Archibald Bruce was born in New York City in February 1777, the son of Judith Bayard and William Bruce. He was among David Hosack's students at Columbia College in 1794, where he developed an interest in mineralogy after helping Hosack unpack his specimens. Bruce immediately began his own collection of minerals.
In 1798 Bruce traveled to the University of Edinburgh to complete his medical studies. Mineralogy at that time was flourishing in Edinburgh, and Bruce gained more knowledge (and probably specimens) during his two years there.
In 1800, having completed his M.D., he treated himself to a mineralogical tour of Europe, visiting all the most prominent mineralogists and collectors in each city and trading them American specimens for European examples. He spent time with the two greatest collectors in London, Charles Greville (1749-1809) and the Count de Bournon (1751-1825), then visited the Abbe HaŁy (1743-1822) in Paris. From there he passed through Switzerland and Italy, visiting Heinrich Struve (1772-1851) in Lausanne.
Returning to London finally in 1805, he married a young woman whom he had met there. The couple returned to New York that same year, bringing his now extensive new mineral collection. His handsome cabinet, rich in European specimens, included "the chief part of the new metals and other late discoveries of the chemists."
In New York, Bruce began the task of building up his medical practice while continuing to enlarge his mineral collection. He became a focus for the gathering body of information on American minerals. In 1807 his expertise was formally recognized by his appointment as professor of mineralogy and materia medica at the College of Physicians and Surgeons. His circle of mineralogical friends broadened to include virtually all of the important American collectors and mineralogists of his day, including Samuel Latham Mitchell, Benjamin Silliman, George Gibbs, Robert Gilmor, Zaccheaus Collins, Adam Seybert and Parker Cleaveland as well as European contacts such as the Count de Bournon and the Abbe HaŁy. In 1808 Bruce received a handsome selection of recently collected European minerals from HaŁy.
Bruce had a number of single crystals in his collection, and he adopted Bournon's method of attaching a wax pedestal to each crystal which served also as a handle to facilitate examination. These were then stored in individual paper boxes or specimen trays. He prepared a small collection of such mounts for Zacchaeus Collins, including crystals of spinel, emerald, hyacinth, topaz, garnet, idocrase, cryolite, datolite, spodumene and other minerals.
Bruce had long dreamt of establishing an American journal of mineralogy along the lines of the French Journal des Mines, the publication of the Paris School of Mines. The time finally seemed right in 1810, with his extensive support network established; Bruce published the first issue of his American Mineralogical Journal in April of that year. It included field trip reports, locality descriptions, new species descriptions, chemical analyses, and reviews of recently published mineralogical literature. He kept it going until his health began to fail in 1814. Twenty-one Americans contributed 42 articles to the four issues that were published from 1810-1814.
Bruce died on February 22, 1818 of a stroke, at the age of 41. Not long afterward, his mineral collection was sold at public auction for $5,000, to Dr. Benjamin De Witt. He deposited it with the College of Physicians and Surgeons in New York, and arranged it in the College Hall.
WILSON, W.E. (1994) The history of mineral collecting 1530-1799. Mineralogical Record, 25 (6), 241 pp.
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