Many specimens at the Academy were collected and described by the eminent scientists of the time. Much of the personal collection of the great 19th century herpetologist, Edward D. Cope is preserved here, (over 3000 specimens). This material was the basis for several major works on snake classification.

Other important early collections deposited at the Academy include those of Jacob Green; specimens from Africa obtained by S.M.E. Goheen, H.A. Ford and P.B. DuChaillu and reported upon by Edward Hallowell, S.W. Woodhouse and A.L. Heermann; and specimens utilized by John Holbrook, Thomas Say, John LeConte, Charles Girard and Richard Harlan. Also present is the Charles Bonaparte collection, purchased and presented to the Academy by Dr. T.B. Wilson.

Additonal significant collections include those received from A. Donaldson-Smith (Africa), S.N. Rhoads (US, Ecuador), J.A.G. Rehn (US), H.A. Pilsbry (US), H.W. Fowler (US), J.A. Spotila, (US), J.T. Sackett (West Indies), the Carpenter African Expediton, R.M. DeScauensee (Thailand), E.R. Dunn (US, Central America), Kjell von Sneidern (Colombia) and the Harrison-Hiller Expediton (Borneo).