Most of the correspondence is directed to Goode, with lesser amounts to True, Walcott, and Rathbun. Also, a small amount of correspondence is addressed to the Secretary
of the Smithsonian Institution, (Baird, 1878-1887; and Samuel P. Langley, 1887-1906) but is generally referred to the Assistant Secretary for response.
Much of the material is routine correspondence from the general public, and deals with offers to sell and collect specimens, the identification of artifacts and specimens,
museum administration, and requests for publications. Also evident is correspondence from contractors, publishing houses, and other firms conducting business transactions
with the United States National Museum. A large part of the international scientific community corresponded with the United States National Museum, and many letters concerning
19th century science and scientific affairs are contained in this collection. A large quantity of correspondence exists from museums, scientists, various scientific institutions,
and colleges and universities. Once again, much of the correspondence is routine, concerning exhibits, museum administration, requests for publications, and the exchange of
specimens. A voluminous amount of material regards United States National Museum publications. However, most of the correspondence concerns the technical production of the
manuscripts, rather than the content. Materials of special interest include correspondence from collectors and naturalists in the field, plans and accounts of scientific expeditions,
and data on significant accessions. A small amount of outgoing correspondence appears in the collection.
See Record Unit 112 for outgoing correspondence.
These records comprise the primary incoming correspondence of the officer in immediate charge of the United States National Museum. Beginning in 1850 with the appointment
of Spencer F. Baird, the primary responsibility of the Assistant Secretary was the direction of the United States National Museum. The Assistant Secretary also performed other
functions at the direction of the Secretary, and for various periods of time was in charge of publications, exchanges, and other areas. Incumbents included: (1) Spencer F.
Baird, 1850-1878; (2) George Brown Goode, 1880-1896, including the years 1880-1887 when he served as assistant director of the museum without the title of Assistant Secretary;
(3) Charles D. Walcott, Acting Assistant Secretary, 1897-1898; (4) Richard Rathbun, 1897-1918. After Goode's death in 1896, the business of the office was administered for
a time by the executive curator, Frederick William True.
Inquiries related to specimens should be directed to the appropriate museum registrar.