This month, the Dubuque County Historical Society will celebrate its 70th anniversary. In recognition of this momentous milestone, we are looking back at some of our earliest collections, such as the remarkable Richard Herrmann Collection. Herrmann’s eclectic museum, located at his home on what is now Central Avenue in Dubuque from 1871 to 1954, eventually became the foundation for DCHS’s historical exhibits and collections.
Richard Herrmann, like many of his contemporaries, was a “cabinet of curiosities” collector. He amassed countless examples of relics from all over. Native American artifacts, fossils, minerals, natural history specimens, and more were proudly displayed in custom-built cabinets built by him. Herrmann had a natural curiosity about the world around him, both historic and natural. He collected, sorted, organized, studied, and shared his vast array of artifacts with whoever was interested.
Herrmann was also a self-taught artist. One of the ways he documented his collection was to draw or paint it, organizing and categorizing as he went. The result was artwork like this, which has been invaluable for DCHS to further identify and track his massive collection – more than 100 years after the fact. Apparently, Herrmann spent New Year’s Day of 1916 creating this visual record of stone pipes in his museum. Note that many items are labeled with descriptive information or the location where they were found, including the one in the lower right corner: a pipe found by Herrmann at Julien Dubuque’s burial site.