Pteridomania, or Fern fever, was a Victorian craze in Britain from the 1850s to the 1890s. Ferns were items of interest to both professional and amateur botanists, as they had been less studied than other groups of plants. Hobbyists were eager to identify ferns, collect them, and adorn just about everything with their images.
During the time frame of pteridomania, Thomas Moore’s 1859 book The Octavo Nature-printed British Ferns: being figures and descriptions of the species and varieties of ferns found in the United Kingdom was published in two volumes. The two volumes of this book are illustrated with 121 color nature-printed plates depicting ferns – all very beautiful and detailed.
Nature-printing refers to a printing process that uses the natural item to create the print. In the case of The Octavo Nature-printed British Ferns, the publisher, Henry Bradbury, perfected a process developed by Alois Auer in Austria. Fern fronds were pressed into soft lead plates, and from this impression, an electrotype was made. By using the electrotype as the printing plate, the fine detail, such as venation and hairs, could be captured in the print. Bradbury’s printing method, popular for a short time, was useful for ferns and seaweed, but it was not adaptable for items that were not flat or almost flat.
Thomas Moore, the author of The Octavo Nature-printed British Ferns, was a fern lover who made a special study of ferns, and as curator of the Chelsea Physic Garden in London he increased the number of fern species grown there.
The Octavo Nature-printed British Ferns is available for study and viewing, by appointment, at the Andersen Horticultural Library. Interestingly enough, AHL’s special collection contains an additional nature-printed book illustrated via Henry Bradbury’s method – The Nature-printed British Sea-weeds: a history, accompanied by figures and dissections of the Algae of the British Isles (1859) by William Grosart Johnstone and Alexander Croall.