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Inventory to the papers of Rollo Howard and Ida Menzies Beck at the California Academy of Sciences Library MSS.036
MSS.036  
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Collection Details
 
Table of contents What's This?
  • Descriptive Summary
  • Biographical note
  • Chronology
  • Organizational note
  • Conditions governing access
  • Immediate Source of Acquisition
  • Arrangement note
  • Preferred citation
  • Reproduction
  • Scope and Content

  • Descriptive Summary

    Title: Beck (Rollo Howard and Ida Menzies) collection
    Collection number: MSS.036
    Repository: California Academy of Sciences, Special Collections
    55 Music Concourse Drive
    Golden Gate Park
    San Francisco, CA 94118
    Languages: Materials are in English.
    Physical Description: 17.88 Cubic feet 1 records center carton, 52 archives boxes (some oversize, some glass negative boxes), 1 rolled item
    Date (inclusive): 1885-1985
    Abstract: Consists of papers relating to Rollo Beck's life, primarily but not exclusively his life as a collector. Included are papers relating to expeditions to the Galápagos (5 starts, 4 completed trips), South America and parts of the Caribbean, the South Seas, and Alaska (two trips). The collection includes negatives, prints and lantern slides of his travels, as well some of his life as a farmer.
    Creator: Beck, Ida Menzies, 1883-1970
    Creator: Beck, Rollo Howard, 1870-1950

    Biographical note

    Rollo Howard Beck was born August 26, 1870, in Los Gatos, California. When he was six, his family moved a few miles to Berryessa, now a district of San Jose, California. Over an active career that lasted nearly 60 years, Beck became the best known bird and reptile collector of the time, despite having only completed school through part of eighth grade.
    After leaving school Beck went to work for several local farmers, one of whom was also an amateur ornithologist. From him Beck learned to prepare skins and to identify birds using Elliott Coues' Key to North American Birds. He joined both the American Ornithologists' Union and Cooper Ornithological Club (now Society) in 1894, establishing lifelong contact with other ornithologists both locally and nationally.
    In 1897 Beck joined the Webster-Harris Expedition, financed by the Hon. Walter Rothschild. This trip went to the Galápagos where Beck learned a great deal about finding and collecting tortoises and birds, Rothschild's twin passions. In 1901 and 1902 Beck financed two more collecting trips to the Galápagos Islands, searching for specimens to sell to Rothschild and to others.
    The first expedition Beck led for the California Academy of Sciences (CAS) was a three and a half month collecting expedition to the Revillagigedos Islands, off the coast of Baja California, in 1903.
    In 1905, CAS asked him to lead an expedition to the Galápagos. A ship, three fulltime crew and 7 other collectors who also served as sailor-scientists were assembled by the Academy. The expedition was gone for 17 months and was in the islands for a year and a day - the longest Galápagos collecting expedition. They returned with 76,000 items – birds, tortoises, insects, reptiles, snails, marine mammals, plants and rocks. The 1906 San Francisco earthquake and fire, which destroyed almost everything held by the Museum, occurred while they were gone, so their collections formed the basis of the new California Academy of Sciences.
    Beck married Ida May Menzies in August 1909. They lived in Berryessa and Pacific Grove, California for the next few years.
    From 1907-1912 Beck collected water-birds inland and sea birds along the California coast and out to sea for CAS and also for the Museum of Vertebrate Zoology of the University of California, Berkeley. He invented "chumming" for sea birds. Taking some meat scraps with him in a small boat he would row due west for a few miles, tossing out scraps every so often. He would then reverse course, collecting the sea birds that appeared along this food-rich track. He established records for many sea birds which hadn't been previously recorded in northern California.
    In 1911 he was employed to go to Alaska for a five and a half month trip with A.C. Bent and Alexander Wetmore, both notable ornithologists. There they collected around islands and around Nome. Again in 1919 he was asked by the American Museum of Natural History (AMNH) to collect in Alaska.
    Beck worked for the American Museum of Natural History (AMNH) from 1912-1917, collecting all around the coast of South America and offshore islands, and through the Caribbean. Mrs. Beck accompanied him for much of the time in spite of her chronic seasickness. In 1920 the AMNH asked him to lead the Whitney Expedition to the South Seas. Again Mrs. Beck accompanied him and he led this expedition until 1928. Immediately after leaving this expedition Mr. Whitney asked him to continue to collect New Guinea, alone. The Becks spent another 9 months doing this, and then returned to California in 1930.
    In 1924 he had purchased a fruit farm in Planada CA, near Merced. After returning from the Whitney Expedition he spent the rest of his life farming and observing and collecting birds in central California. He died November 22, 1950, at age 80. Ida Beck stayed on the farm for several years, then moved to San Jose CA to live with relatives. She died in 1970, age 87.

    Chronology

    Chronology of the life of Rollo Howard Beck

    1870 Rollo Howard Beck born
    1894 Joined American Ornithologists' Union and Cooper Ornithological Club
    1897 Hired by the California Academy of Sciences to collect birds in the Channel Islands, CA
    1897 Hired as member of Rothschild Expedition to the Galapagos Islands
    1897-1910 Intermittently affiliated with the California Academy of Sciences as a field collector
    1903 Revillagigedos Islands Expedition for the California Academy of Sciences
    1905-1906 Galapagos Expedition for California Academy of Sciences
    1909 Marriage to Ida Menzies
    1910-1912 Affiliation with the Museum of Vertebrate Zoology
    1911 Interrupting his affiliation with the Museum of Vertebrate Zoology, he made a collecting trip to Alaska with A.C. Bent and Alexander Wetmore
    1912-1917 Brewster-Sanford Expedition, South America and the Caribbean, for the American Museum of Natural History
    1912-1929 Affiliation with the American Museum of Natural History
    1919 Collected in Alaska for the American Museum of Natural History
    1920-1929 Leader of Whitney South Seas Expedition for the American Museum of Natural History
    1930-1950 Farmed in central California. Observed and collected birds for the California Department of Fish & Wildlife
    1950 Died

    Organizational note

    Organized into the following series: Series 1: Biographical Materials; Series 2: Corresponence; Series 3: Field Journals and Notes; Series 4: Legal, Financial, and Related Papers; Series 5: Other Papers; Series 6: Photo Lists and Photographic Materials.

    Conditions governing access

    Access is unrestricted.

    Immediate Source of Acquisition

    Most of the papers and many of the photographs were donated to the California Academy of Sciences by Beck family members in 1969, 1985 and 1986.

    Arrangement note

    Arrangement varies by series.

    Preferred citation

    Rollo Howard and Ida Menzies Beck papers, California Academy of Sciences Library, San Francisco, CA

    Reproduction

    All requests subject to limitations noted in departmental policies on reproduction.

    Scope and Content

    Consists of papers relating to Rollo Beck's life, primarily but not exclusively his life as a collector. Included are papers relating to expeditions to the Galápagos (5 starts, 4 completed trips), South America and parts of the Caribbean, the South Seas, and Alaska (two trips). The collection includes negatives, prints and lantern slides of his travels, as well some of his life as a farmer.

    Subjects and Indexing Terms

    American Museum of Natural History.
    Cooper Ornithological Club of the Pacific Coast.
    Beck, Rollo Howard, 1870-1950
    California Academy of Sciences.
    Scientific expeditions--South America.
    Scientific expeditions--New Guinea, Dutch.
    New Guinea.
    Alaska.
    South America.
    Scientific expeditions--Oceania.
    Galapagos Islands.
    Scientific expeditions--Alaska.
    Oceania.
    Scientific expeditions--Galapagos Islands.