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Donald Ryder Dickey Photographic Collection 1908-1962
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Collection Details
Table of contents What's This?
  • Descriptive Summary
  • Access
  • Publication Rights
  • Preferred Citation
  • UCLA Catalog Record ID
  • Acquisition Information
  • Processing History
  • Biography
  • Scope and Content
  • Related Material
  • Indexing Terms

  • Descriptive Summary

    Title: Donald Ryder Dickey Photographic Collection,
    Date (inclusive): 1908-1962
    Collection number: 59
    Creator: Dickey, Donald Ryder 1887-1932
    Extent: 72.7 linear ft. (139 boxes)
    Repository: University of California, Los Angeles. Library. Louise M. Darling Biomedical Library History and Special Collections Division
    Los Angeles, California 90095-1490
    Abstract: Struck by a serious heart condition during his senior year at Yale, Dickey returned to early interests in natural history and photography to occupy his mind and hands during the prolonged recovery period. By the time he had regained full strength in 1916, he had also formulated a new life goal: to establish a research center for study of the vertebrate zoology of Southern California, and to build a supporting collection of taxidermy specimens, photographs and books. This finding aid introduces the still photography part and some movie footage of that collection: over 4000 images captured by Dickey and his associates on various formats of film negatives, glass plates and slides. Each entry in the finding aid for the still photographs leads to a Dickey negative and a 5 x 8" reference card which contains a positive image, and identifying information. Three-hundred-and-fifty of the images, from 1911-1929, have been digitized and are viewable online at: http://unitproj.library.ucla.edu/biomed/dickey/index.cfm.
    Physical location: History and Special Collections Division, Louise M. Darling Biomedical Library, University of California, Los Angeles
    Language of Material: Collection materials in English


    The collection is open for research. Contact the History and Special Collections Division, Louise M. Darling Biomedical Library, UCLA, for information.

    Publication Rights

    Property rights in the physical objects belong to the UCLA Biomedical Library. Literary rights, including copyright, are retained by the creators and their heirs. It is the responsibility of the researcher to determine who holds the copyright and pursue the copyright owner or his or her heir for permission to publish if the Biomedical Library does not hold the copyright.

    Preferred Citation

    [Identification of item], Donald Ryder Dickey photographic collection (Manuscript collection 59). Louise M. Darling Biomedical Library History and Special Collections Division, University of California, Los Angeles.

    UCLA Catalog Record ID

    UCLA Catalog Record ID: 5674440 

    Acquisition Information

    In 1940 Mrs. Dickey donated the entire Donald R. Dickey Collection of Vertebrate Zoology and Library of Vertebrate Zoology to the Research Library and to the Department of Biology, University of California, Los Angeles. After the creation of the Biomedical Library in 1947, many of the ca. 10,000 books and journals of this gift were transferred from the Research Library to the Biomedical Library in 1949. No separate list of this material exists, but each volume is identified by a Dickey Collection bookplate. The photographic collection was transferred to the Biomedical Library in 1989 by James Northern and Brian Obst from the Department of Biology. Approximately 50,000 bird and mammal specimens are still housed in the Department of Biology.
    In 2001, Donald R. Dickey Jr. deeded more family items to the Biomedical Library, including approximately 189 additional glass slides. Mr. Dickey has also supported the collections his father built with funds to the Library and to the Biology Department for preservation of the various materials.

    Processing History

    Processed by Pat L. Walter, 2007
    The preservation and conservation of the Donald R. Dickey Photographic Collection was made possible through a grant from Donald R. Dickey, Jr. This allowed complete rehousing of items in appropriate conservation envelopes and boxes, starting in 1994; negatives on nitrate film were converted to safety film; and Dickey's information for each negative was entered into a Microsoft Access database which served as the basis for this finding aid. A sample of 350 photographs from the collection was digitized and mounted on the UCLA Biomedical Library History and Special Collections website.


    Donald Ryder Dickey (March 31, 1887-April 15, 1932) was an adventurous, pioneer wildlife photographer as well as an ornithologist and mammalogist. He was well known in his time for: his photographs (both still and moving) of birds and mammals; his lectures on wildlife; and eventually, for his substantial specimen collection of birds and mammals. Drawn to outdoor life in his childhood and youth, he considered this nothing more than a hobby until he experienced a serious heart collapse in his senior year at Yale and was sentenced to immediate and complete bedrest. Allowed to graduate with his class because of his high academic standing, he returned after graduation to his parents' home in Pasadena for two years of inactivity. He visited a friend's ranch in the Ojai Valley after about a year, and there, from his steamer chair, he began to observe, and after a time to photograph, local birds and their nests.
    As Dickey became stronger he also became more active, taking longer and longer photographic jaunts and starting to collect small mammals in an amateur way. When he had finally regained full strength, in about 1916, he found that he was "too interested by that time in what started as a hobby, to forego it for a conventional business life" (from an autobiographical note, "The Condor", 36(2):62, 1934). Eventually he determined to establish a research center for vertebrate zoology, with a supporting study collection of specimens, photographs, and books. By 1926 the collection had grown to nearly 30,000 specimens of mammals and birds (nearly doubled six years later), backed by a sizable working library and an outstanding group of still and movie photographs. The California Institute of Technology provided space to house the materials and named Dickey a Research Associate in Vertebrate Zoology. In 1940 Mrs. Dickey donated the collection to the University of California, Los Angeles.
    Dickey died at the young age of 45. He was survived by his wife Florence Van Vechten Dickey and a son, Donald Ryder junior. Additional information, including his involvement in the civic life of Pasadena, may be obtained from Dickey's bibliography, obituary, and remembrances by his colleagues ("Wildlife of America: photographs by Donald R. Dickey," in: "The World's Work", v.52: 566- 570, 1926; Harris, Harry. "An appreciation of Donald Ryder Dickey," in: "Condor", v.36: 59-66, 1934; Millard, Bailey. "The Martin Johnson of America (Donald R. Dickey)," in: "The World's Work", v. 52:557-565, 1926; "Obituary, Donald Ryder Dickey", in: "Auk", v.49: 517-518, 1932}.
    The limitations of his health and the breadth of vision and ambition for his collection dictated that Dickey had to use others' talents and energy to help with his work. His field collaborators and assistants included: Adriaan Joseph van Rossem, an eminent ornithologist in his own right; Laurence Markham Huey, an expert on the birds and mammals of the Southwestern United States and Baja California; Ruben Arthur Stirton and George A. Stirton; William Henry Burt; Henry Hargrave Sheldon; and John Zoeger.

    Scope and Content

    The collection contains photographs of birds (and their nests and eggs), mammals, people, and places, documenting Dickey's extensive field work in: California and the rest of the southwest; northern Michigan; New Brunswick and Newfoundland; Baja California; El Salvador; and Laysan Island in Hawaii (with the Smithsonian-sponsored Tanager Expedition). One small group offers landscapes and people of Algeria. Dickey recorded in still photographs, some moving pictures, and extensive field notes the birds, mammals and habitat of an area, with special interest on reproduction and behavior. His photographs serve as a valuable resource not only for field biologists but also for historians, since they illustrate the appearance of many natural areas before the transformations wrought by population expansion.
    The dates of the photographs range from 1908 to 1962, with the greatest part clustered between 1912 and 1923; later material was added by Dickey's collaborators. Formats represented in the collection include film and glass negatives, prints, and glass lantern slides. Nitrate film has been copied to safety film. The lantern slides are of four kinds: autochrome, black and white, colored, and toned. Most of the positives are on gelatin developing-out paper.
    Dickey created a pictorial reference card index to the negatives. Each negative and its matching reference card bears a unique identification number starting with a group identifier: A = 5x7" film; B = 4x5" (or smaller) glass plate; C = 5x7" glass plate; F = 4x5" (or smaller) film; P = positive; S = lantern slide. He organized the reference cards by broad subjects (birds, mammals, geography), with the first two sections arranged alphabetically by genus, the last alphabetically by place name. This finding aid is organized according to the same scheme, with each entry corresponding to a negative and reference card. The series are: 1: Birds. 2: Mammals. 3: Fish. 4: Geography. 5: People. Subseries within the first two series are arranged alphabetically by genus, with species arranged alphabetically within the genus. Series 4 has subseries of countries/specific regions. Entries in Series 5 are arranged alphabetically by personal name.
    Current taxonomic nomenclature often differs from that used by Dickey almost a hundred years ago. In the creation of this finding aid, considerable effort has been spent to link Dickey's identifications to present usage. Genus/species/subspecies/common name are reproduced exactly as given by Dickey, but any changes in scientific or common name, or spelling differences, have been added in square brackets. Under each organism, entries are ordered according to the alpha-numeric number assigned by Dickey to his negatives. Major databases consulted for official current names: "The A.O.U. Check-list of North American Birds", Seventh Edition; "Obsolete English Names of North American Birds and Their Modern Equivalents", USGS Patuxent Wildlife Research Center; "ITIS, the Integrated Taxonomic Information System"; "North American Mammals", Smithsonian Institution.
    Three boxes of almost 200 glass slides were added to the Dickey gift in 2001; these are not contained in the Access database mentioned under Provenance and were newly entered for this finding aid. Dickey used these slides to illustrate many of his lectures. Many are hand-colored and are numbered, but the numbers overlap and duplicate numbers in his S series, and approximately one third are not numbered. Some captions identifying subjects and location are provided on the lids of the original wooden boxes housing the slides, but with little specificity. This material is described in Series 6 of the Finding Aid, "Additional Pictorial Materials", using the information provided on the box lids.
    The collection is organized into the following series:
    • Series 1. Birds.. ca. 2650 entries
    • Series 2. Mammals.. ca. 640 entries
    • Series 3. Fish.. 1 species; 6 entries
    • Series 4. Landscapes.
    • Series 5. People.. 89 entries
    • Series 6. Additional Pictorial Materials

    Related Material

    UCLA BIOMEDICAL LIBRARY HISTORY AND SPECIAL COLLECTIONS DIVISION. 350 of the images from the Dickey Photographic Collection are viewable online at: http://unitproj.library.ucla.edu/biomed/dickey/index.cfm
    UCLA BIOMEDICAL LIBRARY HISTORY AND SPECIAL COLLECTIONS DIVISION. Manuscript Collection #110: Donald Ryder Dickey Field Notes; notebooks, 1909-1948, which provide locations and context for the photographic collection.
    UCLA BIOMEDICAL LIBRARY HISTORY AND SPECIAL COLLECTIONS DIVISION. Manuscript Collection #213: Anna Ryder Dickey Collection; includes personal photo albums belonging to Anna Ryder Dickey (D.R.D.'s mother), with photos from a Sierra Club trip she, the 16 year-old D.R. Dickey, the naturalist John Muir, and others took in 1896 and 1902.
    UCLA BIOMEDICAL LIBRARY HISTORY AND SPECIAL COLLECTIONS DIVISION. Manuscript Collection #301: Donald R. Dickey Personal Photo Album; includes photos taken on honeymoon collecting trip to Canadian woods of Dickey and wife, and views of the interior, exterior, and garden of their first home in Pasadena.
    UCLA BIOMEDICAL LIBRARY HISTORY AND SPECIAL COLLECTIONS DIVISION. Manuscript Collection #404: Donald R. Dickey Papers, 1914-1920. Collection consists chiefly of personal and family letters and a copy of Dickey's will.
    UCLA FILM AND TELEVISION ARCHIVE. Wilderness lives : a naturalist's intimate record of unmolested game. No. 3, [White-tailed deer], Donald R. Dickey presents. M47395. 1 reel of 1 (ca. 100 ft.)

    Indexing Terms

    The following terms have been used to index the description of this collection in the library's online public access catalog.


    Dickey, Donald R. (Donald Ryder), 1887-1932
    Dickey, Donald R. (Donald Ryder), 1887-1932--Archives
    Mammals--North America--Photographs
    Birds--El Salvador--Photographs
    Birds--Hawaii--Laysan Islands--Photographs