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 DescriptionsSimply put, herbariums are special albums used to preserve and describe mounted plant specimens. Booksellers come across older ones from time to time, and there is a limited market for them that is probably split between those who collect such items, and those who collect anything unique or in book form from particular areas of the world. If the herbarium was well realized to begin with and has come down through the years in good condition, they can be quite beautiful and interesting. I like to think that they may be valuable some day, in terms of scientific research, but who knows? On the commercial side, ancient herbariums from exotic places have probably changed hands for extremely high prices. The specimen I found was fairly common.

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-42 pressed plant specimens, preserved in very good state, each with a printed template completed in ink ms., 9pp. of printed text including instructions on how to press and mount the specimens, one leaf a bit frayed (nothing missing), the leaves loose in a small 4to. portfolio, quarter green leather over printed boards, slightly stained, two of the three ties present, a nice copy of a rare type of publication, Boston, MA, Allyn and Bacon, 1889 The specimens were almost all collected in Poultney, Vermont in 1892 (“Its beauty, flora and wildlife for centuries has provided inspiration ” as their website has it.) though there are stray plants from the neighbouring communities of Hampton NY and Wells VT. RLIN has some half a dozen copies (some are the second edition of 1895) one of which has 48 double leaves for pressed plants; but they are all blank.

Pressed Plants-Second edition, 24 pressed plant specimens, preserved in very good state, each with a printed template completed in ink ms., 8pp. of printed text including instructions on how to press and mount the specimens, the leaves loose in a small 4to. portfolio, quarter green cloth over printed boards, the three ties present, a nice copy , Boston, MA, Allyn and Bacon, 1895 The specimens were presumably all collected in Crystall Falls, Michigan in Spring 1900 by Ada A. Harding. Miss Harding has not always filled in the locality; but where she has it is always Crystall Falls; habitats include bank of stream, marsh and dry woodland; how much has the flora changed, one wonders? As the Crystall Falls website makes clear this is still a very rural area with much forest; deer feeding is prohibited in city limits.

Pressed Plants-Boston: Allyn and Bacon, 1895, Boston, 1895. Portfolio. Book Condition: Very Good. Second Edition. 8vo – over 7¾” – 9¾” tall. 8 leaves of text, 50 plant specimens with manuscript descriptions collected in the vicinity of Lexington, Michigan, in 1896, moderate wear and soiling, lacks original string ties.

-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-Boston: Allyn and Bacon, 1895. Second edition. c.1888. Winged portfolio, Printed green paper boards over quarter green pebble leather. Top, fore and bottom edges on both boards have grommets with original three woven laces with metal tips. Cr.4to (roughly). pp. 20-4 page sections with specimens, 6-4 page sections blank. Good. Nelson, a Biology Professor at Ohio Wesleyan University, designed the portfolio for specimen collection for his courses. How to collect, press and mount with a key to plant descriptions and a blank index on page 8. There followed the format for the ‘folds’ which consisted of a folded sheet with print listing plant description key words, the remaining 3 pages where blank and housed the pressed, dried and mounted specimen. The 1895 edition had the 8 page description and 43 folds. The 1888 edition had the 8 page description and 51 folds. The binding expanded for the loose completed folds. This offering has edge wear to portfolio paper with several dark stains, is missing the 8 page text and 17 of the blank folds. Twenty of the sheets have Pressed Plantsminimal and sometimes no information filled in but were collected from May 16 to June 1, 1919. The specimens have foxed the inside of the folded sheets and most are loose. Ones actually named are: Indian Tobacco, wild oat, wild strawberry, Jack-in-the-pulpit. I do not think this person passed the course, but maybe she found a good Methodist husband instead.


-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 http://www.balopticon.com.

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