Montague Tallant

Tallant's collection of pottery, metal, beads, shells and stone tools became the founding collection of the South Florida Museum.

  • Born March 7, 1892
    in Christiansburg, VA
  • Died April 3, 1962
    in Bradenton, FL
  • Moved to the town of Manatee
    in Manatee County, 1909
  • Wife, Louise Wilder Tallant

Montague Tallant’s passion for collecting began at an early age and lasted a lifetime. By 1909 when he moved with his family to Florida from Virginia, the youth had accumulated more than 2500 items. At the time of this death, Tallant had explored over 169 sites in Florida and amassed one of the world’s most comprehensive private collections of Florida’s First People artifacts.

Most of Tallant’s collecting was done in the 1930s. During this time, he interacted with many prominent archaeologists including John Goggin and J. Clarence Simpson. Matthew W. Stirling, Chief of Bureau of American Ethnology at the Smithsonian took great interest in Tallant’s work. Stirling arranged for analysis of Tallant’s gold and silver artifacts, taught him pottery reconstruction techniques and visited Tallant on digs in Florida.

Just before World War II began in 1941, Tallant opened a private museum, the Manatee County Museum, which closed during the war because of low attendance. During the post-war period, Tallant was approached by several out-of-town buyers who were interested in his collection. A civic effort in Bradenton championed by the Chamber of Commerce, raised money to purchase the collection and its artifacts of pottery, metal, bead, shell and stone tools, became the founding collection of the South Florida Museum in 1946.

Following his death, his widow sold the remaining collection to the Museum of the American Indian in New York City. It is now part of the National Museum of the American Indian, Smithsonian Institute in Washington, D.C.

Tallant Collection

Model A, Cacique | The Montague Tallant Collection - Florida's First Peoples Artifacts

The Montague Tallant Collection of Florida’s First Peoples Artifacts

Most of Montague Tallant’s collecting was done in the 1930s. It is estimated that his collection totaled in excess of 5,000 artifacts. Tallant employed a variety of methods in his archaeological work. Metal detectors, shaker screens and even his Model A Ford named “Cacique” became tremendous aids in the field.



The pottery in the Montague Tallant Collection comes from the lost tribes of Florida and dates from A.D. 300 to the 1700's

Native American pottery styles and methods help us define cultures and understand lifestyles of our early peoples. Florida pottery dates back to 4,000 years ago. Montague Tallant’s pottery collection dates from A.D. 300 until the 1700s. These pots help us tell the story of Florida’s lost tribes.



Florida’s native peoples found a new outlet for their artistry with the discovery of metal as a resource. Metal was widely and heavily traded among the native groups. The wide variety of silver, gold, bronze and tumbaga (an alloy of gold and copper) represented in the Tallant collection indicate heavy trading among the Florida natives.

Anthropomorphic effigy pendant, gold (1946.026.A6952)

Anthropomorphic effigy pendant, gold

St. Marks, Jefferson County
Gold and silver artifacts came from Latin America via Spanish contact, though not necessarily by direct trade. Iron, bronze and brass came from Europe. This gold pendant, sometimes called the crocodile god effigy is a good example of South American artistry.

Ornament, silver with gold eye (1946.026.6184)

Ornament, silver with gold eye

Bee Branch Mound, Glades County, FL
This silver hair ornament is one of three in the Tallant Collection. Only eight of these rare hair ornaments depicting the woodpecker are known to exist. All were found in Florida


Glass Beads were often used as trade with Native Americans

Cut Crystal beads, late 1600

For archeologists, glass beads are much more than beautiful pieces of jewelry. They are clear and distinct links to previous and specific time periods. Glass beads were highly valued by Native Americans, as they had no glass-making technology. Spanish explorers recognized this and used them to trade or as gifts, sometimes in exchange for gold and other precious metals. The beads in the Tallant Collection date from the early 16th century.