A collection is made of much more than a series objects. It is also made of information. Data written on labels, the kind op paper used, the preparation techniques, journals, photographs, catalogues, publications… all of it adds scientific and historical value to the objects. This is the story of Dr. Van Groenendael collection: butterflies, WWII and newspaper clippings.
The Van Groenendaels
After reading Arnold de Boer’s biography of Dr. Van Groenendael, one gets an idea of de doctor’s character. The biography is mainly based on Van Groenendael’s journals and correspondence: J.M.A. Van Groenendael: A Life Between Medicine and Entomology in Indonesia (Van Groenendael-Krijger Foundation, 1998). Van Groenendael appears as an intelligent and sharp man, arrogant and yet compassionate, self-important, duty-bound and with a great sense of humor.
When he arrived at Soekaboemi in 1931, J.M.A. van Groenendael (1896-1979) was determined to combine his work as army physician and his passion for butterflies. Together with his wife, pediatrician A.H. Krijger, he started a new life in Java. While travelling throught the island to provide medical assistance in remote villages, Van Groenendael avidly collected butterflies, which he kept folded in pieces of newspapers and magazines. He also bought and exchanged specimens with fellow butterfly collectors and dealers, like P.A. Kalis (Druten, 1899-Tjimahi, 1949). In 1942, when WWII arrived to Java the doctors were sent to Japanese POW camps. Their house and all their papers, correspondence and diaries were lost. Amazingly, the butterflies remained. Veterinary surgeon Frans Waroroentoe rescued the collection and took it to the Botanical Gardens in Buitenzorg. Waroroentoe had been appointed head of the Gardens by the Japanese government. Both husband and wife survived their imprisonment.
During the Indonesian War of Independence (1946-1949), Van Groenendael became a regimental doctor in the garrison of Bandung. In 1948 they were stationed in Padang, Sumatra. When the Dutch recognized the independence of Indonesia in 1949, the couple stayed in the new country. Apparently, Van Groenendael enjoyed such a good reputation that the Indonesian government offered him a job. This time, he asked to be stationed in Flores. Java would have seemed a logical choice if one thinks of accomodation, facilities and contact with Dutch people, but it seems that the promise of new butterflies was more alluring.
In the 50’s, the situation on Flores worsened: bad roads and bridges, difficulties with medical equipment and payment, the doctor’s health… They returned to Holland in June 1954. By then he had collected more than 300.000 butterflies. The specimens, still folded in their paper envelopes and propped in tin boxes made specially for him, were part of his luggage.
In The Netherlands, were they had trouble adjusting, Van Groenendael accepted a job as a ship’s physician, sometimes accompanied by his wife as 2nd surgeon, in hadji trips between Indonesia and Jeddah attending Indonesian Muslim pilgrims, until 1957. After that, he worked as a physician on luxurious cruise ships until he retired, at age 65, in 1961. Van Groenendael started to take the specimens out of their paper envelopes to pin them. In 1979 the collection was officialy donated to the Zoologisch Museum Amsterdam (ZMA) and the Van Groenendaels founded the Van Groenendael-Krijger Foundation. He died in 1980 at age 85.
Van Groenendael’s 52 journals and his correspondence are kept in Naturalis Biodiversity Center, Leiden. The photographs and the ethnografical collection of Mrs. Van Groenendael-Krijger are in the Tropenmuseum in Amsterdam.
Pins and papers
When the butterflies arrived at the ZMA, 2/3 of the collection was still in the original tin boxes and a variety of other containers like cigar, biscuit and cocoa tins. In total, 108 tin boxes were received and about thousands of specimens that Van Groenendael himself had prepared. ZMA staff sorted the material from the tin boxes by family and locality, and stored it in drawers. Rough locality data was written the folding papers, except for the Kalis material that has stamps with detailed information.
In 1996 Rob de Vos was hired to prepare the specimens, with financial support of the Van Groenendael-Krijger Foundation. He continued to do so until 2001, when he became collection manager. From 2001 and until 2010, Jan Fossen was the technician apointed by the ZMA (again, thanks to the VGK Foundation) to continue working on the material. Together, they looked up all the localities and collecting dates and ordered printed specimen labels. These new labels were kept in enveloppes crammed in biscuit tins:
Jan Fossen started with the pinned material. He replaced the original Van Groenendael hadwritten labels with new printed ones. He kept samples of the original labels in stamp albums, arranged by locality, as well as examples of folding papers and pins. However, the ZMA staff explained intructed him to keep the original labels attached to the specimens, as the new ones should be an addition to, instead of a replacement of, the original labels. This is actually universal curatorial policy, necessary to preserve the history of the specimens. Jan Fossen then only kept in his stamp albums original labels from very damaged specimens that could not be repaired and duplicate labels.
The pins, the quality of preparation and the papering give clues about who did what, and when. Van Groenendael started pinning his pecimens at an advanced age and his preparation skills were not at their best. As a result, any Van Groenendael butterfly badly pinned and bearing only an original hand-written label can be identified as originally pinned by the doctor himself. Glassine paper envelopes tell us that those specimens were probably purchased or exchanged, not collected in the field by Van Groenendael himself. We can also look at the subjects, language and advertisement from the newspapers used to preserve the butterflies for an indication of the collecting date. The clippings from Japanese, Chinese, Dutch, British and Indonesian newspapers include news, gossip, advertisements, crosswords-puzzels and anti-Nazi cartoons.
Talking about metadata.