Retirement can be a significant period in modern academic careers, and emeritus professors have shaped the fates of collections in departments and disciplines. This is evidenced by reconstructing the meanings of Alfred Benninghoff's remarkable memoir of Ferdinand Count Spee, sometime director of the anatomical institute in the University of Kiel. Thematizing the ‘tragedy’ of the emeritus, Benninghoff's 1944 article recalls his predecessor's possessive interactions with his collections as these approached assorted endings. With nostalgia and humour, it places the old aristocrat physically, intellectually and emotionally in a building that bombing would soon destroy. Benninghoff's Spee retained control over the microscope slides with which he engaged colleagues in conversations about research in embryology and physiological anatomy. He lost authority over the teaching charts and wet preparations, but still said a long farewell to these things; he tried, like a conductor alone after a concert, to recapture an experience he had once shared. The elegy is interpreted as apologetic about anatomy under National Socialism, and as offering a model of collegiality. It illustrates how collections have mediated relations between scientific generations at the end of a career.