The U.S. Internal Revenue (IRS) official who spoke at an ECN meeting years ago told us that although he understands that some specimens (e.g., types) may be considered more valuable, they (IRS) only consider evaluation at a "fair market value", i.e. money of
similar value being exchanged for a similar item (e.g., from catalogs, auctions, etc.). Generally it is not a good idea to assign values for institutional collections, but some are forced to do so by administrators. However, a good, presumably legal case
with IRS, could be made to factoring in the resources necessary to re-collect the specimens, if they even can be. But such a process would be extremely laborious.
Many of us have experienced not being to access a type in a private collection and we are forced to write in our publications that " ..access to the type was not possible..." The reasons for such inaccessibility in "private" collections are variable, e.g.,
embarrassment about the collection condition, presence of material collected illegally or belonging to others, professional jealousy or dislike of certain colleagues, etc.. By private I mean an individual not a private institution (e.g., MCZ, Field Museum,
AMNH, etc., etc.). Even institutions that do not loan types can be visited - it's not the same as an individual refusing access to types in their collection.
There should be some initiatives to start to deal with some of these issues (e.g., vouchering, types, private vs public collections, valuation of collections, etc.) across the discipline,perhaps from places like Australia that have. Good topics for the next
External Email - Exercise Caution
The question of collection valuation via a vis types is somewhat counterintuitive. We've valued the CUIC at somewhere near $50-75M US depending on subjective criteria such as rarity. BUT, the vast majority of value is represented by authoritatively determined
specimens. Cornell has somewhere over 7500 species represented by types, primary or secondary. Using standard valuations, those type specimens amount to about $1-2M US; surprising little, at least to me, of the total. Our infrastructure--only cabinets and
drawers--is even less; perhaps $1M (not counting building cost and maintenance). So the argument that a private individual should be able to maintain a private type collection to recoup--upon death or sale--their outlay for collecting and preparing specimens
does not hold water. It would be much safer to insist that upon publication, holotypes are deposited in an institutional collection. Of course, countries such as Australia have their act together on this issue by insisting on such deposition.
Cornell University Insect Collection
A number of years ago there was a move for all holders of private collections to “register” their collections with an institution. This was done to ensure that private collections, upon the death of the owner, would not fall through the cracks and be
lost. Perhaps this idea needs to be resurrected?
Recently the Elbert Sleeper private weevil collection (including types), not previously accessible to anyone, was donated to the California Academy of Sciences. Chris Grinter, collection manager for the CAS, will have more details, but it’s my understanding
that this donation was delayed for sufficient time for dermestid damage to have taken place such that many of the larger specimens were destroyed. The donation may also have come very close to not happening at all with the family unsure what to do with it
for some time prior to the donation. This is the fate risked when advance plans are not made for private collections to pass to a public institution upon death of the owner.
I edit for Zootaxa and deal with all type depositions on a case by case basis. I encourage deposition in a public institution but if an author makes a strong case for a private institution I will accept that.
One argument I heard that I do not like is that many people pursue taxonomy as a hobby and do not get paid for it. They spend much money on building, curating and storing a personal collection and that the one way such an individual can get reimbursed for
this investment is to sell their collection. And since collections with more types sell for more money there is a reason to house types in their private collections. Such is textbook conflict of interest as a taxonomist can oversplit in order to get more
types thus increasing the value of their collection.
I have to say as an editor and a collection manager, that I don't agree with the comment one person made that journals should 'require' (rather than 'recommend' like the ICZN Code does) that Types be deposited in an institution. This relies on an ideal-world
belief that 'all institutions' are better managed and more accessible than 'all private collections' - and this is simply (sadly) not true. Some institutes have a near-total embargo on loaning types and are totally 'inaccessible to all science' unless you
can afford to show up at the door - while some private collectors make their material very available. Think of Charlie and Lois O'Brien's private collection during their heyday, compared to certain major type-holding museums- and which you would rather consult
a specimen from...?
I am editor in a journal that has a written policy against type deposition in private collections, and we lost a very good paper recently because a German expert did not want to deposit a unique holotype specimen away from his reference collection, because
he was continuing to work on the group and did not want his own access to the taxon he described to be curtailed in future- his collection will pass to a major museum on his death, like Charlie's did, and he attends many international meetings, so the accessibility
of the type (which was of course published in a different journal) is as good as most museums and better than some- so the only consequence of the 'rule' was that one journal shot itself in the foot and lost a good paper and some goodwill!
The life-span of a private collector is of course a tiny proportion of the life-span of a specimen, and most sensible collectors make arrangements for their collection to pass to what they judge to be a good institution, so in the end it is all the same. Of
course many private individuals prefer to deposit their holotypes right away, and that is good (we gratefully received several at NHM this year, and they are well cared for and accessible) but it shouldn't be because a journal demands it.