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Joshua W. Deems

Joshua W. [Williams?] Deems was born in Baltimore, Maryland in October 1834, the son of Henry “Harry” Williams Deems (1807-1894) and Mary Ann Holtz (1810-1884). His family moved from Maryland to New York when Joshua was a child, probably in the 1840s. Joshua began working as a clerk around 1850, while living with his family in New York City's Ward 9. By 1865 he was earning an annual income of $845, which, at the 5% income tax rate of the day, required him to pay taxes of $42.25. By 1870 he had left his parents' residence and was living in New York City with the family of his younger brother Samuel, earning an income working as a “smith” (according to the 1872 New York City Directory).

Joshua finally married (at the age of 41) Francis “Fanny” Franke around 1877. In that year his mother sold him 27 acres of land in Yorktown, New York to start a homestead, but the life of a farmer didn't suit him, and by 1880 he was living in Brooklyn with his wife and four children, listing himself on the census records as a “mineralogist.” He is likewise listed as a “mineralogist” in the Brooklyn City Directories for 1881, 1882 and 1885; presumably earning his income as a dealer in mineral specimens. By 1892, however, he was listing his occupation as “roofer,” and by 1900 was supporting his family as a “day laborer,” with the help of his son Harry (a plumber's helper), his daughter Katie (a bookkeeper) and his daughter Lillian (a saleslady). By 1910 he had retired, living under his “own income,” and he appears to have died in the teens, sometime prior to 1920.

Deems had begun collecting minerals by 1869 (the date on one of his labels) and probably much earlier. He was a well-known mineral collector in New York in the 1870s-1880s. The Monthly Microscopical Journal for 1877 cites three specimens of coral contributed by "Mr. J.W. Deems, a Corresponding Member, residing in New York City." Louis Pope Gratacap, in his Geology of the City of New York (1901) cited J.W. Deems as being among those local collectors of the past whose investigations had helped to elucidate the mineralogy of the New York City area. The annual reports of the American Museum of Natural History show that the museum acquired three specimens from Deems in 1881, three in 1882, “ores of tellurium, iron and zinc, and several silicates” in 1883, 20 specimens in 1884 and 28 specimens in 1885. No further acquisitions from Deems are listed in the annual reports for 1886 and beyond, suggesting that Deems had ceased dealing in minerals thereafter. The New York collector John H. Caswell (1846-1909) also obtained a number of specimens from Deems, as noted on the back of some of Caswell's (unfortunately undated) labels.
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[Citation format for this entry:
WILSON, Wendell E. (2019)
Mineralogical Record
Biographical Archive, at]
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The Mineralogical Record - Joshua W. Deems 45 x 79 mm,
Dated 1869 on the front
The Mineralogical Record - Joshua W. Deems 45 x 80 mm
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