A fine set of the first edition of Williams’ magnum opus, which set the standard for orchid description and illustration.
Orchidelirium is the name given to the Victorian era of flower madness when collecting and discovering orchids reached extraordinarily high levels. Wealthy orchid fanatics of the twentieth century sent explorers and collectors to almost every part of the world in search of new varieties of orchids.
Orchids were brought to Europe by companies or individuals who had financed collecting expeditions. Commissioned professional collectors would travel for months all over the world in search of rare new species. These expensive expeditions were often shrouded in secrecy and it was not unusual for collectors to spread misleading information about the locations where new orchids were found. New exotic orchids were most often sold at auction in London, fetching extravagant prices. During this time very little was known about the cultivation of orchids and their survival rate was dismal. Through experimentation and by gathering more information on the growing conditions of orchids in their natural habitat, knowledge was slowly being developed. This led to the publication of scholarly and well illustrated books on orchids.
Amongst the most lavish and comprehensive of these was The Orchid Album. Published periodically to subscribers by Williams from his nurseries in Holloway, London, it was taken over by his son Henry after Benjamin Samuel’s death, until its conclusion in 1897. It captures a huge variety of orchids in their wild states, before the onset of hybridization in the twentieth century. Each illustration is accompanied by a botanical description of the plants figured and notes on their cultivation. The illustrator, John Nugent Fitch (1840-1927), was the nephew of the equally-prolific botanical artist Walter Hood Fitch. An excellent set by one of the great botanical artists of the day.
First Edition. Eleven volumes, 4to (30.4 x 24.0 cm), 528 lithographic plates by and after John Nugent Fitch on 527 sheets, partly hand-coloured, partly colour-printed. Original brown cloth, gilt-lettered and decorated on covers and spine, edges gilt. A fine set.
Nissen BBI 2107, Great Flower Books (1990) p.149.
Stock ID: 90301