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Adam Seybert

Adam Seybert was a mineralogist and mineral collector in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, active in the 1790's through the 1820's. He was the first American scientifically trained in mineralogy, having attended Häuy's lectures in Paris around 1795/6. The beginning of his mineral collection probably dates from that time as well.

Seybert was born in Philadelphia on May 16, 1773, and attended the common schools there, completing his medical studies at the University of Pennsylvania at Philadelphia in 1793. He continued his studies in Europe, where he attended schools in Edinburgh, Göttingen, and Paris from 1793 to 1796. He returned to Philadelphia and devoted himself to chemistry and mineralogy, and was elected a member of the American Philosophical Society in 1797. In 1798 he married Maria Sarah Pepper, the daughter of a wealthy Philadelphia merchant. Their first child, Henry, was born in 1801, but Maria died in childbirth and Adam never remarried.

Seybert then opened a medical practice in Philadelphia but proved unsuccessful in establishing himself in that profession. After a year or two he opened a pharmacy and chemical manufactory, where he perfected a method of refining camphor that made him a wealthy man. His European training in mineralogy and the cabinet of minerals that he had brought back from Göttingen (one of the first mineral collections ever brought to America) made him the leading American authority on that science. Benjamin Silliman at Yale called upon him to identify the specimens in Yale's miniscule fledgeling collection. Meanwhile Seybert continued to field-collect additional specimens for his collection in the northeastern states and Quebec, taking careful notes on the localities as he went. He also obtained numerous specimens from "Captain Lewis" of the Lewis and Clark Expedition.

Turning to politics, Seybert was elected as a Republican to the Eleventh Congress of the United States to fill the vacancy left by the resignation of Benjamin Say. He was re-elected to the Twelfth and Thirteenth Congresses and served from October 10, 1809 to March 3, 1815; he was then elected to the Fifteenth Congress (March 4, 1817-March 3, 1819).

In 1812 Seybert sold his mineral collection to the Academy of Natural Sciences in Philadelphia for $750, but he continued to work on it, and prepared a hand-written catalog for it shortly before his death in 1825. It is a general collection of about 2000 specimens, and is among the earliest American collections of minerals extant. It is preserved intact at the Philadelphia Academy of Natural Science, in its original cabinet, because of its historical interest (it has been retained by the Academy, and was not sold with the rest of the Academy's mineral collections in 2006). The specimens are arranged according to the system of Parker Cleaveland's Mineralogy (1816).

Seybert visited Europe in 1819-1821 and again in 1824, but his health was by that time fading rapidly and he had to cancel his plans to visit the German mines with his son Henry, who had also accumulated a mineral collection. Adam Seybert died in Paris, France on May 2, 1825. That same year his son, having lost his interest in mineralogy with the passing of his father, donated his own mineral collection and apparatus to the Philadelphia Academy.

Biographical Directory of the U.S. Congress, 1774-2005.
GREENE, J.C. (1969) The development of mineralogy in Philadelphia, 1780-1820. Proceedings of the American Philosophical Society, 103, pp.283-295.
GREENE, J.C., and BURKE, J.G. (1978) The science of minerals in the age of Jefferson. Transactions of the American Philosophical Society, 68, part 4, 113 p.
SCHUH, C. (2006) The History of Mineral Collecting in the United States, 1800-1950. Unpublished manuscript.
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WILSON, Wendell E. (2019)
Mineralogical Record
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The Mineralogical Record - Adam Seybert Adam Seybert's cabinet in the Academy of Natural Sciences, Philadelphia
The Mineralogical Record - Adam Seybert Adam Seybert's cabinet in the Academy of Natural Sciences, Philadelphia
The Mineralogical Record - Adam Seybert Adam Seybert's signed copy of Gallitzen's Mineralogy (1802) [Mineralogical Record Library]
The Mineralogical Record - Adam Seybert 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)
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