Henry Seybert was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, on December 23, 1802, the son of Maria Sarah Pepper and Adam Seybert, a chemist and one of America's earliest mineral collectors. Sadly, Maria died while Henry was still an infant, and his father, who never remarried, assumed full responsibility for his upbringing.
Henry Seybert was elected to membership in the American Philosophical Society in 1824, at the young age of 22, and when he died in 1883 he was the oldest member of the Society. His first address to the illustrious group that same year was on an analysis of the chrysoberyls of Haddam (Connecticut) and Brazil.
Benjamin Silliman wrote of him:
“Like his father, he was educated in the School of Mines in Paris, and was an early contributor to our knowledge of the constitution of American minerals. In I882 he analyzed the sulphuret of molybdenum from Chester, Pa.; chromate of iron from Maryland and Pennsylvania; the tabular spar pyroxene, and colophonite, of Willsborough, N. Y., and the Maclurite (chondrodite) of New Jersey (in which he independently discovered fluorine as Dr. Lanstaff had done before). He also analyzed the manganesian garnet, found with the chrysoberyl at Haddam, Conn., and the chrysoberyl of the same locality. In I830 he analyzed the Tennessee meteorite of Bowen, since which date I have been unable to find any further contributions from Mr. Seybert, whose attention was unfortunately diverted from science, to which his early life was so advantageously devoted, to other and less fruitful lines of investigation.”
Henry had been an avid mineral collector himself, until the untimely death of his father in 1825, leaving Henry with a sizeable fortune of over $300,000 (equal to about $7.5 million today). Thereafter he lost interest in mineralogy and science in general, and donated his mineral collection to the Academy of Natural Science in Philadelphia. He spent the rest of his years preoccupied with spiritualism (Silliman's veiled reference to “less fruitful lines of investigation”) and contributed much of his money over the years to charitable causes.
Henry married Edith Gum in Pendleton, West Virginia, in 1820 and together they had ten children. He died in Philadelphia on March 3, 1883.
ROBINSON, M. (1883) Obituary notice of Henry Seybert. Proceedings of the American Philosophical Society, 21, 241-263.
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WILSON, Wendell E. (2020)
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||A Philadelphia Academy of Science drawer label for a specimen donated by Henry Seybert.|
(courtesy Armin Sorg collection)
||Bookplate on the flyleaf of Beudant's Traité Élémentaire de Minéralogie (1824) showing that it was donated to the Franklin Institute by Adam Seybert's son Henry (in 1876)|