A Book Sale That Speaks Volumes

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 my.chicagobotanic.org

Dedicated to the one I love

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 my.chicagobotanic.org

The Garden Turns 40

Chicago Botanic Garden visitors know that the Garden celebrated its 40th anniversary this year. In looking back over the Garden’s growth since 1972, Garden staff, members, and visitors appreciated the remarkable changes that had taken place. The 40th anniversary website includes a timeline of significant events, historical photos, and opportunities for community members to share their experiences at the Garden.

Fewer Garden visitors are aware of the early years of the Chicago Horticultural Society, which dates back to 1890. At a free talk about The Garden Turns 40: Documenting our Past, Planning for the Future exhibition last week, I shared some of this history with those who attended.

In 1890, the goal of the Horticultural Society of Chicago was “the encouragement and promotion of the practice of horticulture in all its branches and the fostering of an increased love of it among the people.” This is in perfect alignment with the City of Chicago’s motto of Urbs in Horto (Latin for city in a garden). The Society shared this message through flower shows. Currently on exhibition in the Lenhardt Library are a poster from a 1900 flower show and a pamphlet from the 1914 flower show.  Seeing the original, primary source documents from the Garden’s early history is inspiring.

PHOTO: The Garden Turns 40 Exhibition

Also on display as a part of the Garden Turns 40 exhibition is an original record book from 1890–1904. It includes all types of documents including board minutes (many of which were hand scribed), by-laws, financial records, newspaper clippings, magazine articles, meeting notifications, and other materials that were of interest to Society members. This is the only original document from the early period in the archives of the Chicago Horticultural Society.

The record book is open to the first page, which has a list of officers. You can see some names crossed off and others added. This is because it was a working document. As board members changed each year, the names were updated on the list. One civic leader who was involved with the Horticultural Society of Chicago and listed as an officer is Andrew McNally (from the Rand McNally family of maps and atlases).

See these items and more at the Lenhardt Library.  Feel free to ask library staff questions. If you have any family stories about how this Garden got started please share them with us; we’d love to hear from you.

©2013 Chicago Botanic Garden and my.chicagobotanic.org

The Orchid Album Exhibition

The Orchid Album, written by Robert Warner and illustrated by John Nugent Fitch, set the standard for orchid description and illustration in the nineteenth century. Containing more than 500 stunning chromolithographic plates in 11 volumes, this work captured orchid varieties in their wild states before hybridization. The exhibition is on display in the Chicago Botanic Garden’s Lenhardt Library through May 9, 2010.

Harry Potter’s Herbology Class Taught with Rare Books

In the Harry Potter books and movies, Harry attends a class on herbology taught by Professor Sprout. Ed Valauskas uses the Garden’s rare book collection to teach a similar class on how people’s notions of plants changed during the Renaissance. Learn about the legend of the vegetable lamb of tartar and so much more! Ed teaches this class again at 10 a.m. on July 10, 2010. Visit register.chicagobotanic.org to register.

The Lenhardt Library’s rare book collection is available by appointment. Visit www.chicagobotanic.org/library for more information.