Victorians, particularly the British, were fascinated by ferns, planting them in gardens and utilizing the fern form as a popular decorative arts motif. Collections of fern prints such as this one were extremely popular with both scientists and others who were simply entranced with the graceful and decorative forms. The fern craze, dubbed “pteridomania” by Charles Kingsley in 1855, raged between 1850 and 1890. It was fed, in part, by the excitement of discovery – even though ferns were plentiful throughout the damp woodlands of Britain, they had an exotic aura, having been little studied before 1840, and needing careful tending in order to be cultivated in urban settings. This set the stage for naturalists to participate in the classification and naming of species and for the development of a new industry providing plants and special equipment to would-be fern gardeners. Fern motifs decorated nearly every type of utilitarian object from including china, furniture, wrought iron, textiles and even gravestones.
Thomas Moore was a British gardener and botanist, an expert on British ferns and florists’ plants. He served as Curator of the Society of Apothecaries Garden from 1848 to 1887. The garden, renamed the Chelsea Physic Garden in 1875, increased the number of fern species cultivated there by fifty percent under his tenure. The Thomas Moore Fernery was built on the site of his original garden in 1907, and today contains a display of varieties of ferns described and cultivated by Moore and popular during the Victorian era.
Henry Bradbury (1831-1860), who printed this The Ferns of Great Britain and Ireland, was among the foremost 19th-century practitioners of nature-printing. The son of William Bradbury, the founder of the publishing house Bradbury & Evans, Henry studied at the Imperial Printing Office in Vienna , directed by Alois Auer, who had improved upon existing nature-printing techniques in 1850, introducing an electroplating technique. Auer patented his nature printing process with his associate Andreas Worring in October 1852. Returning to England , Bradbury patented his own version, resulting in an acrimonious conflict with Auer over credit for the process. Bradbury had wide-ranging interests in printing, including secure means of producing bank notes, paper money. He had planned ambitious projects including nature-printed books on fungi and trees and a work on the graphic arts, but he committed suicide at the age of 29, leaving these plans unfulfilled. After Henry Bradbury’s death, the firm continued producing stamps and bank notes as Bradbury Wilkinson & Co. until 1986, when it was bought out by a competitor.
Blunt, Wilfred, rev. by Stearn, William T. The Art of Botanical Illustration. Woodbridge, Suffolk , England : Antique Collectors Club, 1994. p. 158.
Boyd, Peter D.A. “Pteridomania: the Victorian passion for ferns.” Antique Collecting 28, 6, 9-12. 1993, rev. 2 January 2002. http://www.darwincountry.org/category.php3?trail=1258. (17 March 2004).
Cushing, Stanley Ellis. “50 Books Plus Two: A Special Collections Report.” Library of the Boston Athanaeum. 13 August 2001. http://www.bostonathenaeum.org/newacqspecial2.html (17 March 2004).
“The Plant Collection: Historical Walk.” Chelsea Physic Garden. http://www.chelseaphysicgarden.co.uk/pages/plantCollection/plantC-walk.html (17 March 2004).
Nissen BBI 1400; Stafleu and Cowan TL2 6275; DeBelder 237; Cave and Wakeman 25; Fischer 89; Hofer Bequest 74n; BM(NH) III, p.1345; Nissen BBI 1400; Quentin Keynes Collection, No. 514