by Joann Wilson and Albert Kollar
Imagine accumulating 130,000 fossils? That is exactly what Ernest Bayet of Belgium accomplished over a century ago. In 1903, William Holland, Director of the Carnegie Museum, negotiated a blockbuster deal to bring Bayet’s entire collection to Pittsburgh. The deal dazzled the public and made front page news in the New York Times. For over two years, the Section of Invertebrate Paleontology has been uncovering the stories of the collectors and dealers behind Bayet’s magnificent collection. Notable dealers include Lucien Stilwell, Frederick Stearns, and Dr. Friedrich Krantz, to name a few. But what about Bayet himself? What is his story?
Thanks to ongoing translations of the Bayet archive by volunteer Lucien Schoenmakers, we are excited to begin a series introducing Ernest Bayet, the person behind the collection.
How old was Bayet when he sold his fossil collection?
Bayet, who was Born in 1859, was just 44 years old in 1903 when he sold his collection to the Carnegie Museum.
How long did Bayet collect fossils?
Archival documents, that in 1903 arrived in Pittsburgh from Brussels with the purchased materials, indicate a 16–23-year accumulation period. Research is ongoing to clarify the exact range. But if we assume the 23-year horizon, Bayet acquired fossils at a blistering average pace of at least 5,652 specimens per year. When you consider the logistics of shipping, along with the perpetual letter writing required to transact deals at that time, his acquisition rate is an amazing feat.
What were Bayet’s duties as Secretary of King Leopold II of Belgium?
Research to date indicates that Bayet acted as Secretary to the Cabinet of Leopold II from 1901-1909, a period when Leopold II finally gave up authority over the Belgian Congo after decades of horrific atrocities. Understanding Bayet’s link to Leopold II is a crucial part of our investigation.
Why did Bayet sell his collection?
In July of 1902, Bayet married countess, Maria van der Burch. The Bayet family had their first child in 1903. A second child followed in 1905. Was this a factor in Bayet’s decision to downsize his entire fossil collection? We are not yet sure of Bayet’s plans or motives. For over a century it was rumored that Bayet sold his fossils to pay for a new chateau, or home. In a letter to Andrew Carnegie dated June 8, 1903, William Holland, then Director of the Carnegie Museum, reported this as a possible explanation for the fossil sale. Although we have yet to verify that a chateau was acquired within that period, such a purchase is a possibility.
How long did Bayet live?
The Mysterious Mr. Ernest Bayet died in 1935 at the age of 76. What was his life like after the sale? We are preparing our first research paper about the history of the Bayet collection for the Annals of the Carnegie Museum. Stay tuned as we dig further into his life story.
We are continually grateful to volunteer and Netherlands resident Lucien Schoenmakers for ongoing efforts to translate archival Bayet documents. Joann Wilson is an Interpreter in the Education Department at Carnegie Museum of Natural History. Albert Kollar is Collections Manager for the Section of Invertebrate Paleontology. Museum employees are encouraged to blog about their unique experiences and knowledge gained from working at the museum.
Carnegie Museum of Natural History Blog Citation InformationBlog author: Wilson, Joann; Kollar, Albert
Publication date: October 29, 2021