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COLLECTION Identifier: far00023

George Knox Merrill papers

Scope and Content

This collection consists primarily of correspondence. It also includes lists of specimens and plant identifications, newspaper clippings, manuscript material, receipts, maps, and a card file pertaining to Merrill’s botanical work. There are 8 published maps in this collection, including 1 duplicate, that have individual catalog records. There is one hand drawn map that does not have an individual catalog record.

Nineteen picture postcards of Maine scenery were found in the Farlow Herbarium storeroom and added to the collection.


  • 1888-1927


Conditions Governing Access

The collection is available by appointment for research. Researchers must register and provide valid photo identification. Please contact for additional information.


1 collection (10 bound volumes, 4 boxes, published maps in Archives Map Case)

Biographical Note

George Knox Merrill was born on October 16, 1864, in Lewiston, Maine, to John Merrill and Jane Prescott. Merrill’s father died while he was still in school and he moved to Boston with his mother. He completed his education at public school in Boston and entered Harvard University but did not graduate. He returned to Maine to pursue a career in journalism and eventually settled in Rockland, where he opened a photography studio. He married Rosamond E. Emerson in 1892.

Merrill’s interest in lichens likely began around the time he moved to Rockland. He joined the Sullivant Moss Society in 1903 and was curator of its lichen department from 1905 to 1907. He was also an active member of the Josselyn Botanical Society of Maine. Through correspondence with American and European botanists, Merrill amassed a comprehensive herbarium and a reputation as an authority on lichen identification and taxonomy. He intended to publish a monograph on lichen flora of Knox County, Maine, but it was never completed

Merrill closed his photography studio around 1917 to devote his time to lichenology and local politics. His wife, Rosamond, died in 1920 and he married Lena E. Daggett three years later. He had no children. Merrill died on October 21, 1927, in Rockland, Maine.


Norton AH. 1927. Obituary notices. Maine Naturalist. 7(4):161-163.

Plitt CC. 1928. George Knox Merrill. Bryologist. 31(4):65-71.

Series Description

The collection is divided into six series.

Series I. Bound correspondence, 1892-1927. Contains 10 bound volumes of correspondence from botanists, booksellers, and acquaintances. There are 724 letters from around 120 correspondents with a few forwarded letters and a few of Merrill’s replies. Most correspondence pertains to lichens and their identification, the purchase or exchange of lichen specimens and lists, lichen taxonomy, and botanical literature. A few letters pertain to the Josselyn Botanical Society and to Merrill’s publications in “The Bryologist.”

Letters of particular interest include
  1. Cummings, Clara Eaton, Wellesley College: first suggests Professor Farlow's theory of fungal growth on lichens
  2. Gray, R.S., amateur botanist from Oakland, California: 11-page discussion on taxonomy versus morphology with references to current theories of the time
  3. Howe, Reginald Heber, Middlesex School: refers to a controversy with Farlow
  4. Lynge, Bert, Norwegian botanist: names new species after Merrill, G. Merrillii
  5. Thaxter, Roland: discusses payment for specimens

Series II. Loose correspondence and personal papers, 1891-1927. Contains loose correspondence and financial papers.

Series III. Manuscripts, approximately 1906-1914. Contains manuscripts by Merrill and others.

Series IV. Specimen lists and other materials, 1888-1927. Contains lists, manuscript material, notes, and maps.

Series V. Photographs. This series is divided into three sub-series.

Sub-series A. Cladonia specimens from the herbarium of Edward Tuckerman.

Sub-series B. Maine postcards printed with Merrill’s photographs of scenery, animals, and buildings.

Sub-series C. Lichen photographs for unknown publication. Also includes a book plate of Coralloides with annotations.

Series VI. Card file. Contains specimen notes written on index cards, grouped by family.


There is no record of how Merrill's papers arrived at Harvard. According to “American Fern Journal” (v. 18, no. 1, 1927, p.36), his herbarium was purchased by the Farlow Herbarium after his death. It is possible his papers came to Harvard at the same time.

Nineteen picture postcards of Maine scenery were found in the Farlow Herbarium storeroom and added to this collection. Three file card boxes and a box containing 128 photographs of lichens were also identified as G.K. Merrill property and added to the collection.

Separated Materials

The collection included sheets of mounted mosses. The mosses were pulled from the papers and reviewed by the curatorial staff at the Harvard University Herbaria and added to the Herbaria Special Collections.

The sheets are labeled "Near Magnolia Station, Boston, Dec. 1901"; “Magnolia, New Station, March 13, 1903”; “Magnolia, April 5, 1906”; and two sheets labeled “Prospect Hill Park, Waltham, Mass. April 19, 1906.”

Merrill, G. K. (George Knox), 1864-1927. George Knox Merrill papers, 1888-1927: A Guide.
Botany Libraries, Farlow Reference Library of Cryptogamic Botany, Harvard University.
Description rules
Language of description

Repository Details

Part of the Botany Libraries, Farlow Reference Library of Cryptogamic Botany, Harvard University Repository

The Harvard University Herbaria houses five research libraries that are managed collectively as the Botany Libraries. The Farlow Reference Library of Cryptogamic Botany specializes in organisms that reproduce by spores, without flowers or seeds. The Archives of the Farlow Herbarium of Cryptogamic Botany houses unique resources including personal papers, institutional records, field notes and plant lists, expedition records, photographs, original artwork, and objects from faculty, curators, staff, and affiliates of the Farlow Herbarium.

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