Bashford Dean


Bashford Dean (October 28, 1867 – December 6, 1928) was an American zoologist, specializing in ichthyology, and at the same time an expert in medieval and modern armor. He is the only person to have held concurrent positions at the American Museum of Natural History and the Metropolitan Museum of Art, where he was Honorary Curator of Arms and Armor; the Metropolitan Museum purchased his collection of arms and armor after his death.

Bashford Dean
Bashford Dean (1867-1928).jpg
Bashford Dean
BornOctober 28, 1867
DiedDecember 6, 1928(1928-12-06) (aged 61)
Battle Creek, Michigan, US
EducationCity College of New York
Alma materColumbia University (Ph.D.)
Known forfossil fishes (sharks, chimaeroids and arthrodires)
Spouse(s)Mary Alice Dean, née Dyckman
AwardsDaniel Giraud Elliot Medal from the National Academy of Sciences, 1921.
Scientific career
Fieldsichthyology, and medieval and modern armor
InstitutionsAmerican Museum of Natural History and Metropolitan Museum of Art
Doctoral advisorJohn Strong Newberry

Early life and educationEdit

Bashford Dean was born on October 28, 1867[1] in New York City. His father was a prosperous lawyer from Westchester County.[2] According to his sister Harriet Martine Dean, his interest in armour began at age six, when he "spent hours examining a helmet"[3] while visiting the collection of the estate of the late Carlton Gates in Yonkers (d. 1869),[4] a family acquaintance, whose holdings included Asian and Medieval arms and weaponry. in 1876, aged about nine, he tried to buy the helmet but was outbid.[3] In 1877, at age 10, he purchased two 16th century daggers from the collection of Henry Cogniat and started his personal collection.[3]

In 1881, he entered the College of the City of New York at only 14 years of age and graduated in 1886;[3] He enrolled in zoology and palaeontology at Columbia University, and received his Ph.D in 1890.[3]


Dean became an assistant for Professor John Strong Newberry who studied Devonian armored fishes.[citation needed] From the 1880s to the early 1900s, his scientific research allowed him to travel to Europe, Russia, Alaska, Japan, and the Pacific coast of the United States. He became professor of zoology in 1904.[3]

In 1909, Dean published "Studies on fossil fishes (sharks, chimaeroids and arthrodires)", published in Memoirs of the American Museum of Natural History [5] and other articles on the Arthroleptid frog Astylosternus robustus and on the egg capsules of Chimaera[citation needed].

For his 1916 volume, Bibliography of Fishes,[6] Dean was awarded the Daniel Giraud Elliot Medal from the National Academy of Sciences in 1921.[7]

Armor collection and studiesEdit

As his career in ichthyology progressed, his focus eventually shifted toward the subject of armor[8] and by 1900 he had amassed a private collection of approximately 125 armory specimens.[3] In 1904, Dean initiated the process of establishing the Metropolitan Museum of Art's Department of Arms and Armor, serving first as guest curator while organizing the collection of Duc de Dino, quickly progressing to the position of honorary curator in 1906 and finally to the position of founding curator on October 28, 1912, then working for the Met full-time.[9]

During World War I, Dean was commissioned a Major in the Ordnance Corps, and worked on development of armor, especially of helmets.[10]: n12  His work guided and informed helmet development in the US, and possibly in other countries, at least until the 1980s,[11] although his preferred design was rejected in 1918[10]: 216  and c. 1937,[11] as its resemblance to the German Stahlhelm was considered too close.[10]: 216  He was the author of Helmets and Body Armor in Modern Warfare.[12] Dean wrote the 1929 published Catalogue of European Court Swords and Hunting Swords: Including the Ellis, De Dino and Reubell Collections.[13]

Private life, deathEdit

Armor hall, at home in Riverdale

In 1927, Dean retired from the Metropolitan Museum and embarked on the addition of an armor hall to his home at Wave Hill.[1]

Dean was involved in architectural preservation in that he and his brother in law, Alexander M. Welch restored their wives' ancestral home, the Dyckman House.[14]

After undergoing surgery, he unexpectedly died on December 6, 1928, in Battle Creek, Michigan,[15] missing, only the day before his death, the opening of the "Hall of Fishes", his crowning work at the American Museum of Natural History.[16]


Following his death, his friends and family completed construction of the armor hall at his home and installed his private collection there.[citation needed] The Metropolitan Museum later became home to about half of his armor collection of 800 items through an outright bequest and through purchases made possible by gifts by friends and trustees of the museum, which his friend Daniel Chester French commemorated with a plaque.[citation needed]

In 2012, the Metropolitan Museum of Art celebrated the centennial of the founding of its Armory collection, and organized the special exhibition Bashford Dean and the Creation of the Arms and Armor Department.[17]


  1. ^ a b La Rocca, Donald (2012-10-28), "Bashford Dean and the Creation of the Arms and Armor Department", Sunday at the Met (video), New York, New York: Metropolitan Museum of Art, retrieved 2013-02-12, As part of a special Sunday at the Met program held in conjunction with the exhibition Bashford Dean and the Creation of the Arms and Armor Department, Donald J. La Rocca explains the founding and history of the department.
  2. ^ Boorman, Dean K. "A Personal Reminiscence of Bashford Dean, and His Unpublished Talk, Circa 1920, "The Hobby of Collecting Ancient Armor"" (PDF). American Society of Arms Collectors. Archived (PDF) from the original on 2021-12-28.
  3. ^ a b c d e f g La Rocca, Donald J. (2014-03-04). "A Look at the Life of Bashford Dean". Now at the Met. Metropolitan Museum of Art. Archived from the original on 2014-06-15. Retrieved 2014-06-15. When the department was officially created on October 28, 1912, it was almost entirely due to the talent, scholarship, and tireless drive of Dr. Bashford Dean (1867–1928), the department's founding curator.
  4. ^ Surrogate's Court, Westchester County, New York (1870). Van Pelt, Reuben W. (ed.). Cover of: In the matter of proving the last will and testament of Carlton Gates, deceased: Argument by In the matter of proving the last will and testament of Carlton Gates, deceased: Argument. New York, New York: William J. Read, Steam Job Printer. p. 8. Retrieved 2014-06-15. ...Carlton Gates, late of the Town of Yonkers, in said County, departed this life, in the said County, on the 2lst day of August, in the year one thousand eight hundred and sixty-nine...
  5. ^ Dean, Bashford (1909). "Studies on fossil fishes (sharks, chimaeroids and arthrodires)". Memoirs of the American Museum of Natural History. 9 (5). hdl:2246/57. The Devonian Sharks known generally as "Cladodonts" and technically as Cladoselachians, i.e., a particular group of Cladodontid sharks, have, during the past decade, figured prominently in studies on the morphology of fishes.
  6. ^ Dean, Bashford (1916). Charles Rochester Eastman (ed.). A Bibliography of Fishes. Vol. 1. New York, New York: The Museum. Retrieved 2013-02-11.
  7. ^ "Daniel Giraud Elliot Medal". National Academy of Sciences. Archived from the original on 2014-06-20. Retrieved 2013-02-11.
  8. ^ La Rocca, Donald J. (2014-04-08). "Bashford Dean and Japanese Arms and Armor". Now at the Met. Metropolitan Museum of Art. Archived from the original on 2014-06-15. Retrieved 2014-06-15. Dean personally designed and installed the display of the collection at the Museum and wrote an accompanying catalogue, which was the most detailed English-language book on the subject at the time. It remains a valuable scholarly introduction to the material more than a century later.
  9. ^ McGrath, Charles (2012-10-04). "Dressed to Kill, From Head to Toe — Met Show Recalls Bashford Dean, Armor Curator". New York Times. Archived from the original on 2012-10-10. Retrieved 2014-06-15. In many ways the most outstanding piece of work on display here is Bashford Dean himself. Dean (1867-1928) was one of those tireless and eccentric polymaths that the 19th century turned out in such profusion.
  10. ^ a b c Dean, Bashford (1920). Helmets and Body Armor in Modern Warfare. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. Publication of the Committee on Education. New Haven: Yale University Press. Open Library: OL7179363M. Retrieved 2015-04-09.
  11. ^ a b Suciu, Peter (2011-11-30). "American experimental helmets from WWI". Military Trader. F+W. Archived from the original on 2014-07-09. Retrieved 2015-04-09. While many people were instrumental in developing a series of helmets, one individual stood out, who guided the process in these early years: Dr. Bashford Dean. Thanks to Dr. Dean’s research and his efforts to chronicle the helmets, much is actually known about these American “experimentals.”
  12. ^ Franklin, Dwight (27 August 1920). "Review: Helmets and Body Armor in Modern Warfare by Bashford Dean". Science. 52 (1339): 201–202. doi:10.1126/science.52.1339.201-a.
  13. ^ Dean, Bashford (1929). Catalogue of European Court Swords and Hunting Swords: Including the Ellis, De Dino, Riggs, and Reubell Collections (Spine title: Court Swords and Hunting Swords). Metropolitan Museum of Art. Retrieved 2013-02-11.
  14. ^ "Dyckman Farmhouse Museum". Historic House Trust. Historic House Trust. 2014-10-01. Archived from the original on 2015-07-03. Retrieved 2017-10-25. In 1915, Mary Alice Dyckman Dean and Fannie Fredericka Dyckman Welch, daughters of the last Dyckman to grow up in the house, bought the building and worked with their husbands, curator Bashford Dean and architect Alexander McMillan Welch, to restore it.
  15. ^ "Bashford Dean Dies After Operation". The New York Times. 1928-12-08. p. 15. Retrieved 2013-02-12. Noted Zoologist Was Also the Leading American Expert on Ancient Armor. A TIRELESS COLLECTOR Was Honored by Natural History and Art Museum--Tributes Follow Sudden Death. Won Elliot Medal. Gave of Own Means. Hall of Fishes Crowned Labor.[dead link]
  16. ^ Board of Trustees (1929-01-01). "In Memory of Bashford Dean" (PDF). Bulletin of the Metropolitan Museum of Art. 24 (1): 5. Retrieved 2013-02-12. At a meeting of the Board of Trustees, held on December 17, 1928, the following memorial resolution upon the late Bashford Dean was adopted.
  17. ^ "Bashford Dean and the Creation of the Arms and Armor Department — October 2, 2012–October 13, 2014". Exhibitions. Metropolitan Museum of Art. July 2012. Archived from the original on 2012-07-17. Retrieved 2014-06-15. To mark the centennial of the Arms and Armor Department, this exhibition surveys the career of Dr. Bashford Dean (1867–1928), the department's founding curator.

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