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A friend/colleague recently gifted me with a new Chicago Botanic Garden office mug—so appropriate since she knows I don’t go anywhere without a cup of tea. What she didn’t know was that I’d soon be digging into the Rare Book Collection at the Lenhardt Library because of it.

PHOTO: Delicate orchids decorate a white china tea mug.

My new office mug…tells quite a story.

View all the items in the Orchid Show collection.

On the cup is a lovely graphic design of orchids—a topic that’s very top of mind here because of the Orchid Show, now in its final week at the Garden (click here for tickets). Fueled by a new-found love of the family Orchidaceae (a classic case of orchid fever), I took a closer look at the design. Was that a slipper orchid? Which one? What was the story behind it?

Turns out the design stemmed from one of the Garden’s great treasures: our Rare Book Collection. At the Lenhardt Library, director Leora Siegel related the history and details.

The drawings are by Henry Lambert, from a portfolio of 20 plates published as Les Orchidées et les Plantes de Serre; Études. The plates are chromotypogravures (a nineteenth-century French style of photolithography); Paris bookseller Armand Guérinet compiled and issued them in portfolio form, rather than as a book, between 1900 and 1910.

PHOTO: Illustrated orchids from Les Orchidees par Henry Lambert.

The portfolio’s title translates as Orchids and Plants of the Greenhouse; Studies.

The portfolio entered the Garden’s collection in 2002 as part of the purchase of the Massachusetts Horticultural Society’s rare books. In need of TLC—“bumpy, bruised, and dirty,” according to Siegel—the loose prints were sent for conservation to the prestigious Northeast Document Conservation Center (NEDCC) in 2011. (Read more about the process in this recent blog.)

Looking lively upon their return in 2012, the plates then became contenders for an interesting project: the development of the Garden’s own line of merchandise to complement the Orchid Show. Of ten finalists, Plate 4 from the portfolio won out, as seen here in the Illinois Digital Archives (page 8).

Two orchids share the plate. The daintier, spotted, clustered flower is identified as Saccolabium giganteum (later re-classified Rhynchostylis gigantea), an orchid that’s native to Myanmar (formerly Burma). In 1893, its habitat was described as “where the hot winds blow and where the thermometer in the dry season is about 45 degrees Celsius (112 degrees Fahrenheit) in the shade….” (Veitch, A Manual of Orchidaceous Plants…).  The American Orchid Society has a nice write-up about this species and its varieties here.

The slipper orchid Cypripedium schrodere is listed in the 1906 Hortus Veitchii as Cypripedium (Selenipedium) x Schröderae, with the note, “It is one of the finest of the Selenipedia hybrids, and was named as a compliment to the late Baroness Schröder of the Dell, Egham.” Nomenclature for lady slipper orchids gets complicated; the American Orchid Society goes deep into the history here.

PHOTO: Montage of orchid-related products in the Garden Shop.

A Mother’s Day (May 11) gift idea: an exclusive Orchid Show item, plus the promise of a trip to the Orchid Show in 2015!

Next, a graphic design specialist worked with the orchid illustrations, using a bit of creative license to fit the prints to the shape of the products: the cut of a coaster, the drape of a tote, the curve of a coffee cup. From that work came the Garden’s exclusive collection—it’s only available online and at the Garden Shop!—of items that are practical, meant for everyday use, yet connected to a deeper story.

Good design transcends time. It’s quiet, yet thought-provoking. Now that I know the story behind the orchid design, I look at my friend’s gift differently.

Come to think of it, it’s time for a nice cup of tea…

©2014 Chicago Botanic Garden and

As I compiled the latest rare book exhibition at the Lenhardt Library, I got to know several fascinating women from the past. They were among the first women to be recognized as botanical illustrators, and their work opened doors for generations of women to follow. The exhibition, Feminine Perspective: Women Artists and Illustrators, running through November 10, traces the development of women in the field of botanical illustration from at-home hobbyists to professional artists who were published under their own names, with their works represented in the respectable journals, displayed in galleries and art shows, and accepted professionally.

ILLUSTRATION: Rigid-leaved Gorteria (Gorteria rigens).

Rigid-leaved gorteria (Gorteria rigens) by Henrietta Moriarty from the Rare Book Collection of the Lenhardt Library of the Chicago Botanic Garden.

For Henrietta Moriarty who published in 1807 London, botany was a moral dilemma. The renowned botanical theory of plant classification by Carl Linnaeus discusses plant reproduction and reproductive plant parts; the material was decidedly not appropriate for a proper Victorian woman and outright dangerous for a young girl. Moriarty solves this moral dilemma by writing and illustrating her own book, Fifty Plates of Green-House Plants, Drawn and Coloured from Nature, with concise descriptions and rules for their culture. Intended for the improvement of young ladies in the art of drawing, second edition, 1807.

Her 50 botanical illustrations are each hand-colored and focused on the beautiful flower with a botanical description but lack any discussion or representation of plant reproductive processes. Moriarty, a widow with children, needed to support her family and found writing and illustrating a botany book to be productive. She presold 180 copies by subscription. View each page of this lovely book online at the Illinois Digital Archives.

ILLUSTRATION: Italian pimpernel (Anagallis monellis).

Italian pimpernel (Anagallis monellis) by Henrietta Moriarty from the Rare Book Collection of the Lenhardt Library of the Chicago Botanic Garden

To hear more stories on the personal circumstances and the success of women in botanical illustration, come into the library! We’d love to share more about these illustrators and more:

Henriette Antoinette Vincent (1786 – 1830)
Ellen Robbins (1828 – 1905)
Lady Harriet Ann Thiselton-Dyer (1854 – 1945)

For a schedule of upcoming exhibitions and library talks, click here.

©2013 Chicago Botanic Garden and

PHOTO: hand-colored copper engraving.

Hand-colored copper engraving from Metamorphosis Insectorum Surinamensium

The Lenhardt Library hosts remarkable exhibitions throughout the year. These exhibitions highlight parts of the collection that visitors might not otherwise see, and the exhibitions are among the Garden’s best-loved secrets! Stacy Stoldt, public services manager of the Lenhardt Library, curated the current exhibition, Butterflies in Print: Lepidoptera Defined, open now through August 18.

By far, the highlight is Metamorphosis Insectorum Surinamensium (Metamorphosis of Surinam Insects) by Maria Sibylla Merian, published in 1719 in Amsterdam. This volume is on loan from the Owen H. Wangensteen Historical Library of Biology and Medicine, Bio-Medical Libraries, University of Minnesota.


PHOTO: illustration by Maria Sibylla Merian

An illustrated panel by Maria Sibylla Merian

See Butterflies in Print: Lepidoptera Defined at the Lenhardt Library through August 18, 2013.

PHOTO: Anna Maria Sibylla Merian from the 500 DM Banknote.

Maria Sibylla Merian, from the 500 deutsche mark bank note

Maria Sibylla Merian (1647–1717) was a fascinating woman, artist, and naturalist. While she was known for her watercolor paintings of flowers and insects, embroidery patterns, and copper engravings, she is also credited with being the founder of German entomology. At age 13 she began studying the metamorphoses of silkworms and butterflies. After five years of intense study, Merian found that adult insects actually lay eggs, disproving the earlier theory that caterpillars were born out of spontaneous generation.

Divorced in 1699, she traveled with her daughter Dorothea to the Dutch Colony of Surinam (now known as Suriname) that same year to continue her entomological work and art. Her spectacular artistic abilities and scientifically accurate representations make Metamorphosis of Surinam Insects a monumental tome. Carl Linnaeus consulted Merian’s illustrations in the course of his taxonomic work in the eighteenth century. Nine species of butterflies, six plants, and two beetles were named for her. She is still a well-known historic figure today and is represented on the 500 deutsche mark bank note and a German postage stamp; she was the subject of Google’s Doodle of the day on April 2, 2013, celebrating her 366th birthday.

Butterflies in Print was designed to complement the Butterflies & Blooms exhibition that showcases native and tropical live butterflies; Maria may have even seen some of these species in Suriname 300 years ago!

Want to know more about our rare books? Read Stories from the Rare Book Collection, monthly highlights from our collection written by curator Ed Valauskas.

©2013 Chicago Botanic Garden and

In gardening, small things often have larger meaning. A single flower, pressed, becomes a memory for life; an acorn planted on a whim can grow to shade a city block. Such is the case with the humble rolling cart marked “Book Sale” parked just inside the Lenhardt Library’s doors. It’s connected to a much larger story.

The cart rolls out as summer (and visitor attendance) ramps up; this year’s rollout date is June 7. All of the books on it are garden-related, and most are donations brought in by folks like you. Other books are deaccessioned from the library’s stacks. Prices for both hardbound books and paperbacks are modest, and the cart is replenished throughout the season. In short, what gardener could resist?

Last year, more than 500 books were sold.

This is where the story grows. With last year’s proceeds, the library then purchased a rare book (actually a two-volume set): Flora Boreali-Americana by André Michaux.

Have any gardening books you’d like to donate? Call the library at (847) 835-8201 to arrange a drop-off (garden topics only, please). A librarian will cross-check the index to see if they’re needed in the collection; if not, they’ll be added to the sale.

Last year's book sale generated enough funds to purchase this 1830 edition of Flora boreali-americana

Last year’s book sale generated enough funds to purchase this 1820 edition of Flora Boreali-Americana.

What a story behind this book! Ed Valauskas, our rare book curator, tells the tale:

In 1785, France’s King Louis XVI sent André Michaux (1746–1802) to the United States to collect plants for use as building materials, for medicine, and in agriculture. (France had used up its natural wealth of forests.) With his then 15-year-old son Francois André (1770–1855), gardener Pierre Saunier, and domestic Jacques Renaud, Michaux spent the next 11 years shipping boxes of plants back to France. This was thanks to collecting trips throughout the new country, plus experiments at two gardens—one established in New Jersey, on 11 acres opposite New York City, and another on more than 110 acres in Charleston, South Carolina.

This work is one of two significant publications resulting from Michaux’s efforts in the United States at the end of the eighteenth century. Initiated by André, Flora Boreali-Americana (Flora of North America) was largely completed by his son.

PHOTO: an illustration panel.

The black-and-white illustrations are by one of the world’s foremost botanical illustrators, Pierre-Joseph Redouté.

Significantly, this 1820 edition is simply a reissue of the original 1803 edition. The only change is a different title page. This edition is scarcer than the original 1803 release. The copper engraving illustrations in this publication were executed by the most important illustrator of his time, Pierre-Joseph Redouté (1759-1840).

Leora Siegel, director of the Lenhardt Library, purchased the set for the Garden’s rare book collection in September 2012. It’s a beauty, with original leather bindings and marbleized paper endsheets. And those incredible Redouté illustrations! Like most of the books in our rare book collection, it can be viewed at the library by appointment.

And so it is that a small thing (a used gardening book) has larger meaning:

  • You, the gardener, get to recycle books you’ve known and loved into the hands of other gardeners.
  • Garden and Lenhardt Library visitors get the chance to learn about gardening while purchasing a book for a song.
  • The library gets to build its rare book collection simply by providing the venue for the exchange.

What does Siegel have her eye on this year? American Medical Botany: Being a Collection of the Native Medicinal Plants of the United States, by Jacob Bigelow, published in 1817.

I’m heading over to the bookshelves now and starting a donation stack!

©2013 Chicago Botanic Garden and

Dedicated to the one I love

Karen Z. —  March 2, 2013 — 2 Comments

Early last summer I noticed a small row of books, bracketed by nice-looking bookends, on a shelf behind the front desk at the Lenhardt Library. “Those are our dedication books,” explained Leora Siegel, library director. “If visitors or members would like to pay tribute to someone special or mark a special occasion, they can dedicate a book in the library in the same way that they might dedicate a tree or a bench in other Garden areas.”

Click here to find out more about a book dedication or other tribute gift today.

Later that summer, my mom passed away. As my thoughts eventually turned to a memorial or tribute, I remembered Leora’s words, and asked her to walk me through the process of book dedication. Turns out there are three “levels” to consider for dedication. Here’s how they work:

Level 1: General Book Dedication

Each year, approximately 100 newly-purchased books are set aside specifically for the tribute program—that’s the bookended group you’ll find on the shelf. Topics are garden-related, of course, but very diverse—and if you don’t see the topic you’re looking for, the staff will work with you to find the right book.

  • Ask a librarian to share the list of current selections, and page through the books you’re interested in.
  • Choose a title, then fill out a book dedication form, including copy for the bookplate.
  • After the bookplate is printed and mounted, you’ll be notified that it has taken its place on the library shelves.
  • The fee ($50 to $150, depending on the book) helps to fund the tribute program.

Your dedication remains there for the life of the book on our library shelves.

Level 2: Conservation Book Dedication

By dedicating a book in need of conservation—the TLC that mends, rebuilds, and stabilizes it—you not only pay special personal tribute, but also save a badly damaged book for future generations to enjoy. Quite a tribute, indeed.

  • Review the library’s list of books in need of conservation—a truly interesting, unusual, and long list (lots of books need TLC).
  • Make an appointment to view your choice in the Rare Book Room at the library.
  • Discuss the conservation required and appropriate fee (generally $500 to $1,000).
  • Provide text for the special conservation tribute bookplate.

Naturally, every conservation book requires a labor of love—a typical restoration time frame is three months. After conservation work is completed, you’re invited to view the restored volume before it takes its place in the Rare Book area.

Level 3: Rare Book Dedication

Although the cover of the book is plain, inside are Intricate watercolors of 57 different orchid varieties.

Although the cover of the book is plain, inside are intricate watercolors of 57 different orchid varieties.

When I decided to look into book dedication, I had two ideas in mind: first, that a book from 1933 would be a good choice, as that was the year of my mother’s birth; and, second, that a book about orchids would also work, as orchids were my mother’s favorite flowers.

Leora searched the rare book lists and, incredibly, came up with a volume that fit both ideas: Native British Orchidaceae, a beautifully-illustrated monograph on orchids that was published in 1933 (at right). The book was originally in the Chicago Horticultural Society library–that’s our parent organization.

The process for a rare book dedication is akin to a conservation book (although without the repair/wait time). Naturally, the fee for a rare book dedication is greater, depending on the rarity of the book (fees available upon discussion and request).

Ultimately, I chose to honor my mother with a dedication in this orchid book, knowing that she would have loved it, and that my donation would go toward other restorations and rare book purchases.

The bookplate for both conservation and rare books is simple and elegant.

The bookplate for both conservation and rare books is simple and elegant.

And I’ve come to realize that a library is so much more than a place of communal knowledge—it is also a place of communal memory. Now, every time that I open a library book, I peek at the endpages first to see if there’s a bookplate. Who will this book be dedicated to? Perhaps it’s from a group that wants to honor a leader or friend. Or it’s to celebrate a memorable trip, or a fantastic garden, or a new baby born into the family. Or maybe it’s to a mom who loved orchids.

©2013 Chicago Botanic Garden and