Stories from the Smithsonian

Get to know the people who have shaped the Smithsonian since its founding in 1846, through their letters, diaries, oral histories, and photographs.

Scroll to explore this topic

Letter dated December 15, 1904 from Wilson A. Bentley to Smithsonian Secretary Samuel P. Langley

Wilson A. Bentley Letter - Dec 15, 1904 - Page 1

Jericho VT Dec. 15, 04
Prof S. P. Langley
Secretary Smithsonian Institution
Washington D.C.

Dear Sir,
I have collected photographs of snow crystals during the past 20 years, & now have a collection numbering over 1100 no two alike. It has been almost a life work with me, & conducted entirely at my own expense. In addition to the photos of the snow crystals, I have secured some 150 more photographs of frost & ice crystallization, of great beauty & interest. My collection of both frost & snow crystal photographs are each in their class— 

Wilson A. Bentley Letter - Dec 15, 1904 - Page 2


far superior in both number & beauty & I might add interest, to that of any other collection in the world, & picture quite completely the crystalline forms of water. The great majority of these negatives are in my possession, & no copies of them, except on paper; (& some lantern slides, at various Institutions,) are preserved anywhere in fire proof buildings. I have felt strongly for some years, that some institution, & especially the Smithsonian Institution, should, possess indestructible permanent copies on glass, of at least the choice photographs of my collection. The danger from fire, & lightning, or accident here at my home is not to be ignored, & has caused me much anxiety. It seems to me that such a collection as mine should be placed beyond the possibility 

Wilson A. Bentley Letter - Dec 15, 1904 - Page 3


of destruction by fire or accident. This is my excuse for troubling you in the matter, & I write to ask if there is not some fund available from the Smithsonian Institution, or elsewhere, that can be drawn upon to defray the expense of making copies of these on glass, to be stored, & kept for study, at the Smithsonian Institution. I have been to so much expense making my collection; far more than I could well afford; that I do not feel as though I could even do the photographic work, developing, exchanging etc, free gratis, but I would willingly do it at very low wages, indeed. The expense of making the negatives would depend upon whether the copy desired was to be a positive, (first copy), or a negative, (second copy), & in the case of the 

Wilson A. Bentley Letter - Dec 15, 1904 - Page 4


positive, I think the expense would not exceed 15 cts each, & if the negatives but 25 cts each, or possibly 30 cts. If but 500 of my best examples were copied in this manner, it would be a great relief to me, I would cast but about $80.00 for the positives, & about $150.00 for the negatives, (if the latter were desired, instead of the former.) Should you, through your great influence, bring about the desire I have so long cherished, I shall be deeply grateful, & I should you wish to publish a monograph, or article regarding the snow or frost crystals, in the quarterly issue of the Smithsonian publications, I will gladly write, or furnish data for it. (I think you mentioned desiring such an article, in a letter to Prof. [Cleveland] Abbe.)

Yours sincerely,
W. A. Bentley