WILCOMB, CHARLES PRESBY

WILCOMB, CHARLES PRESBY

Copyright © 2011-2016 John N. Lupia III


Charles Presby Wilcomb (1865-1915), son of Frank and Eliza Saltmarsh Wilcomb, at The Weirs,  Lake Village, New Hampshire. In 1884 he opened a general store in Laconia that also sold antiques and curiosities. Because of the unusual inventory the locals called his store Wilcomb’s Museum. In 1885 he self-published a book Indian Relics.  In 1887 he wrote to the Chapman Brothers, Samuel Hudson and Henry Jr., for gold dollars to be used as bangles, etc. 

Fig. 1. Postal Card from Charles Presby Wilcomb to the Chapman Brothers postdated January 24, 1887, The Weirs, New Hampshire.
Fig. 2 . Back of the Postal Card above with the message : "What can you get me 20 or 25 Gold Dollars for? Any date will do. Want them for Bangles, &tc. Please let me hear from you at your earliest convenience. Yours, C. P. Wilcomb, Weirs, N.H."

He published the Museum Bulletin: Devoted to the Interest Collectors of All Classes and the Public in General, from May 1886- February 1887 (not listed in Remy Bourne). In the Curiosity World, Volume 2, Number 2, September 1887, Wilcomb announced he transferred the magazine to John M. Hubbard publisher of Curiosity World as the new publisher. After closing the magazine he started out on a bicycle from “The Weirs” Lake Village, New Hampshire to Denver, Colorado. 

By 1888 he joined his eldest brother Edgar in Visalia, California, where he opened another general store very similar to the one in Laconia. In 1889 he opened the Visalia Museum of Curiosities with a business partner Captain Nanscawen. In 1892 he donated 3,000 objects to the Golden Gate State Park, San Francisco, California, that included coins, minerals, butterflies, birds eggs, etc. He was appointed the first curator of the Golden Gate Park Memorial Museum (later on renamed M. H. de Young Museum). In 1893 he married Addie Nichols. They lived in Visalia where he became the assistant postmaster. In 1900 he traveled to Europe to study museums in order to keep abreast on museological administration, collection development, storage, exhibitions-period room designs, and organization. It was at this time that Wilcomb is attributed with forming the earliest known period room in an American Museum in his construction or rather a reconstruction of an "Early American Colonial Kitchen". It is also thought he did this ealier while in New Hampshire, regardless he was an innovator in Museum exhibits of anthropological assemblages. The Park commissioners, however, did not like Wilcomb’s Indian artifact collection, which was at that time considered by many experts to be of great value. The Smithsonian Museum has photographs in 18 negatives in glass taken circa 1900 of his Indian basket collection. The Park commissioners demanded he remove the 420 rare Indian basketry artifacts, which he then sold to Robert Calvin Hall of Pittsburg, Pennsylvania in 1905. That year he resigned from the Museum and moved to Aspinwall, Pennsylvania as the new curator of Hall’s Museum of Anthropology. In 1906 Wilcomb and Hall joined the newly formed American Associations of Museum. In 1907 Frank K. Mott, Mayor of Oakland California hired Wilcomb to be the first curator of the Oakland Museum. In 1908 photographs of Wilcomb and his Indian basketry collection were published in The Index, Volume 18, No. 9, February 29 (1908) : 6. The Museum opened to the public October 21, 1910. On June 23, 1915 he died from peritonitis from a ruptured appendix. 


Bibliography :

Lake Village Times, Saturday, March 13, 1875, page 2 (Grandfather James Wilcomb’s obit)

New Hampshire Patriot and State Gazette,  Thursday, October 6, 1887, page 5

Lois Illington, "Rare Indian Baskets," The IndexVolume 18, No. 9, February 29 (1908) : 6. (Available online in Google Books)


Laconia Democrat, Wednesday, June 23, 1915 (Obit)

Margaret Hanselman Underwood, Bibliography of North American Minor Natural History Serials in the University of Michigan Libraries (Ann Arbor, 1954) : 111

Frye, Melinda Young. "Charles P. Wilcomb, Cultural Historian (1865-1915)." In Natives & Settlers: Indian and Yankee Culture in Early California : the Collections of Charles P. Wilcomb, the Great Hall, the Oakland Museum, December 18, 1979 Through March 9, 1980. [Oakland, Calif.]: The Museum, 1979, 15-39.

Bernstein, Bruce. "A Native Heritage Returns: The Wilcomb-Hall-Sheedy Collection." Indian and Yankee Culture in Early California : the Collections of Charles P. Wilcomb, the Great Hall, the Oakland Museum, December 18, 1979 Through March 9, 1980. [Oakland, Calif.]: The Museum, 1979, 69-86.

Schlereth, Thomas J. "Pioneers of Material Culture: Using American Things to Teach American History." History News(1982):30.

Remy Bourne, American Numismatic Periodicals 1860-1960: An Illustrated Collectors Guide, 2 Volumes. (RAMM Communications, Inc., 1990)

Bates, Craig D. "Scholars and Collectors Among the Sierra Miwok, 1900-1920: What Did They Really Find?" Museum Anthropology 17, no. 2 (1993):7-19.

Bettina Messias Carbonell, Museum Studies : An Anthropology of Context. (Blackwell, 2012) 2d edition : 235

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