Walter Koelz Papers: 1873-1989 (bulk 1910-1989)
Summary Information
Title: Walter Koelz Papers
Creator: Koelz, Walter, 1895-
Inclusive dates: 1873-1989
Bulk dates: 1910-1989
Extent: 8 linear feet
Abstract:
Zoologist-botanist, collector of plant and specimens for the University of Michigan in the Middle East and South Asia. The collection includes biographical and personal materials, correspondence, topical files, journals, writings, estate materials, photographs and motion pictures. Much of the collection relates to his travels and collecting expeditions in the Middle East and South Asia.
Call number: 0164 Aa 2
Language: The materials are in English.
Repository: Bentley Historical Library
1150 Beal Ave.
Ann Arbor, MI 48109-2113
Phone: 734-764-3482
Fax: 734-936-1333
e-mail: bentley.ref@umich.edu
Home Page: http://www.bentley.umich.edu/
Finding aid prepared by: Daniel Santamaria

Access and Use
Acquisition Information:

The papers were donated to the library in September 2000, by Mrs. William Copeland (donor number 9021).

Access Restrictions:

The collection is open for research.

To protect fragile audiovisual recordings (such as audio cassettes, film reels, and VHS tapes), the Bentley Historical Library has a policy of converting them to digital formats by a professional vendor whenever a researcher requests access. For more information, please see: http://bentley.umich.edu/research/duplication/.

Copyright:

Donor(s) have transferred any applicable copyright to the Regents of the University of Michigan but the collection may contain third-party materials for which copyright was not transferred. Patrons are responsible for determining the appropriate use or reuse of materials.

Preferred Citation:

item, folder title, box no., Walter Koelz Papers, Bentley Historical Library, University of Michigan


Biography

Walter Koelz was born in Waterloo, Michigan on September 11, 1895. The son of a blacksmith, Koelz attended Olivet College and received his doctoral degree in zoology with a specialization in ichthyology from the University of Michigan in 1920. Also fascinated by natural history, ornithology and botany, Koelz represented the U.S. Bureau of Fisheries as a naturalist on the MacMillan-Byrd Arctic Expedition in 1925. The Arctic trip marked the beginning of Koelz's affinity for travel. He wrote an article about the experience for the National Geographic magazine and artifacts he collected on the expedition now reside in the Museum of Anthropology in Ann Arbor.

In 1927, Koelz resigned his government appointment to move to Albuquerque, New Mexico, to be with a close friend who had tuberculosis. After his friend's death, Koelz returned to Ann Arbor where he worked as a Lloyd Postdoctoral Fellow at the University of Michigan during the 1927/28 academic year. Also at this time, he was appointed State Ichthyologist of Michigan. In 1930, Koelz accepted an appointment at a Himilayan research institute run by Russian expatriate Nicholas Roerich. He arrived in Naggar, Kulu, in Northern India and began working for Roerich in May of 1930. Koelz collected botanical and ornithological material for the Kew Botanical Gardens in London, the New York Botanical Gardens and the American Museum of Natural History.

In July of 1930, Koelz met Rup Chand, a member of the prominent Thakur family of the Lahul district of Punjab, India. Chand was well known in the areas of India known as Western Tibet, Lahul, Spiti, Zanksgar, and Ladakh, and provided Koelz with access to Buddhist monasteries and to their religious art. Koelz and Chand worked and traveled together until 1960, when Chand filed a lawsuit alleging that he had not received a fair share of the money earned from the pair's collecting efforts.

In 1932, Koelz had a falling out with the Roerich family and returned to Michigan for a brief period. He returned to Kulu in December with an appointment as a Freer Fellow to collect Tibetan artifacts for the University of Michigan Museum of Anthropology. Koelz's collection of tankas (a portable religious painting on cloths), which numbered about one hundred in all, was shipped back to Ann Arbor, along with many other pieces, in January of 1934.

In the spring of 1934, Koelz returned to Michigan bringing Rup Chand with him. Koelz worked briefly for the Department of the Interior, acquiring land for what later was to become the Waterloo Recreation Area. By January 1936, Koelz had been appointed by the U.S. Department of Agriculture as a plant explorer and again sailed for India. During the summer of 1937, he returned to the United States, but was back in India by the summer of 1939. In December of 1939, Koelz left India for Persia where he would remain until January of 1946. After leaving Persia he returned to India, where he continued to act as a plant explorer for the Department of Agriculture. Koelz traveled in India, Nepal and Assam until October of 1953, when he returned to Michigan.

Perhaps the last traditional Victorian explorer, Koelz collected more than 50,000 bird specimens, and identified tens of thousands of plants that now bear his name as the collector at the University of Michigan Herbarium and other major international herbaria. The American Genetic Association awarded Koelz the Frank N. Meyer medal in 1956 for his part in saving the California melon crop during the 1950s.

Koelz brought numerous pieces of artwork, pottery, and other mementos from his expeditions to his Michigan home. His gardens included exotic and foreign flowers, trees and bushes. Koelz was considered the town eccentric. He was a recluse who kept peacocks for pets, chopped his own firewood, walked barefoot in snow and on ice, and dressed in pajama type clothing worn by men in the Himalayas.

Walter Koelz died on September 24, 1989 in Waterloo, Michigan, in the house in which he was born. Koelz never married and had no heirs. His estate was valued at well over one million dollars, due largely to the artifacts he had collected during his travels. The artifacts were sold at auction through Christie's in New York, with the proceeds of the sale benefiting The Nature Conservancy.


Collection Scope and Content Note

The Walter Koelz papers document Koelz's travel and work in South Asia and the Middle East in the 1930s and 1940s, as well as his life in Michigan, both before and after traveling abroad. The collection has been divided into seven series: Biographical and Personal, Correspondence, Topical File, Journals, Writings, Estate Materials, and Visual Materials.

Subject Terms

This collection is indexed under the following headings in the finding aid database and catalog of The Bentley Historical Library/University of Michigan. Researchers desiring additional information about related topics should search the catalog using these headings.


  • Afghanistan -- Description and travel.
  • Birds -- Collection and preservation.
  • Eccentrics and eccentricities -- United States.
  • India -- Description and travel.
  • Iran -- Description and travel.
  • Tankas (Tibetan scrolls)
  • Naturalists -- United States.
  • Plants -- Collection and preservation.
  • Textile fabrics -- India -- Jammu and Kashmir.
  • Travelers.
  • Afghanistan.
  • Birds -- Collection and preservation.
  • Chelsea (Mich.) -- Dwellings.
  • Dwellings -- Michigan -- Chelsea.
  • India.
  • Iran.
  • Naturalists -- United States.
  • New Mexico.
  • Plants -- Collection and preservation.
  • Tankas (Tibetan scrolls)
  • Textile fabrics -- India -- Jammu and Kashmir.
  • Travelers.
  • Diaries.
  • Motion pictures.
  • Photographs.
  • Chand, Rup, 1902-1994.
  • Koelz, Walter, 1895-1989.
  • MacMillan Arctic Expedition (1925)
  • University of Michigan -- Faculty.
  • University of Michigan. Museum of Anthropology.
  • University of Michigan. University Herbarium.
  • Chand, Rup, 1902-1994.
  • Koelz, Walter, 1895-1989.
  • MacMillan Arctic Expedition (1925)
Contents List
Request materials for use in the Bentley Library
Container / Location Title
 
Biographical and Personal [series]

The Biographical and Personal series includes articles written about Koelz as well as employment information and information about his funeral and memorial service. Other material documents Koelz's time at Chelsea High School and Olivet College. The series also contains family ledgers and journals from the 1870s to 1890s.

Box   1  
Biographical Information and Articles about Koelz (2 folders)
Box   1  
Employment Information, Permissions, and Letters of Introduction
Box   1  
Last will and Testament of Walter Koelz 1970s, 1980s
Box   1  
Funeral 1989
Box   1  
Passports 1930s-1950s
Box   1  
Chelsea High School 1910-1911
Box   1  
Olivet College 1911-1915
 
Family
Box   1  
Family Ledgers and Journals 1873, undated
Box   1  
Miscellaneous 1888-1926
Box   1  
Miscellaneous
 
Correspondence [series]

The Correspondence series consists of 2 linear feet of material and has been divided into chronological and topical subseries. Topical Correspondence includes a group of collected photocopies of correspondence, perhaps compiled by Carolyne Copeland, who donated the materials to the Bentley Library. The copied correspondence is primarily professional correspondence between Koelz and various museums or sponsors of his work.

 
Chronological Correspondence [subseries]
Box   2  
1909-1950 (35 folders)
Box   2  
1950-1989, undated (39 folders)
 
Topical Correspondence [subseries]
Box   2  
Rup C 1950s
Box   2  
Walter Gabel (mainly letters from Robert) 1922-1927 (2 folders)
Box   2  
Roerich Museum 1930s
Box   2  
"Eddie/Robert?" Letters
Box   2  
Drafts of Koelz Letters
Box   2  
Fragmentary Letters
Box   2  
Foreign Language Correspondence
 
Collected Photocopies of Correspondence and Other Papers [subseries]
Box   2  
Museum of Anthropology 1934
Box   2  
Museum of Zoology 1911-1958 (2 folders)
Box   2  
Michigan Herbarium/Harley Bartlett 1927-1959 (4 folders)
Box   2  
May M. Blaine? 1948-1952
Box   2  
Watson Parker 1934-1935
Box   2  
Carlton Wells 1935
 
Journals [series]

The Journals series documents Koelz's travels and collecting efforts in South and Central Asia. It includes ten volumes of hand written journals which Koelz kept between 1934 and 1946 while traveling in India, Afghanistan, Persia and other Asian and Middle Eastern countries. Two small University of Michigan handbooks, which contain brief journal entries, and a folder of journal entries from 1924 can also be found in the series.

Box   3  
University of Michigan, Journals 1915-1917 (2 volumes)
Box   3  
Journal Entries 1924
Box   3  
Travel Journals 1933-1946, undated (10 volumes)
 
Writings [series]

The Writing series is comprised of scientific articles and reprints of articles written by Koelz, as well as a copy of Koelz's Persian Diary, which was published by the University of Michigan's Museum of Anthropology in 1983. Also included is a manuscript on Kashmir shawls, five folders of miscellaneous manuscripts and writings, and scientific notes.

Box   4  
Articles (periodicals and reprints) by Koelz 1923-1979 (3 folders)
Box   4  
Persian Diary (published version) 1983
Box   4  
Manuscript: "Kashmir Shawls: A study of a collection of textiles made in the Indian Empire," undated (3 folders)
Box   4  
Unbound Writings, scattered dates (5 folders)
Box   4  
Scientific Notes and Related Material, scattered dates
 
Topical Files [series]
Box   4  
American Genetic Association 1956
Box   4  
American Museum of Natural History (Donation by Koelz) 1956
Box   4  
Rup Chand Lawsuit 1960s (2 folders)
Box   4  
Carolyn Copeland Notes undated
Box   4  
Maps
Box   4  
Midland Center for the Arts (exhibition) 1980
Box   4  
Tibetan Tankas Expedition 1980
Box   4  
University of Michigan-purchase of Koeltz Collection 1989
Box   4  
Miscellaneous, scattered dates
 
Estate Materials [series]

The Estate Materials series contains documents collected by Koelz's lawyer at the time of his death. Included are probate information and catalogs and correspondence with auction houses such as Christie's and Sotheby's which auctioned items from Koelz's collection. Many of the catalogs contain photographs of Koelz's artifacts. The series also includes correspondence and other material related to The Nature Conservancy, and individuals involved in Koelz's estate, including his traveling companion Rup Chand.

Box   5  
Investments and Stocks
Box   5  
Lists of Assets
Box   5  
New Mexico Real Estate
Box   5  
Frank Boos Gallery (2 folders)
Box   5  
Probate File
 
Christie's
Box   5  
Correspondence and Miscellaneous
Box   5  
Catalogs featuring items from Koeltz Collection
Box   5  
Waterloo Real Estate
Box   5  
Sotheby's
Box   5  
Raymond E. Bahor
Box   5  
Rup Chand
Box   5  
Charles Aymond
Box   5  
Miscellaneous Correspondence
Box   5  
Death Certificate
Box   5  
Miscellaneous Inventories
Box   5  
Nature Conservatory
Box   5  
Reference List
Box   5  
Miscellaneous Estate Documents
 
Visual Materials [series]

The Visual Material series includes photographs and film which documents Koelz's travels in South and Central Asia and with the MacMillan Arctic expedition, as well as his early and later years in Michigan. Koelz's personal photographs include pictures of Koelz, Chelsea and Waterloo, Michigan, and Olivet College. Most of the personal photographs date from the 1920s and earlier. There are also numerous photographs of Koelz's family, and of boys and young men in Michigan which date from the 1920s and earlier, as well as a group of prints and negatives of unidentified people and scenes from the 1920s, which have been arranged chronologically.

The Travel and Collecting subseries of Photographs include pictures of birds and artifacts collected by Koelz. The subseries also contains photographs taken in New Mexico, during the MacMillan Arctic expedition, and during Koelz's travels in Afghanistan, India, Iran (Persia) and other countries. The photographs of Afghanistan, India and Iran are largely unprocessed.

 
Photographs [subseries]
 
Koelz Personal Photographs
Box   6  
Koelz, Alone and with Others (2 folders)
Box   6  
Koelz, Early Years
Box   6  
Koelz, Later Years
Box   6  
Chelsea Home
Box   6  
Waterloo
Box   6  
Olivet
Box   6  
Family
Box   6  
Miscellaneous Older Photographs 1920s (5 folders)
 
Chronological
Box   6  
1923
Box   6  
1924
Box   6  
1925
Box   6  
1926
Box   6  
Miscellaneous 1920s
 
Travel and Collecting Photographs
Box   6  
Rup Chand
Box   6  
Art Work and Tankas (4 folders)
Box   6  
Birds (2 folders)
Box   6  
MacMillan Exhibition 1925-1926 (4 folders)
Box   6  
National Geographic MacMillan Photographs
Box   6  
New Mexico 1920s (4 folders)
Box   7  
Afghanistan, India, and Iran 1930s, 1940s, 1950s
Box   8  
Afghanistan, India, and Iran 1930s, 1940s, 1950s
 
Motion Pictures [subseries]

The Motion Pictures subseries includes six reels of 8mm black and white film taken in North India in 1936, as well as one reel of unidentified footage. An index is included for the six reels shot in North India.

Box   8  
Film Index
Box   8  
Footage taken in North India 1936
Box   8  
Unidentified Film Reel (6 reels (8mm; black and white motion pictures))
Additional Descriptive Data
Related Collections

The Bentley Library houses several collections which are closely related to the Walter Koelz Papers, including the papers of Rup Chand, and Harley Bartlett. The University of Michigan Museum of Anthropology's website includes a section devoted to Koelz, which includes a brief Biography, as well online exhibits of Koelz's collection of Tibetan Tankas and Kashmiri Textiles. The website is available at: http://www.umma.lsa.umich.edu/Orient/koelz/koelz.html