Who among us hasn’t pressed a flower between the pages of a book and been charmed at the outcome? Pressed flowers and foliage can be a lovely way to add a garden element to a room, and so I’m always on the hunt for antique herbarium pages. I recently purchased a set from the 1940s. I love the earthy, delicate, understated quality of herbarium pages: there is something so personal and enchanting about someone, somewhere taking the time to pick the flowers and foliage, label them with their correct botanical names, press them, and preserve them.
There is a distinction to be made between botanical prints and a true herbarium pages. Botanical prints are drawings or paintings, scientific or artistic (or both), in great detail in order to achieve a realistic and beautiful image, while herbariums are actually dried specimens mounted on paper, most often in the pages of a book. There is also a distinction to be made between professional herbariums like those at Kew Gardens, which are not as quirky as amateur or personal herbariums like the one kept by Emily Dickinson .
Historically herbariums were an educational, hands-on method of learning about botany that took the student into the field and helped them to study their specimens later in their very own herbarium books. Typically they were chronological and followed a strict method of labeling. (Kew Gardens Herbarium has a detailed history if you’d like to know more).
When shopping for antique herbarium pages remember that they are homemade, so most are fragile and often imperfect. Again, this is the charm, and depending on how you plan to use them and the look you want to achieve, here are some things to consider:
- Look closely at how much of the specimen has been retained after many years. Some were partial specimens to begin with, and others have fallen apart because of age (the glue no longer holds). Choose pages that appeal to you.
- The specimens may have been held in place with special archive tape instead of glue, and the tape may or may not be part of the charm for you.
- Most herbarium pages have the label in the lower left hand corner. The pages I like most have handwritten labels that include the correct botanical name, the location where the specimen was retrieved, and the date found.
- Framing antique herbarium prints can be casual or formal. For a relaxed look try them in glass frames with clips, and for a more formal look, try painted wood or gilt frames, but I would keep to something understated because of the quiet and muted nature of herbarium prints.
- The most common method for displaying them is in groupings. This works well because again, being so subtle, it’s effective to have them on a wall as a collection for more of an impact (and after all they were a collection to begin with). But I’ve also seen a single herbarium page displayed on its own, as part of a vignette or alone. And this is lovely too.
I purchased mine thru Instagram from an antique dealer in Virginia and I’m framing them myself. You can find them this way and at rummage sales and flea markets. If you want someone else to do the hunting for you, one of my favorite gardeners to follow on Instagram is now selling them on his website (charliemccormicklondon.com). Hattie Hatfield in France (hattiehatfield.com) whose herbarium pages go fast on Instagram, is another good source. And Restoration Hardware offers genuine 19th century herbarium pages that are nicely framed.