Adelaide report

Emily Cumming Harris. New Zealand Ferns. Rare Books & Special Collections, The University of Adelaide.

Lee Hayes is looking thoughtfully at the three single bound copies of Emily Harris’s New Zealand Flowers, Berries and Ferns in the Barr Smith Library at the University of Adelaide. We can see that the dark blue leather of the original binding has been cut out and stuck on to cloth-bound boards that don’t quite match the original colour. Lee, who is a book binder as well as a Librarian in Special Collections, unpacks a possible history of the three books. ‘The leather binding must have deteriorated to the point where the owner of the books had them rebound,’ she says.

The binder has done the best with the materials available to them, though the colour match isn’t perfect and the warping of the cover boards indicates their grain direction may be incorrect.  The gilding around all edges of the book suggests the item was important but the gold tooling on the front and back lets the binding down slightly.  See here, where the binder has overshot the intersection of the vertical and horizontal gold borders.  They have tried to make it look as close as possible to the original but it’s not quite the same.

We move on to examine the internals of the set. The binder has removed each of Emily’s original card covers, so the chance of catching her signature on the inside back cover is lost and she hasn’t signed her colourings under the palette on each title page either. As at the Mitchell Library earlier in the week, we are looking at a fully coloured Flowers, Berries and Ferns without a signature. And as with the Mitchell set, the colouring and brushwork are readily identifiable as Emily’s. We encounter another pale brown butterfly on the Blueberry plate (a detail that could vary across copies but stays the same) and another green to mauve Lomaria Procera, ‘One of the most variable of ferns’ as Emily’s caption observes. It’s as if we’ve now built up a swatch of Emily paints: reds, mauves, pinks, yellows, greens, browns, blue for the blue-berries and lilac for the Poro-poro. We are also beginning to pick out variant techniques within the whole, such as the curious raised-dots on some of the Rātā anthers and the use of black paint for shading on the Pūriri berries in these copies in Adelaide.

Emily Cumming Harris. ‘Dianella intermedia (Blue berry)’. New Zealand Berries. The University of Adelaide.
Emily Cumming Harris. ‘Lomeria Procera’. New Zealand Ferns. The University of Adelaide.
Detail from ‘Vitex Littoralis (Puriri)’ plate. New Zealand Berries. The University of Adelaide.
Detail from ‘Metrosideros Robusta (Rata)’ plate. New Zealand Flowers. The University of Adelaide.

We turn our attention to the provenance of the Adelaide set. The books were donated by Professor Richard Clough (1921-2014) as part of 78 works on New Zealand gardening that came to the university in 2002. Clough was a landscape architect with a passion for collecting books in his field. He donated most of his collection to the Canberra College of Advanced Education Library where he was teaching a course in Landscape Design. In 1986 CCAE published A Catalogue of Landscape Architecture: the Richard Clough Collection. Emily’s books are not included. Perhaps Clough acquired them after the publication of the catalogue, from an antiquarian book dealer or as the result of his own fossicking in second-hand bookshops. That he was on the lookout for Flowers, Berries and Ferns is a reasonable guess, given his knowledge of New Zealand and Australian works on horticulture and native flora. That he appreciated the coloured set that came to him we can tell from the 1986 account of how his collecting got underway:

When I was a student in London the lecturer in charge of the landscape architecture course at University College, Peter Youngman, told us how he had found a copy of Alphand’s ‘Les Promenades de Paris’ in a secondhand book-store and how he had gone home, collected a wheelbarrow and returned to the shop to collect this rare, valuable, and very large volume. Shortly after this in a corner of a junk shop in Deal I discovered three books by John Claudius Loudon, including his ‘Encyclopedia of Gardening, at prices ranging from a shilling to half a crown. While my discovery was minor in comparison to Longman’s, I am sure my pleasure was as great as his. […] This led me to search for further books on Victorian gardening whenever I had time and wherever I happened to be. These books were then little valued and gradually I collected many I was seeking and many I did not know existed, all for a modest outlay. […] As a part time student I was not very affluent and so books with hand coloured illustrations were mostly beyond my means. (The Richard Clough Collection, 5)

Clough goes on: ‘After returning to Australia in 1956 I began to search secondhand bookshops in Sydney and Melbourne for works that would help me understand the background to landscape practice here.’ He hopes too that the books in the collection ‘will continue to make an impact on new readers and be a source of delight to them’ (6).

Someone thought enough of this coloured set of Flowers, Berries and Ferns to have it bound in leather. At a later date it was rebound with an eye to the elegant gilding of the three volumes. Later still Richard Clough added it to his growing collection and ensured its preservation at the Barr Smith Library. His distinctive collector’s mark appears in pencil on the inside back cover of each volume at bottom left near the gutter. And so Adelaide joins the nine full sets of hand-coloured Flowers, Berries and Ferns and the four partial sets we have found in New Zealand, Australia, England, Scotland and the United States.

Richard Clough collection mark: a small, monogram-style CLH pencilled inside the back cover.

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

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