The Botany Department's unique type photograph collection originated in 1929 when J. Francis Macbride, funded by the Rockefeller Foundation, traveled to Europe to photograph herbarium specimens of nomenclatural types. The intent was to make the photographs available to American botanists unable to finance travels to European herbaria; the widespread adoption of the loan process was not as fully developed as it is today, necessitating travel for consultation.
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Over a ten year period, Macbride photographed type specimens of tropical American plants at the following major herbaria: B, C, G, HAN, HBG, MA, M, P, and W, using Berlin-Dahlem and Geneva as bases of operation. His sojourn in Europe resulted in more than 40,000 photographic negatives. Duplicate collections, types, and type fragments of authentic material were selected and sent to The Field Museum as exchange. The results were of immediate importance to American systematic botany, but acquired added meaning following the destruction of parts of some European herbaria during World War II.
Due to Macbride's efforts, all the information relative to types at Berlin-Dahlem was not lost. For some species, the only known specimen is recorded among Field Museum's type photographs, and while not as useful as the original specimens, they often supply enough information to identify the taxon that includes the type and, therefore, the taxon to which the name associated with the type applies. Although the photographs are not themselves type material, they can be used to confirm that a potential replacement type is taxonomically congruent with the original. A detailed account of the type photographs at the Field Museum was published by W. E. Grimé and T. Plowman, Taxon 35: 932-934. 1986.
The Type Photograph Collection now consists of more than 65,000 negatives. Continuous additions to this collection have been made primarily by systematically photographing types in The Field Museum's seed plant herbarium as well as types and authentic specimens received on loan from other institutions. The collection data for all of these are in database form.