Monday, 12 March 2012

A new old book

When I started this blog 11 months ago, I introduced it as being mostly about plants and our interactions with them, but I said I'd be posting about my other interests from time to time, including bookbinding.  So far, it's all been about plants except for one brief introduction to my sailing dinghy.  This post's about books and bookbinding.
I'm slowly getting around to buying an e-reader or maybe an i-pad, so I can read electronic books.  I love real books, especially old ones, but they take up a lot of space, and lately I've been borrowing from the library more than buying.  But even better is the pleasure of making my own, and to my surprise it's quite easy.  This one is my facsimile of a rare botanical book that turns out to be quite important: Plantarum Novarum ex Herbario Sprengelii Centuriam, attributed to J. F. T. Biehler, 1807.
 Over two hundred years after its publication, it’s hard to judge the significance of this little book.  It's believed that only a few copies of the original printing remain, mostly in European botanical libraries (Stafleu & Cowan, 1985, “saw no copy” of it, but there is one copy at least at Kew, bound in leather with some related works in one small volume). It was published on 30 May 1807 as a Doctor of Medicine dissertation at the University of Halle, Saxony, now part of Germany.  Botany was an integral part of medicine at the time, largely because of the predominant use of herbs, so it was essential that medical doctors could demonstrate mastery of Linnaeus’s sexual system of plant classification. 
 The 46 small pages of Biehler’s dissertation contain descriptions of 100 plants and lichens, many of them new, from all over the world (listed below).  Thus it has a lingering influence and importance as the place of first description for many plants.
Caucasus & Black Sea
Herbaria, gardens, & unknown
India & Sri Lanka
Mediterranean (incl. Lebanon) & C Europe
N America (mostly Pennsylvania)
North & Central Europe
Siberia and Mongolia
St Helena
The author whose name appears on the title page of this book, Johann Friedrich Theodor Biehler, was born about 1785, and although the date of his death isn't recorded anywhere, I'm pretty sure he's no longer with us.  Apparently he published no other botanical work, and most likely he practiced medicine after he qualified with this dissertation.  

But Biehler wasn't actually the author.  Academic practice in northern Europe at the time was for a doctoral candidate to defend a dissertation that was written by his professor, and this is borne out by the publication, a few months after Biehler’s dissertation, of Novarum Plantarum ex herbario meo Centuria by K.P.J. Sprengel, professor at Halle (Sprengel 1807).  The text of Sprengel’s book is identical with Biehler’s.  Thus Sprengel should be identified as the actual author of the Biehler work, where the publication of many new names is first effected.
Sprengel (1766–1833) followed Johann Reinhold Forster as professor of botany at Halle (Stafleu & Cowan 1985); and he married one of Forster's daughters.  This is the New Zealand connection. 17 of Forster’s plant collections from Cook’s second Pacific voyage (1772–1775) are included in this work and many of these were formally described here for the first time (Garnock-Jones 1986), at least in a format that meets the requirements of the International Code of Nomenclature for algae fungi and plants.  These plants were already known to the botanical world through the well known Primitiae Florae Novae Zelandiae of Solander, and George Forster’s Florulae Insularum Australium Prodromus (Forster 1786).  However, Solander's work was never formally published, and some of the names he coined were later misapplied by Forster.  To make matters worse, Forster only listed those Solander names, so although his book was properly published, these are names without descriptions (quaintly called nomina nuda by botanists). Some of them were not properly published until Sprengel. For Forster's misidentifications, those names were published in a sense that's different from what Solander intended, e.g., Epilobium hirtigerum (Garnock-Jones 1983).   So this little book has more importance than its author might have expected.
The work is also important for other regions, e.g. North America, Europe and SW Asia and many of the names first published here are still in use.
Many years ago I typed this out laboriously, and proof-read the Latin text as an electronic file for printing.  Then a couple of years ago I was given a nice introductory book on bookbinding and decided to make it into a real book. The single signature in the book block is sewn with dental floss. I have been careful to match the pagination and layout of the original, but it's not printed on the original paper size in this version (the text block is the correct size however). The typeface is the IDC Founder’s Caslon family, a close but not perfect match to the original.  Symbols such as those for male and female are in Alchemy type face, as on my favourite page, the description of Lethedon tannensis.

 The boards are covered in fancy paper that unfortunately wasn't waterproof, so it's lost a bit of colour in the gluing.  The bookcloth on the spine is made from scraps of our curtain material, backed with brown paper.  I like the bright yellow endpapers, but really these should have been marbled paper.
You can read the whole book at Victoria University of Wellington's Electronic Text Centre.
Candolle, A. P. de, 1817.   Regni Vegetabilis Systema Naturale 1.  Paris.
Forster, J. G. A. 1786.  Florulae Insularum Australium Prodromus.  Göttingen.
Garnock‑Jones, P.J. 1983. Proposal to reject the name Epilobium junceum Spreng.  (1807) (Onagraceae).  Taxon 32: 656–658.
Garnock‑Jones, P.J. 1986. South Pacific plants named by K. P. J. Sprengel in 1807.  Taxon 35: 123–128.
Sprengel, K. P. J., 1807. Mantissa Prima Florae Halensis.  2. Novarum Plantarum ex Herbario Meo Centuria.  Halle.
Stafleu F. A. ; Cowan , R. S.  1985.  Taxonomic Literature (2nd ed.) Vol. v.  W. Junk, The Hague.

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