Ferns home |  Next

Image[no alt text]


Edward Newman (1801-1876) was a lepidopterist and pteridologist, printer and publisher, who was regarded as a leading British expert on ferns following the appearance in 1840 of his book, A History of British Ferns. A second, much expanded edition followed in 1844. Illustrated with precise wood engravings and filled with accurately observed detail, it was widely considered the best book on the subject. It introduced for the first time some of the abnormal variants of ferns which were to interest the Victorian collectors so much.

The edition current at the time when Cecilia Glaisher was collaborating with Newman was the third edition published in 1854. It contained descriptions to aid identification, and sections on the characters of different species and where they were found, information supplied to him by a network of botanists and fern enthusiasts.

That Cecilia Glaisher knew it well can be seen from the pen and ink sketch (above right) that she copied from the page about the Beech Fern (above left). Her handwritten notes consist of extracts from Newman's text about the fern's geographical range, and include this quote from a J. Lloyd and K. M'Ennes, two of his fern correspondents: "In a somewhat shady portion of elevated ground, at a distance of about two miles from Balcombe, and near the line of the tunnel, we had the good fortune to find Polypodium Phegopteris in the most beautiful condition." 2

Image[no alt text]
Beech Fern (Polypodium phegopteris) current
scientific name Phegopteris connectilis, P.12303-R

This image of a Beech Fern (44 x 28 cm) is one of the salted paper prints made for the publication The British Ferns: Represented in a Series of Photographs from Nature by Mrs Glaisher. It has been captioned within the image by one of the printed identification labels Newman produced to aid fern collectors caption their pressed specimens.

To be issued in a series, The British Ferns was intended to be more than just a set of beautiful images; as an accurate aid to identifying species, its aim was to appeal to the growing number of botanists and fern collectors by exceeding in exactness and surpassing in beauty all other illustrated publications available in an increasingly competitive field. 3

In particular, Newman may have hoped to rival a magnificent work, The Ferns of Great Britain and Ireland, Nature-printed. 4 With a preface by botanist John Lindley (1799-1865), text by fern expert Thomas Moore (1821-1887), and life-size coloured nature prints by Henry Bradbury (1829-1860), 5 it was issued in 1855-6 in 17 parts , in the form of loose plates, and cost six shillings per part, or six guineas for the complete volume, a huge amount of money at the time. ('Nature printing' covers a variety of techniques of making a print by impressing the surface of an object onto a medium such as paper or lead). 6

On 2 May 1855, Edward Newman wrote to his brother Henry: "I am engaged on two new works on ferns one a blaze of beauty at about 4 guineas a copy in reply to Lindley & Moore... I send an advertisement of the big work which contains all the information I am at present able to give." 7

This 'advertisement' is likely to have been the handbill to promote The British Ferns seen below [right], in which Newman wrote: "The process of photography is admirably adapted to making faithful copies of Botanical Specimens, more especially to illustrating the graceful and beautiful class of Ferns: it possesses the advantage over all others hitherto employed of displaying, with incomparable exactness, the most minute characters; producing absolute fac-similes of the objects, perfect both in artistic effect and structure details."

Image[no alt text]
The Fitzwilliam Museum archives, Glaisher (C) 7/8

The desire for very precise and accurate detail necessary to the classification and identification of plants posed problems for illustrators. Both nature printing and photogenic drawing were claimed to be more exact because they produced images made directly from actual specimens. In fact there were limitations to what each process could achieve. The difficulties of getting the thicker parts of plants to reproduce clearly on a two-dimensional surface were common to both.

In September 1855 twelve of Cecilia Glaisher's prints of ferns were included in the Glasgow Photographic Exhibition, held to coincide with the meeting there of the British Association. This placed the twenty-seven year old Cecilia Glaisher's work alongside that of some of the most respected photographers of the day. In December that year, Newman presented a set of ten positive prints, on mounts embossed with his publishing details, to the Linnean Society in London, giving potential subscribers to The British Ferns an idea of the quality, accuracy, and beauty of the work.

The publication was never fully realised, however, and appears to have been abandoned by 1856. Whether this was due to problems in raising enough subscriptions to make it viable, or down to difficulties in producing sufficient prints in consistent quantities, or for other reasons is not known.

2. A History of British Ferns, 3rd edition, by Edward Newman (John van Voorst, 1854, p. 52).

3. The Quarterly Review in January 1857 listed the followings works:
    1) The Ferns of Great Britain &c Nature-printed by Henry Bradbury, with full descriptions of their different species and varieties, by Thomas Moore, FLS. Edited by Dr Lindley, FRS &c. London, 1856. Imp. Folio. 51 plates.
    2) Species Filicum, being descriptions of all Known Ferns, &c, &c, accompanied with numerous figures, by Sir W.J. Hooker, K.H., D.C.L., &c. London, 1846-56. 8 vo.
    3) An Analysis of the British Ferns and their Allies, by G.W. Francis, F.L.S. 5th edition. With engravings. Revised and enlarged by Arthur Henfrey, F.R.S., Professor of Botany, Kings College. London, 1855. 8 vo.
    4) The Handbook of British Ferns, by Thomas Moore, F.L.S., &c. 2nd edition. London, 1853.
    5) A History of British Ferns, by Edward Newman, F.L.S., &c. 3rd edition. London, 1854. 8 vo.
    6) An Introduction to Cryptogamic Botany, by the Rev. M.J. Berkely, M.A., F.L.S. London, 1857. 8 vo.
    7) Nature-Printing, its Origin and Objects. A lecture delivered at the Royal Institution, May 11, 1855, by Henry Bradbury. London. 1856.
    8) Physiotypa Plantarum Austriacrum, by Prof. von Ettigshausen and A. Pokorny, with 500 plates Nature-printed. Vienna, 1856. Folio.

4. The Ferns of Great Britain and Ireland, by Thomas Moore and John Lindley (Bradbury and Evans, 1855).

5. For information about Henry Bradbury, see 'Henry Bradbury's first nature-prints of ferns' by A.F. Dyer in Fern Gazette (17: 2, pp. 59-77, 2004) and 'The Life and Craft of William and Henry Bradbury, Masters of Nature Printing in Britain'by A.F. Dyer in Huntia Vol. 15 (2), pp. 115-214 (Hunt Institute for Botanical Documentation, Carnegie Mellon University, 2015) - www.huntbotanical.org/publications/show.php?184

6. For more information on nature printing, see Typographia Naturalis by Roderick Cave and Geoffrey Wakeman (Brewhouse Press, 1967), Impressions of Nature: A History of Nature Printing by Roderick Cave (British Library, 2010), and The subjective nature of Nature Printing by Pia Ostlund (MA thesis, University of Reading, 2013).

7. Pritchard Letters, Society of Friends Library. MS 161 371 Folder No. II. Loose letters collected from pages 40-86. Item 86/3. The "advertisement" referred to is no longer with the letter.

Ferns home |  Next

The Fitzwilliam Museum : Ferns

You are in: Online Resources > Online Exhibitions > Ferns