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Botanical Scrapbooks

Collecting and preserving plants has always been a popular pastime, especially in the 19th century. Both men and women pressed flowers and foliates (leaves) to keep in botanical scrapbooks. This activity served a variety of interests, both scientific and sentimental.

Whatever their purpose, plants that were collected were prepared and added to scrapbooks in a similar fashion. Flowers typically were pressed in between the pages of a book by the amateur hobbyist while the more serious collector often used a field press. The field press was superior because of its ability to preserve a plant’s color and create a more precise specimen.  Field presses were composed of two boards of wood, leather straps and sheets of blotting paper. The process was simple: a plant or flower would be placed between two pieces of paper, then placed between boards. Leather straps would be tightly wrapped around the packet and firmly secured. When sufficiently dry, the specimen would be removed from the field press and glued, sewn, or attached with thin gummed strips to a scrapbook page.

The way in which these items were displayed depended on the type of book the collector wanted to create.  Scrapbooks for botanical study usually included a taxonomic description (family, genus and species), a physical description of the plant as well as the date and location of when and where it was collected.  Scrapbooks created for sentimental reasons might have been created as a craft project or to serve as a memento in remembrance of a person, event or place.

The Smithsonian Gardens’ Garden Furnishings and Horticultural Artifact Collection includes three examples of 19th and early 20th century botanical scrapbooks.

Scrapbook as Herbarium for Botanical Study

A botanical scrapbook (FJP.1987.364) dated 1905 was created by Margaret May Hill and is an example of an herbarium or collection of dried flowers that are labeled and described for botanical study.

Pressed pinks

Pressed pinks of the Caryophyllaceae (pink family or carnation family)

Taxonomic description of pressed pinks

Handwritten taxonomic and physical description of pressed pinks on opposite page.

Botanical Scrapbook as Memento

The botanical scrapbook titled “Flowers of Remembrance”  is a sentimental travel log of visits to sites all over Italy during the 1850s.  Instead of a travel journal with written entries, the pages are filled with flowers and plants collected from various sites as mementos. One page shows pressed flowers collected at the Roman Coliseum in 1853, 1854 and 1856 all on the same page.

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Botanical Scrapbook for Study and as Memento

A book of dried water ferns (Salviniales) is both scientific and sentimental as it illustrates both the incredible variety and beauty of water ferns. The front of the book reveals that it was a gift from a grandmother to her grandson (Hester Schell to Howard Schell) on November 11, 1900.

DSC_0110 DSC_0111

For further Reading:

Puckett, Sandy. Fragile Beauty: The Victorian Art of Pressed Flowers. New York: Warner Books, Inc., 1992

Whittingham, Sarah. The Victorian Fern Craze. Oxford: Shire Publications Ltd., 2009.

-Janie R. Askew
Research Assistant, Smithsonian Gardens
MA Candidate, History of Decorative Arts
The Smithsonian Associates – George Mason University

June 26, 2013 at 8:00 am Leave a comment

What’s in a name?

Flower Frog
A recent donation of a flower frog to the Horticultural Artifacts Collection.

The flower frog is a handy tool used in flower arrangements made by professionals and amateurs. The metal cage flower frog–such as this recent acquisition by Smithsonian Gardens–is the most functional type of frog. Glass and ceramic versions were generally purposed for decoration rather than utility. You may wonder how a little cage came to be called a frog—so do we. The etymology of the name ‘frog’ for these flower-holding devices does not appear in dictionaries. Just as a rose by any other name will, in fact, smell as sweet, the importance of metal caged floral arrangers does not diminish with its ‘froggy’ anonymity.

In 1916, William R. Struck of Dazey Manufacturing patented the first metal cage flower frog. It was designed to be camouflaged by the stems and leaves of a floral arrangement, letting the bouquet speak for itself. Frogs were produced in a wide variety of sizes; some included multiple tiers of cages that allowed for more complex displays. Stems were inserted into the different holes, which anchored them to the device and held them at the same level, giving them equal access to water. The metal cage flower frog could achieve these feats, all while remaining virtually unseen.

Frog Cage, Beagle Mfg. Co

Frog Cage, Beagle Mfg. Co., Pasadena, CA. Height 3 1/6 in. x Diameter 7 5/8 in. Horticultural ArtifactsCollection. FJP.1987.323

 Garden clubs quickly embraced the metal cages because they permitted more artfully arranged flowers than had been previously possible. Many had complained that vases and decorative frogs made the flowers stick up straight; the metal cage addressed this limitation by allowing flower stems to be inserted at various angles. Publications also promoted these devices over their decorative predecessors because the design of the cage enabled even the amateur floral artist to create dynamic arrangements quickly and easily.These little cages were the dominant type of flower frogs used by both professional and amateur floral artists until 1954 when Oasis was invented. This water absorbent foam developed by Vernon Smithers nearly drove the metal cage flower frogs to extinction. Smithsonian Gardens is fortunate to have a number of them in its Horticultural Artifacts Collection.  Though meant to be hidden, they remain an example of one of the greatest innovations in flower arranging of their time.

See more flower frogs in the Smithsonian Gardens’ Horticultural Artifacts Collection.

For further reading: Bull, Bonnie. Flower Frogs for Collectors. Atglen, PA: Schiffer Publishing Ltd, 2001.

Janie R Askew
Research Assistant, Smithsonian Gardens
MA Candidate, History of Decorative Arts
The Smithsonian Associates – George Mason University

June 3, 2013 at 9:00 am Leave a comment


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