In this series of posts, I’m exploring the different purposes for which herbaria are produced. In the last post, I discussed a manuscript that was clearly a presentation piece, a one-of-a-kind masterpiece. Now I want to examine a few published books that contain specimens. These are often called exsiccatae, and in many cases, they were produced by plant collectors as a way to sell the specimens they had painstakingly gathered in the field. Kathryn Mauz (2018) has recently published a chronicle of Cyrus Pringle’s collecting in the Southwest US and in Mexico in the 1880s, and one of the products of that work was series of exsiccatae. However here I want to look at several other types of such publications.
I went to the Dumbarton Oaks Research Library in Washington, DC expressly to see a 1721 guide to medicinal plants written by Johannis de Buchwald, a botanist, physician to the Danish king, and director of the Copenhagen botanical garden. The book was originally published in Latin and then translated into German by his son. A long with a description of the plant and its uses, the Latin name for each is given in one column, followed by columns for common names in Danish, German, and French. There is space left after this information for a specimen, though not all entries include one. Both editions were sold with or without plant material attached. The copy of the translation I saw had specimens, usually rather small because the book itself is only about 7.5 inches high. The entire volume has been digitized and is available on the Dumbarton Oaks website along with many other treasures, including a number of books on botanical illustration and information on their Plant Humanities Initiative in collaboration with JSTOR.While I had examined the book on the web, I still wanted to take a look at it, to get a sense of its physical presence. Its thickness made it difficult to open [see image above], so I didn’t want to examine every page, but seeing it made me realize just how well-preserved the specimens are. In most cases they are still tightly attached to the paper, with only a few missing or damaged. This volume represents an interesting approach to illustrating a botany book: letting the plants speak for themselves, perhaps as a way to encourage others to begin their own reference collections. It can be seen as a forerunner of late 19th-century publications where plants are described and blank pages are left for users to attach examples of species they collected.
Another exsiccatae at Dumbarton Oaks also provided information on the specimens included, but it is a very different kind of book, published in 1790 by George Swayne, identified on the title page as Vicar of Pucklechurch (yes, that is the name of a place in Britain). In addition he was a member of the Bath Agricultural Society. Groups like this were common at that time in Britain and were organized to encourage improvements in farming methods. This book is entitled: Gramina Pascua or A Collection of Specimens of the Common Pasture Grasses. The plants are arranged in the order of flowering time and are accompanied by their Latin and common English names as well as descriptions that cite agrarian literature of the day. The book’s dimensions are just the opposite of the Buchwald. It is almost 19 inches high and has six pages of specimens, with the accompanying text for each specimen limited to a third or half a page. The paper is of high quality as are the specimens that seem to have been very carefully selected [see image below]. The stems are straight and the flowers complete, obviously picked at just the right moment. This was a book for wealthy landowners such as the Duke of Gordon who is mentioned on the title page as having Vicar Swayne as his chaplain.
A different type of published exsiccatae is in another superb botanical collection, the Oak Spring Foundation Library which holds the volume I discussed in the last post. Carl Jeppe’s Herbarium Vivum is a 1826 catalog of 44 grasses available from his nursery. The Latin name of the species was followed by names in German, French, and English with accompanying descriptions of the grass. At the end he added specimens of six more species, noxious weeds that were not for sale, but included as a guide for his customers in what to eliminate from their land. Jeppe apparently wanted to advertise not only his plants but his clients as well: he lists all those who subscribed to the catalogue. It came in three formats: a smaller version without specimens, a larger one with specimens, and what could be called the deluxe edition that included jars of seeds for 40 species. Jepp notes that his royal highness the Grand Duke of Mecklenburg, not surprisingly first on the list, subscribed to all three editions as did a bookseller in the town of Rostock, home to the nursery. Another bookstore bought six copies of the catalogue with specimens, suggesting that such herbaria were considered marketable books. Most of the other individuals listed just bought a single copy of one format. This is a neat little volume, about 12 inches tall, so it would be useable as a reference work; Jeppe published a second edition nine years later, suggesting his business had flourished. To me, it indicates yet one more function of herbaria in the past, and particularly in the 19th century where these collections reached the height of their popularity.
Jeppe, C. (1826). Herbarium Vivum. Rostock, Germany: Kaufmann and Saamenhandler.
Mauz, K. (2018). C.G. Pringle: Botanist, Traveler, and the “Flora of the Pacific Slope” (1881-1884). New York, NY: New York Botanical Garden Press.
Swayne, G. (1790). Gramina Pascua. Bristol, UK: Bonner.
I would like to thank Anatole Tchikine and Taylor Johnson of the Rare Book Room at the Dumbarton Oaks Research Library for all their help during my visit. In addition to the Buchwald book that I requested, they also showed me other wonderful material including the Swayne book.