NEW ZEALAND FERNS

Tall quarto (37 x 28cm). Original dark green cloth with decoration in black and titles in gilt to the upper board. The contents comprising approximately 60 fern specimens mounted on the rectos of 16 card leaves with scientific names in manuscript, the leaves bound in on linen stubs. Each page features between three and six large fronds accompanied by carefully chosen smaller samples. Maker's ticket to the front pastedown: "Mounted and Botanically Named by Mrs. C. C. Armstrong, Dunedin". Very good condition. The binding firm with a 7cm split to the cloth at the foot of the upper joint, a little wear to the corners and spine ends and some scattered marking to the boards. The contents with toning to page edges, one minor specimen lacking and five specimens with small losses (one still present but loose) are otherwise in very good order. The ferns generally remain in excellent condition, professionally prepared and retaining their beautiful detail.

A scarce album of New Zealand fern specimens created by the award-winning botanical artist and entrepreneur Mary Ann Armstrong (1838-1910). Combining artistic arrangement with scientific labelling, Armstrong's productions were part of a booming trade stimulated by the fern craze - or pteridomania - which swept across the British empire during the mid- to late nineteenth century. During this time, ferns became both colonial icon and national symbol, with New Zealand and Australia developing significant commercial industries based upon the export of both living plants and pressed specimens. "Few women, however, engaged in the New Zealand fern industry as a significant and sustained business venture. The fern work produced by Mary Ann Armstrong is distinctive in this regard" (Duggins, "The world's fernery: New Zealand, fern albums, and nineteenth-century fern fever", New Zealand's Empire, p.108). Born in Birmingham, Armstrong (née Newey) emigrated with her father and siblings to Australia in 1853 at the age of fifteen. In 1858 she married Charles Clark Armstrong, and the couple then moved to Dunedin, New Zealand in the early 1860s. Active from around the late 1870s to the 1890s, Mary Ann participated in a number of international and intercolonial exhibitions, where her fern work received numerous commendations and were gifted to dignitaries. Her albums were certainly fine examples of their type; notable for their elegant, symmetrical presentation and inventive use of moss to "ground" the specimens, every page became an artwork in and of itself. An attractive example of Armstrong's pioneering botanical work; a woman's individual commercial enterprise, straddling the divide between art and science.

Stock code: 20163

£1,750

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