A sumptuous, mid-19th century seaweed album, unusually finely bound and containing eighty specimens.
Most seaweed albums we have handled have been simply bound in skiver or paper-covered blank books. This example, however, is in green morocco with elaborate gold tooling and attractive, gilt patterned endpapers. The specimens are among the most beautiful we have seen, delicate, artfully arranged, and retaining their colour and texture, and they represent an unusually varied selection of species. Each one is individually mounted on white card, and hand-labelled with its scientific name and the location where it was collected. Most were found in Cumbria, at Roa and Piel Islands off the Furness Peninsula, as well as the mainland beaches of Roose, Baycliff, Aldingham, Bardsea, Saltcoats, Rampside, Flimby, and Maryport. Also represented are nearby Ayrshire in southwest Scotland, as well as more exotic locales: the Isle of Mann, Gibralter, Tangier, and one location given only as “Mediterranean”.
Seaweed collecting was, together with other types of natural history collecting and scrapbooking, a popular occupation for young women during the Victorian era. Inspired in part by the Romantic Movement's reverence for nature, it was considered a wholesome way for women to engage with the outdoors, and it also functioned as a social accomplishment indicating one's suitability for marriage and family life.
Nature was at the centre of the Victorian domestic imagination, and "one reason for the appearance of various representations of the natural world in the parlour. was a continuing apprehension of the world as beautiful - or at least a continuing prestige attached to those who were sensible of that beauty" (Logan, The Victorian Parlour, p. 142). Nature was inextricably tied to religious and moral edification, with amateur collectors "drawn to the study of the natural world as a culturally approved form of recreation. seen as aesthetically pleasing, educational and morally beneficial, since [nature] lifted the mind to a new appreciation of God" (Logan, p. 144).
"Queen Victoria as a young girl made a seaweed album; later in the century, materials for such an album could be purchased at seaside shops like that of Mary Wyatt in Torquay, who specialized in natural souvenirs" (Logan, p. 124). "In the late 19th Century, the books Sea Mosses: A Collector's Guide and An Introduction to the Study of Marine Algae by A. B. Hervey outlined how to properly press and mount various types of algae. The tools needed are a pair of pliers, scissors, a stick with a needle in the end, at least two 'wash bowls,' botanist's 'drying paper,' or some kind of blotting paper, cotton cloth, and finally cards to mount the specimens on. Pliers and scissors are used to handle the specimens and cut away any extraneous, 'superfluous' branches, and the needle is used like a pencil so that the plant can be moved around with relative ease to show the finer details. The drying and pressing process consists of layering the mounting papers with various types of blotting cloth and additional paper topped with weights; in this case the weights suggested by Hervey are 50 lbs. worth of rocks found by the seashore. Most seaweed in this case will adhere to the mounting board via gelatinous materials emitted from the plant itself" (Harvard University, Mary A. Robinson online exhibition).
United Kingdom, mid-19th century.
Tall quarto (288 x 227 mm). Contemporary green morocco rebacked with the original spine laid down, spine elaborately gilt in compartments, elaborate gilt rules and rolls to boards, cornerpieces, gilt turn-ins and patterned endpapers, all edges gilt. 24 leaves of green paper with 80 specimens mounted on white paper inserts of various sizes, each labelled with scientific name and location in manuscript, tissue guards. Rebacked as noted above, small repairs to corners, binding rubbed and scuffed, occasional light spots and toning of contents, one specimen lacking. Very good condition.
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