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Wednesday, May 31 • 3:30pm - 4:00pm
041. (Collection Care) The Emergence of the Science of Botany: Preservation of Personal Herbaria

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This paper will investigate the preservation issues and treatment challenges posed by the LuEsther T. Mertz Library’s Exsiccated Specimens Collection. This collection is comprised of over one hundred herbaria, dating primarily from the 19th century. This diverse group of items is made up of many individual herbaria: systematically arranged collections of dried plant specimens that were gathered, pressed, organized and secured to a support material. In most cases, the specimens were adhered to the pages of a blank book or to paper sheets and were identified by each collector with varying degrees of accuracy. These herbaria may not include all required plant parts and/or associated data to make them suitable for scientific study as are those found in the New York Botanical Garden’s William and Lynda Steere Herbarium. In many botanical libraries, herbaria such as these have been relegated to a secondary role in spite of their enormous historical and artifactual value. They may shed light on many facets of Western interest in botany and the popular appreciation of plants. The Mertz Library’s Exsiccated Specimens Collection includes the personal herbarium of the prominent American botanist John Torrey, botanical souvenir books of 19th century tourism, and many sentimental volumes of dried flowers from the Victorian era. The earliest item in the collection is the Catalogus Plantarum Flore, compiled between 1660 and 1753, which is a unique combination of plant specimens, manuscripts, collages and illustrations. In conjunction with the cataloging of this collection, the Conservation team carried out an item-by-item survey to record the characteristics and current conditions of each object in the collection in order to plan for rehousing and for possible conservation treatment. The Conservation team also worked with Garden’s botanists to assess the scientific contents of many of these items as well as to review samples of the scientific herbaria held by the Garden’s Steere Herbarium. The Exsiccated Specimens Collection presents many housing and treatment difficulties because the items take many different forms, each needing special considerations. Various methods were used to attach specimens to their support. These methods included gluing, sewing and tacking specimens down with strips of gummed paper. There are even more variations between the herbaria when it comes to style of bindings. There are homemade pamphlet-sewn booklets, stationer’s blank books, plant collecting albums, photo albums, loose-leaf portfolios and some specimens are mounted between glass plates. All of these items are meant to display and preserve old and fragile specimens of dried plants. For this reason, the collection is particularly susceptible to damage from insects, humidity, mold, and poor handling. The bound herbaria, for instance, represent a major challenge and ethical dilemma for conservators and curators regarding their access and digitization. This paper will discuss the findings of the collection survey, preservation concerns and conservation treatment. It will provide a brief historical overview of the practice of collecting and preserving dried plant specimens as well as examples of scientific plant specimens held by the Garden‘s Steere Herbarium.

avatar for Olga Souza Marder

Olga Souza Marder

Conservator, New York Botanical Garden
Olga Souza Marder, NYBG Conservation Librarian/Conservator has worked in the Library's conservation program since October, 1995, and has supervised the Library's conservation program since 2001. She holds a M.L.S. degree and Advanced Certificate in Library and Archives Conservation... Read More →

avatar for Kelsey Osborn Miller

Kelsey Osborn Miller

Conservator, New York Botanical Garden
Kelsey Miller, NYBG Conservator joined the Library’s conservation staff in November, 2011. She has previously worked with the NYBG as an Assistant Conservator from 2001 – 2006 and as a Kress Conservation Intern in 1996. Her professional experience also includes working for The... Read More →
avatar for Catherine Stephens

Catherine Stephens

Student, NYU Institute of Fine Arts, Conservation Center
Catherine Stephens has a BFA in Graphic Design from the Rhode Island School of Design, and soon she will join the class of 2021 at NYU's Institute of Fine Arts, Conservation Center. Catherine has been the Conservation Technician at the New York Botanical Garden's LuEsther T Mertz... Read More →

Wednesday May 31, 2017 3:30pm - 4:00pm CDT
Riverside West Exhibit Hall Exhibit Level, East Tower
  9. Poster, Collection Care