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Life-size photogravure of Ehrhart's Fern (Dryopteris cristata)


The reasons why the planned publication with Edward Newman, The British Ferns: Represented in a Series of Photographs from Nature by Mrs Glaisher, was never realised are not known. After Newman's presentation of ten mounted prints to the Linnean Society in December 1855, no further references to it have yet been found and the project appears to have been abandoned in 1856.

How many photographs The British Ferns was intended to consist of is uncertain. In the 1854 edition of A History of British Ferns, Newman listed 50 species. Producing this quantity of good positive prints for even a relatively small number of copies would have been a huge undertaking. There may have been difficulties in producing prints of consistent quality, or potential subscribers may have had doubts about the longevity of prints produced by the photographic process.

The Museum's holding includes three photogravures, one of which is shown here, made from Cecilia Glaisher's photographs. These would have been considered more permanent. They may indicate that, for both practical and aesthetic reasons, reproducing the images by this process was considered.

Another possibility is that there were problems in raising enough subscriptions to make the project financially viable. The first part of Moore and Lindley's The Ferns of Great Britain and Ireland, illustrated by Henry Bradbury's nature prints, appeared in April 1855 and the last in August 1856 - at exactly the same time as Cecilia Glaisher's work was being made and promoted. Perhaps enthusiastic fern collectors preferred Bradbury's nature-prints because they were coloured, or were unwilling to pay for another very expensive publication.

Cecilia Glaisher also made nature prints. Using methods different to Bradbury's, she produced over two hundred impressions of leaves to which she added colour by hand.

These loose prints were collected and pasted into an album titled Leaves of the British Forest Trees 1857 Nature-printed CJ Glaisher. They include leaves of beech, elm, maple, lime, sycamore, oak, horse chestnut, oriental and occidental plane, alder, birch, poplar, guelder rose, and hazel.

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Hazel leaf, nature print, in the album Leaves of the British
Forest Trees
, 4162-L1

Some, shown as they appear at different seasons, appear so life-like and their colours remain so vibrant they can still easily be mistaken for the living things.

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Horse-chestnut leaves, nature prints, in the album Leaves of the
British Forest Trees
, 4162-121 to -124

With nature prints, as with photogenic drawings, however, it was difficult to get the thicker parts of plants to reproduce clearly. In several prints of oak leaves she resorted to painting in the branches and acorns which, unlike the leaves themselves, were not flat enough to be impressed directly onto paper.

The album also includes some small coloured nature-prints of ferns.

The name CJ Glaisher embossed on the spine of the album appears to refer to both Cecilia and James Glaisher.

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Fern leaf, in Leaves of the British Forest Trees album,
4162-50 (detail)

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The Fitzwilliam Museum : Ferns

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