Held at: University of Pennsylvania: Penn Museum Archives [Contact Us]3260 South Street, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania 19104-6324
This is a finding aid. It is a description of archival material held at the University of Pennsylvania: Penn Museum Archives. Unless otherwise noted, the materials described below are physically available in their reading room, and not digitally available through the web.
Overview and metadata sections
Henry C. Mercer was born in Doylestown, Pennsylvania on June 24, 1856. Following his graduation from Harvard University in 1879, he enrolled in the University of Pennsylvania School of Law. Mercer studied law for one year and then "read law" with the firm of Freedley and Hollingsworth. While he was admitted to the bar in 1881, Mercer immediately left for Europe where he spent months traveling through Germany and France. Mercer embarked on a study and apprenticeship in the art of pottery making which he would pursue in later life.
The University of Pennsylvania Museum was founded in 1887. By 1889 it hired Charles Conrad Abbott as American Section Curator. Henry C. Mercer was on the Museum's Board by 1891. Though not yet part of the American Section, Mercer explored for the Museum throughout eastern Pennsylvania. (—see J.A. Mason's 1956 article in Pennsylvania Archaeologist for a compilation of the more local excavations.) At the end of the year Mercer conducted a detailed survey of sites on the lower Delaware and included a map in a letter to Abbott. Over the summer he had excavated what seemed to be evidence of cannibalism in shell heaps near his summer house on the York River in Maine and in November 1891–January 1892 excavated an elaborate ossuary at Sandy Hill on the Choptank River, Eastern Shore, Maryland (later visited by J.A. Mason in the process of destruction in 1952). A fine map and report dated by Mercer November 3, 1891 are in his file, and papers on both Maine and Maryland were published in his 1897 "Researches upon the Antiquity of Man in the Delaware Valley and the Eastern United States". In the summer of 1892 the Museum sponsored Mercer to do a large-scale survey of sites on the Lehigh and lower Susquehanna Rivers—unfortunately only collections and a receipt signed by Mercer are available (results published in 1895 American Naturalist).
In late 1892 Mercer, as an Honorary Member of the U.S. Archaeological Commission to the Madrid Columbian Exposition, excavated a paleolithic tool in gravels at San Isidro, Spain--a Manuscript report with strata drawings survives (published in 1894 American Naturalist, etc.). In the summer of 1893 he excavated at the argillite quarry at Gaddis Run in Bucks County and on Neshaminy Creek, and in the Fall at Durham Cave in Bucks County but in neither case could he clearly associate extinct fauna with man. This was true also for his Fall work at Hartmen's Cave near Stroudsburg, Pennsylvania and in gorges in Duval and Bee Counties, Texas.
Mercer took over as American Section Curator after Abbott left the Museum in 1893. As the new curator in 1894, Mercer continued his breakneck pace by excavating at a soapstone quarry in Virginia and a variety of caves from the New River, Virginia to Wyandotte Cave, Indiana, including Lookout and Nickajack Caves on the Tennessee River. Archival material includes a watercolor of the strata in Lookout Cave, summaries (by Mason?) of the collection materials, a copied 1918 letter on Lookout by Mercer from the Academy of Natural Sciences, some 1944 correspondence on Wyandotte, and copies of 1893 and 1894 summary publications by Mercer.
Forge Cave on the New River was excavated in February 1894. Besides the extinct fauna recovered in these caves, Mercer worked extensively with rich deposits at Port Kennedy near Valley Forge in association with paleontologist Edward Cope (1894-1896). Excavations after Forge were done at Stewart's Cave and Buffalo House on the New River, with identifications done by Cope. The most ambitious of all of Mercer's work was the Corwith Expedition to Yucatan in early 1895, a whirlwind set of cave testings for early man. Unpublished materials include notes on contemporary pottery and on Maya varieties of corn. Re-excavation was conducted at Lookout and other Tennessee sites in 1896, culminating in the discovery of a giant sloth at Big Bone Cave. A very detailed expense account survives from this trip, also some handwritten notes on the sloth bones. This work concluded Mercer's active fieldwork for the Museum. In 1898 Mercer asked the Museum to pay him a salary, which the institution could not afford.
Mercer spent the remainder of his life in other pursuits, including the Mercer Museum of pre-industrial tools in Doylestown, PA, the Moravian Pottery and Tile Works, and building "Fonthill", his strangely magnificent poured-concrete mansion. Many more Mercer records relating to his Penn Museum excavations can be found in the Bucks County Historical Society in Doylestown.
The Henry C. Mercer papers consist of one half of a manuscript box. There are five series reflecting the scope of Mercer's work for the museum.
The correspondence series is almost entirely in-house letters with Museum administration and ethnologist Stuart Culin. The curatorial data includes section reports, as well as lists of objects and casts. This includes a 1963 typed memo by Linton Satterthwaite detailing the Mercer material in the Penn Museum.
Mercer's field notes are clearly written and contain small drawings of sites and maps of the area. The maps are meticulously drawn.
There are also financial records kept by Mercer on his expeditions. Some financial records are also found with the field notes.
The collection also includes photographs, which are not yet processed.
- Brock, Robert Coleman Hall
- Stevenson, Sara Yorke
- Gordon, G. B. (George Byron)
- Mercer, Henry C.
- Pepper, William
- Culin, Stewart
- Baugh, Daniel
- University of Pennsylvania: Penn Museum Archives