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Dean, Bashford

    Image Credit: Wikipedia

    Full Name: Dean, Bashford

    Gender: male

    Date Born: 1867

    Date Died: 1928

    Place Born: New York, NY, USA

    Place Died: Battle Creek, Calhoun, MI, USA

    Home Country/ies: United States

    Subject Area(s): armor (protective wear), metal, and weapons

    Career(s): biologists and scientists


    Arms and Armor scholar at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, and zoologist. Dean’s family hailed from Revolutionary War heroes (John Dean, 1754-1798). His father was William Dean, a lawyer, and his mother Emma Frances Bashford (Dean). Dean’s interest in armor stemmed from a boyhood visit to the personal collection of Carlton Gates (d. 1869) in Yonkers, NY. Dean started collecting at age 10 with the purchase of two daggers from the sale of the Cogniat collection in 1877. Dean graduated from the College of the City of New York in 1886 (he was 19) in zoology and by 1890 has his Ph.D., from Columbia in the same area. He and Henry Fairfield Osborn (1857-1935) founded the department of Zoology (where he lectured on arthropods) at Columbia University in 1891. He became curator of the Department of Reptiles and Fishes at the Museum of Natural History in New York. In 1893 he married the wealthy socialite Mary Alice Dyckman (1869-1950). The coupled moved into Wave Hill, a mansion overlooking the Hudson River (today a museum) and began to collect armor in earnest. In 1896 Metropolitan Museum director Luigi Palma di Cesnola enlisted Dean to install the Ellis collection at the Met. Dean spent an extended research trip in 1900 at the Imperial Biological Laboratory in Japan studying the frilled shark. This brought him an entree into Japanese society (including the Emperor) and a familiarity with Japan weapons. Within three years Dean had assembled the best Japanese armor collection outside Japan, which he lent to the Metropolitan for an exhibition in 1903. Dean was again enlisted to evaluate the first collection of armor bought by the Metropolitan, that of the French Duc de Dino, by then director Caspar Purdon Clarke. Dean was so effusive about the purchase (much of which had been purchased at the insistence of board chairman J. P. Morgan, 1837-1913), that Morgan charged Dean to write the catalog for the collection. In 1906 Morgan had Dean made honorary (i.e., unsalaried) curator of Arms and Armor. Dean, who through marriage and personal inheritance was independently wealthy, quit his professorship at Columbia to devote full time to his personal arms collecting and his duties at the Met. Dean continued to publish on natural sciences. Dean spent 1907 courting one of the most important American (expatriate) arms collectors, William H. Riggs (1837-1924). He hired Daniel Tachaux (1857-1928) from France to be the preparator (conservator) of armor at the Met. The Riggs collection only came to the museum in 1912, the same year the collection became a department unto itself. The collection was finally exhibited in 1914. During World War I Dean advised the army on protective armor designing a protective helmet for trench warfare and rising to major in the ordnance branch. His design for an American helmet, based on the Galiot de Genouilhac casqie, was rejected by the military. He resigned from the Museum in 1927 and was immediately made a trustee. While on a lecture in Michigan, he required emergency surgery and died in the procedure. He is buried in Sleepy Hollow cemetery, Tarrytown, NY. The Metropolitan was able to acquire most of his collection through will and purchase, founding a wing named in his honor. When the United States entered World War II, the army adopted a new helmet, known as the M-1, based on Dean’s designs for the previous war. Dean’s career was a much in the natural sciences as in art history. He was the only curator of the Metropolitan to hold a joint curatorship with the Museum of Natural History.

    Selected Bibliography

    “The Barberini Armor.” Bulletin of the Metropolitan Museum of Art (1926): 279-282; Catalogue of a Loan Exhibition of Arms and Armor: the Metropolitan Museum of Art. New York: The Museum, 1911; The Collection of Arms and Armor of Rutherfurd Stuyvesant, 1843-1909. New York: Printed privately/De Vinne Press, 1914; The Dyckman House, Built about 1783, Restored and Presented to the City of New York in MCMXVI. New York: Gilliss Press, 1916; “A Gift of Japanese Sword Guards.” Metropolitan Museum Bulletin 9 no. 6 (June 1914): 140-142; Catalogue of European Daggers: including the Ellis, De Dino, Riggs, and Reubell Collections. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1929; Catalogue of European Court Swords and Hunting Swords: including the Ellis, De Dino, Riggs, and Reubell Collections. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1929; Handbook of Arms and Armor: European and Oriental, including the William H. Riggs Collection. New York: The Gilliss Press, 1915.


    Tomkins, Calvin. Merchants and Masterpieces: The Story of the Metropolitan Museum of Art. New York: E. P. Dutton, 1970, pp.149-164, 188; Shor, Elizabeth N. “Dean, Bashford.” American National Biography; [obituary:] “Bashford Dean Dies After Operation.” New York Times December 8, 1928. p. 15.


    Contributors: Emily Crockett and Lee Sorensen


    Emily Crockett and Lee Sorensen. "Dean, Bashford." Dictionary of Art Historians (website).

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