John Fisk Allen’s Victoria Regia, or the Great Water Lily of America, with illustrations by William Sharp, was published by Dutton & Wentworth in Boston in 1854.

This large folio volume is composed of a series of chromolithographs, a printing technique in which a colored image is created by using a series of  lithographic stones, each applying a different color ink. An English emigrant to America, William Sharp had practiced the new art of chromolithography as early as 1841.

For Allen’s publication, Sharp used four separately inked stones for each of the six images of the water lily—which had been grown by Allen in his own garden. Displaying the flower’s development from bud to full bloom, the images are considered some of the finest chromolithographs ever produced in America.


Botanical Books: Victoria Regia

Amazon water lilies were all the rage among Victorians when the Great Exhibition opened in London’s Crystal Place in 1851. Named Victoria regia by an English botanist in honor of the Queen of England, its name was later changed to Victoria amazonica.

Floral Belles, Cover to Cover

Clarissa Badger was an illustrator with an intuitive feeling for the decorative as shown in her floral paintings in Floral Belles. Each illustration is accompanied with poetry about different plant species.

Floral Belles from the Green-House and Garden by Clarissa W. Munger Badger, published in New York by Charles Scribner & Company in 1867, is an exceptional example of a folio flower book produced in America.

The plates, colored by Badger over very light lithographed lines and without captions, give them the appearance of original watercolors. The plates were executed in an era when chromolithographs were fast replacing such skilled hand work. A contemporary advertisement for the work by the publisher describes it as follows: “The volume is a stately folio elegantly bound in Turkey morocco, and the paper and presswork, and the whole mechanical execution are perfect. There are sixteen pictures in the volume—favorite or representative flowers—and each of them is painted from nature by the patient and laborious hand of the artist, and with such exquisite care and taste, and delicacy of touch as to vie with nature herself.” A review of the work in a December 1866 issue of Hours at Home proclaimed the work “without exaggeration, a most unique, highly artistic and gorgeous affair—a work that reflects great credit on the artistic taste of the country, as well as on the genius and industry of the author.” This exquisite volume was acquired through the generosity of Forward Arts Foundation.

Fables of Flora, Cover to Cover

Fables of Flora is a portable companion of poetry about various species of flowers.

With a love of botany and poetry, author and editor Sarah C. Edgarton Mayo published three sentimental flower books in the first half of the 19th century.

These small volumes were generally presented as gift books for ladies and indicated their refinement. The Fables of Flora, published in Boston in 1844, is a collection of flower fables written by Mayo as well as her friend Dr. John Langhorne.

The Ladies’ Flower-Garden of Ornamental Greenhouse Plants, Cover to Cover

Jane Loudon’s beautifully illustrated garden manuals were directed at women of the growing middle class in mid-19th century England who had time and means to grow ornamental gardens at home.

Jane Webb Welles Loudon was a successful writer and magazine editor in England.

Her books were immensely popular, and her writing influenced a generation of Victorian gardeners, including those in the United States. A self-taught artist, Loudon illustrated her books using new techniques that enabled fast print production. The botanical plates were drawn on zinc from nature and then colored by hand with watercolor.

Through her books, Loudon made gardening accessible to the burgeoning middle class interested in gardening as a form of recreation and pleasure. The Ladies’ Flower-Garden of Ornamental Greenhouse Plants, published in London by William Smith in 1848, is bound in red morocco leather with elaborate gilt work and has 42 hand-colored plates.