Archives For Rare Book Collection

One of my favorite volumes in the Lenhardt Library’s rare book collection (although I love them all) is Autumnal Leaves by Ellen Robbins, published in 1868. Each of the 18 original watercolor paintings of autumn leaves looks so true-to-life that you want to reach out and pick a leaf off the page.

Sumac illustraion from Autumnal Leaves by Ellen Robbins.

Sumac from Autumnal Leaves by Ellen Robbins

This volume, specifically, the sumac watercolor, will be on display at the Philadelphia Museum of Art, in the American Watercolor in the Age of Homer and Sargent exhibition which runs March 1 to May 14, 2017. I’m delighted that an East Coast audience will have the opportunity to share this treasure.

Although we’ll miss the book while it’s away, through the Lenhardt Library’s digitization program, each page of the book is viewable in the Illinois Digital Archives repository.

You’ll find the sumac shown here on page 4 of the content list. View the full collection of prints here: http://www.idaillinois.org/cdm/compoundobject/collection/ncbglib01/id/3364/rec/2

Additionally, the sumac will be published in the American Watercolor in the Age of Homer and Sargent exhibition catalog.

A unique, one-of-a-kind book, this is the only copy listed with holdings in a library.

Bound with gold tooling and gilt edges, the volume is quite brittle and fragile. It has just been conserved by a professional book conservator to prepare it for exhibition.

Inside front cover, marbling, and bookplate for Ellen Robbins' Autumnal Leaves, published in 1868.

Inside front cover, marbling, and bookplate in Autumnal Leaves, published in 1868

Read more about Ellen Robbins and her extraordinary life and talent from retired curator of rare books Ed Valauskas in one of his Stories from the Rare Book Collection: Ellen Robbins, New England’s extraordinary watercolorist and floral artist.

Discover more about the current and rare books in the Lenhardt Library’s collection, which is open to the public. Members have borrowing privileges—become a member today!


©2016 Chicago Botanic Garden and my.chicagobotanic.org

The Victorians had it, and so do we, right here at the Lenhardt Library! A new rare book library exhibition has just opened as part of the Chicago Botanic Garden’s 2015 Orchid Show: Orchidelirium: Illustrated Orchidaceae.

ILLUSTRATION: Oncidium papilio

Oncidium papilio from A Century of Orchidaceous Plants Selected from Curtis’s Botanical Magazine: Consisting of a Hundred of the Most Worthy of Cultivations by William Jackson Hooker (1785–1865). London: Reeve and Benthem, 1851

No matter what you call it, the Victorians were mad for the sensational new plants arriving in England from every exotic location on Earth. The race was on, as botanical explorations took orchid collectors from one end of the globe to another in search of the most beautiful, rare, vibrantly colored, sensuously shaped orchids to be found. Orchid fever flared again and again, from the first time the Victorians saw a Cattleya labiata from South America (it bloomed after arriving as packing material in 1818), to the orchid display of the 1851 Great Exhibition at the Crystal Palace, designed by gardener, architect, and member of Parliament Sir Joseph Paxton (1803–65).

And if that wasn’t enough, books, articles, and botanical journals were also devoted to the orchid.

No photography? No Internet? No matter! Botanical illustrators captured orchids in all their thought-provoking beauty, one engraving and lithograph at a time. These trained illustrators caught the clinical and technical aspects of the plants with sheer precision. After Cattleya labiata, the next Victorian orchid-on-demand was Oncidium papilio, the butterfly orchid, which is one of the most dazzling illustrations in Orchidelirium: Illustrated Orchidaceae.

ILLUSTRATION: Vanilla planifolia.

Vanilla planifolia from Curtis’s Botanical Magazine: Comprising the Plants of the Royal Gardens of Kew by Joseph Dalton Hooker (1785–1865). London: L. Reeve & Co., 1891

This year we celebrate Vanilla planifolia, an edible orchid that produces the second most expensive spice in the world, next to saffron. An entire case is devoted to the vanilla orchid—look for Sir Joseph Dalton Hooker’s Curtis’s Botanical Magazine: Comprising the Plants of the Royal Gardens of Kew, London: L. Reeve & Co., 1891.

Chocolate and vanilla lovers: don’t miss the rare plate from Zippel and Bollmann’s Ausländische Culturpflanzen in Bunten Wand-Tafeln  (Foreign Cultivated Plants in Colored Wall Panels with Explanatory Text) that was used as a tool for teaching plant anatomy. Like many of our rare orchid books and journals, this fragile plate was in much need of conservation. It was conserved through a grant by the National Endowment for Humanities; the digitized plate can be accessed online at the Illinois Digitized Archives.

ILLUSTRATION: A match made in Heaven—vanilla and chocolate together!

A match made in Heaven! Vanilla and chocolate illustrated together in this plate from Ausländische Culturpflanzen in Bunten Wand-Tafeln by Hermann Zippel and Karl Bollmann. Braunschweig: Druck und Verlag von Fredrich und Sohn, 1880–81


Orchidelirium: Illustrated Orchidaceae is open daily until April 19, 2015, with extended weekend hours (10 a.m. to 4 p.m.) during The Orchid Show. 


©2015 Chicago Botanic Garden and my.chicagobotanic.org