letter of April 8th [sic, 18th], which is before me, and which I had the pleasure of reading to several of the Trustees who are connected with the Committee in charge of the museum. They, as well as I am are [sic] very much gratified with the success which has attended your efforts."

[7] From that time on I carried on excavations with a number of men, both on the hoghland [sic] as well as on the Pacific and Atlantic Coasts. I secured what must be considered very valuable authentic material from various burial-grounds and sites of which none ever before had been entered by any archeologist. My old friendly relations to the Director of the Natural [History] Museum of Costa Rica, Professor H. Pittier de Fabréga, made it possible for me to obtain the enviable privilege to make a thorough study of the undescribed archeological treasures of that institution, and even to secure a collection of hundreds of photographs, a selection I made of the most interesting specimens of said museum.

[8] Another service which I, during this stay in Costa Rica, was enabled to render for the Carnegie Museum, was the locating of an extensive fossil forest near the Pacific Ocean. From this forest I obtained several cases of specimens. Absolutely nothing has as yet been published regarding the fossil Flora of Central America. During my first expedition to Central America I searched in vain for more than three years for any vestige of fossil plants. This discovery of mine has of two of the foremost living authorities on paleo-botany been characterized as of high importance, and a third specialist in this branch at another American institution has offered, in case I would divulge the secret of the locality, immediately to send down an expedition in order to carry on investigations on the spot.

[9] Shortly before leaving Costa Rica, in the month of October, I was merely by an accident enabled to buy for the Carnegie Museum the finest and most comprehensive private collection of antiquities of the highland regions ever made. This collection had during some thirty years been in the possession of one of the wealthiest land owners of the country. After his death the heirs, now being financially embarrassed, offered the collection at an exceptionally low figure, a twentieth part of the price before asked. The funds then at my disposition were already exhausted, and it was only through loan from Scandinavian and German friends, and by using part of my salary, that I was enabled to make use of the bargain before anyone else, and could buy the entire collection for the nominal sum of $450. The collection is now catalogued and numbers 3212 specimens. In this collection are precious and unique specimens, a considerable number of which can be valued from $20.00 to $100 apiece. Thirty-four cases were required for shipping the collection. Altogether I secured during my seven months sojourn in Costa Rica for the Carnegie Museum ninety-six cases with collections. These collections, now properly numbered, catalogued and described count 12,250 specimens, of which more than 2000 were secured during my own excavations. The rough estimates, which I previously gave the Director and which were published in the annual reports have proved

[10] My success in the excavations during this short period, I attribute in the first hand to my own local experience in the field; second, to the valuable friendships previously made both among the foreigners, Scandinavians, Americans and Germans as well as among the natives in various places. Through their generous help and disinterested assistance I was enabled to obtain permission from the owners of the land to excavate in various localities; and owing to the hospitality and courtesy of various of these gentlemen, my expenses were considerably lowered.

[11] As a rule in Costa Rica excessive charges are made for permission to excavate even in the forest lands. I could quote several examples. I might here mention, that the Costa Rican Government at the time of the Chicago [World’s Columbian] Exposition, wishing to carry out some collecting at a famous Indian burial-ground on the highlands, was obliged to pay the owner $2500 for the permission. The result of these latter excavations, according to the publications of the Museo Nacional were some 500 pieces of crude stone implements and pottery. On the extensive territories owned by the River Platt Co., an English concern, which controls about a sixth part of the Republic, and as well as on those of the United Fruit Co., which owns almost the entire Atlantic Coast of the Republic, all excavations are strictly prohibited. But owing to my previous introductions by one of my countrymen, formerly connected with and interested in these companies, I now again obtained permission to excavate on their lands; and on my visit this time to one of the United Fruit Companies [sic] haciendas I was presented by the owner, Mr. Minor C. Keith with a number of large stone idols, and several unique, highly decorated vases. Through the same introduction I too obtained a considerable rebate from the Costa Rican Railroad Co., when shipping the collections.

[12] About the intrinsic or commercial value of the Costa Rica collections of the Carnegie Museum, I beg the [Chairman’s] permission to add a few words.

[13] For a fair and just valuation of said collections in comparison with the prices paid by other institutions will undoubtedly form the best basis. In all the American museums there has heretofore only been exhibited two or three rather insignificant collections from Costa Rica, none the result of any scientific expedition.

[14] In Europe there are three large collections, the one in the Stockholm Museum secured by me through excavations carried on for a long period, and two others. Of the latter one belongs to the Imperial Museum of Vienna, and was by the Director, Mr. Hegar, purchased in the year 1896 from the Austrian Consul in San Jose. This collection, which I, myself, had the opportunity of studying in the latter city, contained little more than 1000 specimens, mostly pottery all from the highlands. The price paid was 10,000 Kronen ($2500). The third Costa Rica [n] collection in Europe is the one of the Museum in Bremen. This one was formed through many years collecting by the then German Consul in San José, and by some wealthy merchants purchased for 10,000 Marks ($2500) and presented to the institution of their native city. This information is published in "Abh. v. naturw. Vereine zu Bremen, VIII, 1863 [sic], p. 233."

[15] According to the prices thus paid by these well known scientific institutions, the monetary value of the entire collections procured by me for the Carnegie Museum, being by far the most extensive in any institutions, would certainly be considered very high, even with due allowance for a large number of fragmentary and minor specimens, which also occur in all other Costa Rican collections. Beside it must be remembered, that the Carnegie Museum collection includes the largest assembled amount in existence of carved and polished objects of the precious mineral jade.

[16] Regarding this matter I refer to the following quotations of eminent American and European authorities reproduced in the annual report of the Director for the year 1905 [Holland’s introductory sentence is followed by the quotations from Cushing and Uhle, each of which is preceded by an introductory clause written by Holland]:

It was in reference to one of the latter collections, the Velasco collection, that that eminent authority on American Archaeology and Ethnology, the late Professor Frank Hamilton Cushing made the following statement:

“This collection is of superlative importance to science. In the first place it is intrinsically valuable, consisting as it does of jade, jadeite, fine terra-cotta, shell, and gold. In the second place there is no single collection of aboriginal American art works in stone, in any museum in America, or, so far as I am informed, abroad, that can compare with this one as to the number of examples it contains of superbly carved, polished, and finished specimens, that are at the same time of the highest artistic beauty even from our standpoint. So true is this that I venture to say that no lapidary would undertake to duplicate the stone series alone for less than four times the price, that is charged for this entire treasury of ancient American gems. But, above all, the collection is unique among American collections of its kind thus far gathered in scientific importance of a very definite sort. It abounds in types illustrating not only the origin of many forms of weapon, symbol, and decoration, but also of the part myth and religious concept play in the modification conventionally, of all these things. . . . Were I a man of large means, or of even only moderate means, I would unhesitatingly buy the collection, if only for the sake of having it to study and publish, illustrated, to the world."

Another well known authority in the field of South American archaeology, Professor Max Uhle wrote lately about this same collection:

"As the basis for a representative collection of Central American antiquities I consider the Velasco collection of extraordinary importance. It comes from a province of Central America most important from a historical point of view. It seems to me, with my knowledge of the richest European and other Museums, to be unique in its wonderful implements of stone and according to my modest experience, as far as objects of jade and nephrite are concerned, unequaled by any collection in the world. We shall have to inquire more closely into the relations once existing between the tribes of Central and South America in the near future and it would be difficult to find another collection as appropriate as this on which to base the investigation of the connecting links. "

[17] Daniel G. Brinton, professor of American archeology at the University of Pennsylvania gave the following as his opinion [:]

"No other collection equalling this one has been made from Costa Rica. It is well located and very typical of the culture of the natives from whose territory it comes. The abundance in it of jade or nephrite objects is remarkable, and renders it unique and valuable for this alone. Probably no equally fine line of specimens from those tribes will again be offered. Both from the ethnographic and the artistic point of view, it has exceptional merit. The price asked is quite moderate and no one could duplicate such a collection for such a sum."

[18] I am convinced that if a proper valuation should be made by the men, who today are the best authorities on Spanish American archeology, their estimate of the C. R. collections, secured by me for the Carnegie Museum, would reach a sum not less than twenty to twenty-five thousand dollars. Of the sum of $5,000 appropriated by the Museum Committee for my purchases and fieldwork in Costa Rica only about $4,700 were actually used in the field.

[19] Other collectors, but with less practical training, have tried the Costa Rican field but with little success. During the preparations for the World's Fair [Columbian Exposition] in Chicago a collector was dispatched by Professor Putnam and provided with means for securing archeological material from Costa Rica. He spent several months in the country but was only able to pick up a few specimens here and there, altogether two or three small boxes. Last year I was approached by Mr. George Heye of New York, who yearly spends more money than any public museum on this continent for purchases and excavations in order to obtain archeological material. He asked me as a favor, that I would give information and advice to one of his special collectors, who formerly had worked in Porto [sic] Rico. He wanted to send him down to Costa Rica for some months and was willing to place very liberal funds to his disposition. I gave this gentleman all the information I possibly could about localities, methods of work [,] and provided him with letters of introduction to my best friends in Costa Rica. I was much interested in his success, as Mr. Heye generously offered to place all the collections he could secure to my disposition for publication. However, his sojourn in Costa Rica was practically a failure. I was shown the results, which consisted of possibly some 50 small specimens of pottery picked up in the houses of the natives.

[20] For a comparison when judging of the value of similar collections, I will here mention the price lately paid for a collection of South American pottery by the curator of anthropology at the Field Museum, Dr. [George] Dorsey. At the St. Louis Exhibition [Louisiana Purchase Exposition] he gave $16,000 for a collection consisting of 4500 pieces of archeological specimens from Argentine [sic], obtained by a native collector.

[21] The most telling proof of the really high value of the material I secured is the fact, that the greatest portion of the duplicates at least 8,000 specimens can easily be disposed of for exchanges. I have already from the American Museum of Natural History, and from the Yale University Museum obtained fine collections of material from Chiriqui in Columbia [sic], from Mexico, from the West Indian Islands, from Guatemala and Peru, and I have offers from the museums in Washington, Philadelphia [,] Cambridge [,] and San Francisco to obtain additional archeological material from many other parts of Spanish America. In this way, without any extra expense, a very considerable space in the exhibition halls will be filled with first class material. At present we have a selection of little more than two thousand specimens of Costa Rican ware on exhibit. Most of the rest is available for the purpose mentioned. A number of the unique stone sculptures of Costa Rica are now reproduced by Mr. Mills, and for this material we will also be able to obtain casts from various sources.

[22] All the other collections in my section, with few exceptions, are on the other hand already previously represented in other American museums, and the duplicates from these collections are of comparatively little value for exchange purposes.

[23] Of much higher importance than the gain made through the addition of these collections must be considered the scientific results of the work in the field embodied in the observations, plans and photos obtained and of which a portion is now issuing from the press.

[24] That my former work in Costa Rica has won the approval of the foremost authorities in American Archeology is known to the Committee through documents I submitted four years ago containing [the] opinions of Professor Eduard Seler of Berlin, Dr. Franz Boas of Columbia University, Dr. W J McGee [who did not use periods after his initials] and Professor A. B. Meyer of Dresden.

[25] Since that time various reviews and comments upon my publication "Archaeological Researches in Costa Rica" have appeared in the scientific press. A few are here reproduced.

[26] At the 13th International Congress of Americanists assembled in New York a resolution was proposed by Professor F. W. Putnam, in his capacity as one of the presidents of the Congress, seconded by Professor Franz Boas and unanimously adopted by the Congress. From that resolution the following is an extract:

"Resolved, that the members of the 13th International Congress of Americanists, assembled in New York, hereby express their hearty appreciation of the results attained by the Archaeological Expedition to Costa Rica under the direction of Mr. C. V. Hartman . . . . .and they congratulate Mr. Sjögren upon the magnificent manner in which the Report has been published." [The work is further characterised, later on, as:] "the most painstaking and elaborate Report of the exploration of ancient graves in Central America which has ever been undertaken," [to which is added the further remark:] "the beautiful volume will always serve as a model for this class of archaeological work." [For clarity, we bracketed two phrases inserted by Hartman in the Mellor letter, which were not contained in the text of the original resolution.]

[27] In the "Journal of the Anthropological Institute of Great Britain and Ireland," an extensive review of the work is given by the Secretary of the American Anthropological Association, Dr. George Grant MacCurdy. From this a couple of paragraphs are here reproduced:

"Museum collections and special publications derive their value from the character of the field-work on which they are based. Nowhere, not even in the studio, does skill, training, the touch of the master, count for more. Measured by such a standard, Mr. Hartman's publication cannot fail to be classed as one of exceptional value. It is with such material as he has furnished that we may some day hope to raise American archaeology to the dignity of a real science . . . . . . . Ever since the time of Thomsen and of Worsaae, the world has been accustomed to look to Scandinavia for light and leading in the realm of prehistoric archaeology. To Mr. Hartman belongs the credit of transplanting to American soil the seeds which have borne such excellent harvests in Denmark, Norway and Sweden. May he have abundant opportunity to do field-work of the same high grade for the Carnegie Museum as that which he did, through the munificence of Mr. Sjogren, for the Swedish Museum. [”]

[28] At the International Congress of Arts and Science at St. Louis [held at the Louisiana Purchase Exposition] the scientist, who was invited as the official speaker on Archeology, Professor Eduard Seler in his address on "The Problems of Archeology" (Vol.V. p. 535) made the following reference to my previous work:

"The region comprising Mexico and Central America is that in which American archeology is best able to rise above the standpoint of merely antiquarian investigation and to attempt higher tasks. . . . . . .

A limited region, including the old settlements on the slopes of the volcano of Irazu and certain groups of hills which extend down into the Atlantic lowlands, has lately been investigated in a really exemplary manner by C. V. Hartman, whose results have been published in a sumptuous work, distinguished by the Swedish Academy with the Duke of Loubat [’]s prize. Outside of this, to be sure, we still (in Central America) lack excavations undertaken in a scientific manner and authenticated by documents. [”]

[29] When in 1902 the Scandinavian Loubat prize was awarded to me (with 17 votes of 19) I had as competitors the then President of the Swedish Anthropological Society, Dr. F. Dahlgran and the author of the 'Origin of Art,' Professor Yrjö Hirn of the University of Helsingfors. The prize is distributed every fifth year. This year however the Academy decided that no prize could be awarded to the three applicants, Dr. Carl Lumholtz of Krisitania, Dr. Stenneby of the Copenhagen National Museum and Baron E. Nordenskiöld, assistant Director of the Ethnographical Museum in Stockholm.

[30] The above statistics regarding the visible results of my work as a collector and the quotations regarding the quality of scientific work previously accomplished furnish some guarantee, that I even in the future might be able to do the Carnegie Museum valuable services particularly in Mexico and Central America, the regions which according to the wise plans of the Director were from the very beginning selected as the special field for the prehistoric researches of the Carnegie Museum.

[31] The same field will probably soon be entered by the Carnegie Institution of Washington, if the appeal now made to the same by all the anthropological societies of America for the creation of an anthropological department is favorably acted upon. This application, which I recently had the honor to sign, calls for an annual appropriation of $40,000 to be used exclusively for prehistoric anthropological researches in Spanish America and in this the urgent importance of more work in Central America the cause-way for the races of the [sic] both continents is dwelt upon.

[32] If properly continued and extended the work already inaugurated on a small scale by the Carnegie Museum will surely become a valuable link in the chain of investigations projected to be carried out by the sister institution of Washington and will in the future aid in solving the problems of the first appearance and development of the American race.

[33] During my previous seven years explorations in Mexico and Central America, I have obtained the most definite information about the best localities both for ethnological and archeological work. From some of my personal friends, Swedish Americans, who control an extensive tract of land, covering many square miles near the Guatemalan frontier, I have recently got [an] invitation to explore extensive ruins and burial-grounds for the Carnegie Museum, being assured of all possible assistance. They have even offered me free passage.

[34] Shortly before I left Europe, I devoted some time to become instructed by specialists in two new, advanced technical methods for certain lines of anthropological research, methods which have proved highly time and labor saving and through which far more accurate results can be attained than at present is possible. None of these methods has as yet been put in practice in America. I should be glad to make use of the same as soon as possible in my work for the Carnegie Museum, being absolutely convinced that these methods once introduced in the Western Hemisphere will supersede the older and become adopted by all other workers in the same field.

[35] Opportunities for the development of the Section under my care on the lines contemplated are consequently bright enough.

[36] I wish, however, to emphasize the fact, that I hope the Museum Committee will now since Mr. Carnegie has provided the institution with an endowment larger than that of most of the leading museums of the world encourage my efforts by an increase of my salary, paying me in the same way as other American institutions do. The average salary of curators at other institutions is $3000 and several curators receive $3500, and have at the same time liberty to devote perhaps the greatest part of their time to other duties as teachers, in this way almost doubling the salary mentioned. At the Field Museum the assistant curators in the anthropological department are each paid $2500 per year. The assistant Curator of Ethnology at the American Museum in New York has since years ago been paid at least $2200, but is free to use about half of his time for the preparation of lectures and for teaching at other institutions from which he also draws salary.

[37] I was distinctly told by the Director, at the time the agreement was made, that I would have to work under the same rules and regulations and with the same salary as the other curators of the museum. I was also told, "that when after a couple of years the Institution had been opened and endowed, I could gather my assistants around me just as Mr. Hatcher did, that a fine anthropological library would be provided my Section and that in every way encouragement should be given."

[38] I realize of course that the delays of opening the Institute have made it difficult as yet to realize all these prospects. I have still here in Pittsburg [h] to work under the very great drawback of practically being without any library for study, identification of specimens and references, etc. Books have been bought from some hundred dollars, but even a sum of $10,000 would not go very far to lay the foundation for an anthropological library. At least one assistant with any scientific training is another of the very essential needs of the section.

[39] However, the comparatively small matter of satisfying the requests for an increase of the curators' salaries, I presume can already now be settled so much the easier as the museum counts only two curators on the staff.

[40] I have a special reason to consider, that I might be remembered now and that is the fact, that although I was informed that the results of my work were gratifying I still had to pay my living expenses while in the field. As said before this is contrary to the rules of all other large institutions in America. At all the other museums as in New York, Washington, Chicago, San Francisco and Philadelphia, the men while on expeditions for months or years have their expenses paid on a liberal basis.

[41] In the printed regulations of one of the great Washington institutions I find stated "that all employees while in the field for studies or collecting have their living expenses paid, and this includes the expenses at hotels, the price of $5.00 per day not to be exceeded. All such comforts and minor items as laundry, bath, sleeping cars, tips for porters and waiters, streetcar fares, etc., are also provided for. "

[42] From a scientist, who certainly has practical experience in field-work of every description just in Central America, a man who has lived and traveled there for about twenty years, the former Director of the Museum of San Jose, Professor H. Pittier, now since some four years ago engaged by the Government of the United States for botanical collecting and investigations in all parts of Mexico, Central and South America, I recently had a letter with the statement that he in Central America considers as moderate his own average living expenses of about $150 per month.

[43] In Frank Carpenter's reliable work on South America the average expense of a white man is given as $10, per day and I am informed, that the scientific collectors of the Commercial Museum in Philadelphia, were allowed $15 per day for living expenses in Spanish America. In fact I know myself that $7 to $12 per day is considered the average expense of the commercial travellers in Central America.

[44] The fact that I was able to save anything at all out of my salary while in Costa Rica depended exclusively on the great hospitality of my old friends down there and upon my adoption of the very primitive way of living of the natives, conditions often such that those of any Hungarian or Italian laborer's [sic] camp in the United States, in comparison must be considered luxurious.

[45] What I saved was after my return to Pittsburgh very soon swallowed up by the outlays for several new suits, instead of those I had spoiled entirely during the rough life in the wilderness, and by doctor's bills on account of my anemic condition, caused by several months [’] work in malarial regions during the rainy season, and last but not least by a considerably increased life insurance, also caused by impaired health.

[46] I remember well, that I after my return was allowed a certain moderate sum, but this one was smaller than the sum of $135, which I had paid out of my own pocket for the three copies of my book which I presented to Mssrs Keith, Pittier and Ferraz as an appreciation of their services on behalf of my expedition.

[47] During the present year no large funds are needed for my section. No rent is longer to be paid for storage etc. No new collections can very well be purchased as all available space in the exhibition cases is already occupied and the two store rooms are nearly filled with boxes with various material. The services of the sculptor, Mr. Mills can from the end of this month again be transferred to the paleontological or transportation departments, as he now has finished the restoring of all the Egyptian and Columbian [sic] ware upon which he has been engaged lately and as there seems to be no place available for more Indian groups.

[48] I will finally state, that I little more than a year ago was approached by another institution and assured better financial conditions than my present, but as I at that time still had absolute faith in an early realization of the hopes here held out, and naturally was reluctant to interrupt the work, which I had started and was much devoted to, I then declined the offer.

[49] I would appreciate as a special favor if the matter could be definitely settled at this month [ ’]s meeting.

[50] Repeating my sincere regrets over the many details with which I have intruded upon your most valuable time and respectfully asking for your kind and generous support in the matter, I hope that this my first appeal to the Museum Committee will be favorably considered.

I am,

Yours very obedient,

C. V. Hartman [signature]

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