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The IOBA Standard is the journal of the Independent Online Booksellers Association and covers the book world, with a special focus on the online used, out-of-print, and collectible bookselling markets.


Ephemeral Assays: Herbarium Symposium

Weeding through countless fields of obsolete digital pics and scans on my hard drive, up popped a set of images from Herbarium and Plant Descriptions that reminded me what a pleasure it was to handle this item for awhile. I remember writing a fairly lengthy description for an eBay auction and starting it at $100. If the herbarium didn’t sell there I would have transplanted the work over to my regular book list, thus preserving more gleanings about the little girl who put it together, the gist of her efforts, and a written description of the volume that contained them. If it remained unsold to this day, I could have consulted her notes about each plant for this piece. But as things turned out it did sell on eBay in May of 2005 for $113.61, with two bids. The only other information I still have is the auction title, “PROVIDENCE RHODE ISLAND RI HERBARIUM 1888 MAGNALL,” and the name and address of the buyer.

“Magnall” refers to Florence A. Magnall of Room 11, Providence High School, as a notation on the inside front cover informs us. She was the earnest student who wandered through field and forest on the margins of Providence searching out these specimens for pressing and preservation. I do recall that her notes were charming, and this was obviously for class work rather than personal interest. My own little girl is a big plant science major now, and she collated this for me, as one or two leaves (an appropriate term) were missing. And speaking of the scythe of time, what can be more ephemeral than one plant in trillions that is still with us over a century later?

Herbarium and Plant Descriptions

Rather than wax on about this subject, I thought it would be more interesting to look at the descriptions of every used copy of Herbarium and Plant Descriptions currently listed for sale on Abebooks.

Edward T. Nelson is the author or designer, and there seem to be two editions. They are listed here in descending order of price, which averages out to around $100 when you throw out the highest and the lowest. (Maybe this article will result in some sales!) Preserved images from my aforementioned copy are interspersed.

Pressed Plants

Pressed Plants

Pressed Plants

-Allyn & Bacon: Boston 1895. 10 x 7.5″, portfolio, boards, 8pp to text + 48 double pages, covers well worn, rubbed & soiled, waterstained, corners bumped & worn & fraying, only side tie remains, waterstained, interior paper spine covering detached, torn, creased & missing pieces, smudging, light soiling/creasing, edge tears, 38 of the pages filled in with specimens & notes: the first 24 well detailed, rest minimal, some sm pieces coming loose. Margaret Hefferhan (or Hefferon?) of East Stroudsburg, PA has numbered the blank sides up to 39 (with 37 absent). Wild geranium, jack in the pulpit, buttercup, daisy, veronica, violet. May 4 to June 30, 1901.

Pressed Plants
Pressed Plants

Pressed Plants

-Allyn and Bacon, Boston, 1895. Book Condition: Good. Octavo 7″ x 9″. A loose leaf field workbook with a cover in half cloth over printed boards. This one has been filled with pressed specimens contained throughout and described with the notes dated individually during the year 1903. The cover contains several prior owners’ names and stamps inside and out.

Hey, I took one last zoomed look at Florence A. Magnall’s work, and I’d forgotten that she recorded verses on the opposite page that relate to each sample. Entries about when and where she found the plants were probably up front with the index or something. Was this part of the assignment, or creative padding? Here is a lovely snippet borrowed from Erasmus Darwin, opposite the pressed anemone.

All wan and shivering in the leafless glade The sad anemone reclined her head; Grief on her cheeks had paled the roseate hue, And her sweet eye-lids dropp’d with pearly dew.

We’re glad you left us these frond memories, dear Florence Because the same pale recline happened to you.

Shawn Purcell operates Balopticon Books & Ephemera and can be contacted at




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