Open Call for Emily’s New Zealand Flowers, New Zealand Berries, and New Zealand Ferns

How far did Emily Harris’s books of botanical lithographs travel? How many copies did she sign and hand-colour? These and other questions have come to the fore as we search overseas catalogues and collate the results, finding a surprising number of hand-coloured sets outside New Zealand.

New Zealand Flowers, New Zealand Berries, and New Zealand Ferns by E. C. Harris are three folios published by bookseller H. D. Jackson in Nelson, NZ in 1890. Each volume features 12 lithographic plates of Emily’s botanical drawings with their names, and occasionally a first-hand observation. Each title page has a flower, berry, or fern twined around a painter’s colour palette, and just under the palette is where Emily Harris signed her name in cursive, black ink on the copies she hand-coloured. We’ve seen coloured sets at Puke Ariki Museum in New Plymouth, the Alexander Turnbull Library in Wellington, and at Nelson Provincial Museum.

The University of Edinburgh has Flowers and Ferns, both copies signed and coloured. Flowers was rescued from the regular lending service shelves and put into Special Collections with Ferns as a result of our enquiry. The books came from the New Zealand High Commissioner Library in London and were transferred to Edinburgh’s New Zealand Studies Collection in 1991.

The Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew has all three books, coloured but not signed, and bound as a single volume. A note attached to the inside front cover shows that the volume was offered to Kew by Mr W.R. Ogilvie-Grant of the Zoological Department at the British Museum in 1900.

Emmanuel College, Cambridge University, has a complete, signed, coloured, and bound set. The donor is Leonard Hugh Graham Greenwood, a New Zealander who took his degrees at the University of Canterbury, NZ, then King’s College, Cambridge, and was a distinguished Classics scholar at Emmanuel 1909-43. Flowers, Berries and Ferns is the only New Zealand book Leonard Greenwood donated to his college library. The volume carries its owner’s name and the date 14 August 1934 on the fly-leaf. Was Leonard Greenwood on one of his periodic trips home when he came into possession of Flowers, Berries and Ferns? Or was his copy passed on by one of his many Greenwood aunts, most of whom were born in Nelson and who would have known Emily and the Harris family.

Emily’s lithograph books are coming to light in collections and botanical libraries around the world. Thanks to librarians pulling copies off shelves and out of archive boxes, our Excel spreadsheet is growing rapidly and we are keen to add to it. Recently we located Ferns in Pavia, Italy, and a full signed and coloured set at the Dumbarton Oaks Research Library at Harvard University. Will the same pattern of signed and coloured sets show up nearer to home, outside the public collections that we have been able to access? We know that Emily hand-coloured books between at least 1899 (when she coloured and signed a set for Alexander Horsburgh Turnbull) and 1910 when she described the process to George Fowlds at the Ministry of Education in Wellington:

I received your letter & enclosed money order, for which I thank you & will be pleased to send you the three books New Zealand “Flowers Berries and Ferns” as soon as I can get a set coloured. Also I will send some of my paintings of New Zealand flora so that you may be better able to make a selection.

The paintings are direct from nature and wherever I could have given the natural surroundings. The books are lithographs from my drawings & then coloured by hand (by myself) so are better than printed in colours. People seem to like them very much if I may judge from the number sent to England & other parts of the world. I finished an order yesterday & have begun a set to send to you to day.

It takes rather more than a week to colour the three, but will send as soon as possible the books & paintings at the same time with price for each and when you have made a selection the others to be returned.

So we can imagine Emily water-colouring between the lithographic lines, being careful to make her paints last, letting each plate dry before starting to colour the next. Finally she will sign her name. Then comes packaging, addressing, a walk to the post office and another set of Flowers, Berries and Ferns is on its way from Nelson.

If you have a set of New Zealand Flowers, Berries and Ferns, coloured or uncoloured, one, two or all three books, we would love to know about it. We can find no record of how many sets were printed, so each new book adds to the picture we are building of where Emily’s books travelled and who owns them now.

Emily Harris. New Zealand Flowers. ‘Clianthus puniceus.’ Reference photo received from Edinburgh University Library Research Collections and reproduced here by permission.

Emily Harris. New Zealand Flowers. ‘Clianthus puniceus.’ Reference photo reproduced by permission of The Master and Fellows of Emmanuel College, Cambridge.

Lead writer: Betty Davis
Research support: Michele Leggott, Makyla Curtis

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