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Deseret Museum



The Deseret Museum (1869-1918) was a museum dedicated to educating the people of Utah and displaying local scientific and historical treasures.

The Deseret Museum was conceived by John W. Young and Guglielmo Giosue Rosetti Sangiovanni in the fall of 1869 and was founded on the idea of showcasing the natural and historical wonders of Utah. The museum opened its doors in December of that year with Young providing the financial capital and Sangiovanni serving as curator. Known as the Home Museum, the Salt Lake Museum, or more commonly the Deseret Museum, it quickly acquired a wide range of animal, fossil, and geological specimens, as well as a large number of historical artifacts. When Sangiovanni left the museum after a disagreement with Young in 1871, Joseph L. Barfoot, who had previously been hired to scientifically catalog the growing collection, became the new curator and served in that capacity until his death in 1882.

Following Barfoot’s death, the museum struggled to survive for nearly a decade. In 1878, Young, unable to provide the financial support the growing institution needed, had transferred ownership of the museum to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. However, in 1885, a group of concerned citizens founded the Salt Lake Literary and Scientific Association and purchased the museum. George Reynolds and Don Carlos Young helped keep the institution limping along until December 1890 when the Association appointed James E. Talmage as director and curator of the museum. Talmage, with the assistance of a young J. Reuben Clark, then working his way through college, brought the museum to the peak of its influence and standing in the last decade of the nineteenth-century. Lacking the resources to maintain the museum, the Salt Lake Literary and Scientific Association transferred ownership of the museum back to the Church in 1899.

Throughout its history, the Deseret Museum moved a number of times to accommodate growing collections or find better conditions. In 1903 the museum was forced from its current home and was unable to find a suitable replacement. The collections were stored in the Salt Lake Temple until a new building was constructed just south of Temple Square in 1911. Later that year, after Talmage became a member of the Quorum of the Twelve, he was relieved of his curatorial duties. His son Sterling B. Talmage became the new curator, serving under James E. Talmage’s direction. In 1918, the Deseret Museum’s chronic lack of space led to its dissolution. Scientific specimens were transferred to the LDS University, while historical artifacts were divided up between a new LDS Church Museum on Temple Square and the Daughters of the Utah Pioneers.

Utah Historical Quarterly, Fall 1982: p. 361 (known as Home Museum, Salt Lake Museum, and Deseret Museum) p. 362 (founded by John W. Young and Guglielmo Giosue Rosetti Sangiovanni, 1869) p. 366 (Joseph L. Barfoot, curator, 1871-1882) p. 368 (purchased by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 1878) p.369 (Salt Lake Literary and Scientific Association purchased museum, 1885; run by George Reynolds and Don Carlos Young; James E. Talmage appointed, December 1890) p. 371 (assisted by J. Reuben Clark; reverted back to the Church, 1899; homeless and moved to temple, 1903) p. 373 (new building south of Temple Square, 1911) p. 374 (Talmage dismissed as curator, Sterling B. Talmage becomes curator, 1911; dispersed 1918; scientific specimen's go to LDS University) p. 375 (historical material divided between LDS Church Museum and DUP)

Found in 5 Collections and/or Records:

Deseret Museum museum register

 File — Folder 1: [Barcode: 31197233245023]
Identifier: MSS SC 598
Scope and Contents

The collection includes a fragment of the printer register with handwritten notations, some by Joseph L. Barfoot, curator, and newspaper clippings about the Great Salt Lake and other miscellaneous subjects concerning Utah. Also is an undated loose page of butterfly illustrations from a German publication by Hubner, Exot, Schmett., Vol. 1, plate 6, sent to G. Reynolds, curator of the Museum of Natural History.

Dates: 1874-1877

Deseret Museum receipt book and miscellaneous correspondence

 Collection — Multiple Containers
Identifier: MSS SC 1383
Scope and Contents

Receipt book for donations and deposits to the Deseret Museum and 20 letters and other miscellaneous items relating to museum business and acquisitions. Several of the items are written by or are about John W. Young, the museum's proprietor; Joseph L. Barfoot, the museum's curator; and James E. Talmage, a scientist and lecturer associated with the museum.

Dates: 1870-1880

Deseret Museum records, 1891-1903

 Series — Box 24b: Series 2; Series 14; Series 15 [Barcode: 31197227605695], Folder: 14a-14b
Identifier: MSS 229 Series 15
Scope and Contents

Contains an inventory of items owned by the Deseret Museum. The inventory was taken by J. Reuben Clark under the direction of museum curator, James E. Talmage between 1891 and 1903.

Dates: 1891-1903

William Dydamous Johnson letters to Brigham Young

 Collection — Folder 1: [Barcode: 31197233287397]
Identifier: Vault MSS 203
Scope and Contents

Handwritten and signed letters, dated 29 Oct. 1875 and 16 Feb. 1876, and addressed to Brigham Young, the second president of the Mormon Church. Johnson asks for help in his personal finances and also writes about funds for the Deseret Museum.

Dates: 1875-1876

Photographs of the Deseret Museum

 Collection — Multiple Containers
Identifier: MSS P 348
Scope and Contents

Collection includes 47 gelatin silver photographs of the Deseret Museum and its collections. Materials dated approximately 1870-1919.

Dates: approximately 1870-1919

Additional filters:

Collection 4
Archival Object 1
Letters 2
Museums -- Utah -- Acquisitions -- History -- Sources 2
Anthropology 1
Arts, Humanities, and Social Sciences 1
Church Government 1