5 December 2008
WIRT, Elizabeth Washington Gamble. Flora's Dictionary. Baltimore: Fielding Lucas, 1855.
4o (283 x 220 mm). Letterpress title-page, hand-colored chromolithographic title-page, dedication leaf (with name erased) and 12 hand-colored lithographic plates. (Dedication leaf with name excised, some light occasional soiling.) Original elaborately gilt-decorated brown morocco, covers blocked in gilt with an overall design incorporating the title and a young couple seated on a grassy knoll, edges gilt (rebacked preserving original spine).
A FINELY COLORED COPY OF THIS POPULAR 19TH-CENTURY AMERICAN FLOWER BOOK, in the fine publisher's binding. Later edition. Appearing on both covers, the design on the binding is a fine example of American mid-century exuberance: within a border largely composed from fresh-cut wooden poles with intertwining climbing plants, a pair of young lovers sit on a flower-bedecked knoll. They hold the present work between them and examine it carefully. Above and behind them is a giant epergne decorated with Solomon's seal, roses, columbine and grasses.
The main section of text of FLORA'S DICTIONARY is made up of about 230 entries arranged alphabetically from Acacia Rose (friendship) to Zinnia (absence). Each entry includes a brief definition (Laburnum: pensive
beauty; Ranunculus: I am dazzled by your charms; etc.), followed by a
selection of appropriate verses, from both the classics and contemporary authors. The next two sections deal with the botanical aspects of the flowers but also including the derivation of the name and the Linnaean classification of each flower. This is followed by a calendar with an appropriate flower for every day of the year. Finally, there is an index of sentiments arranged alphabetically with the appropriate flowers.
Elizabeth Washington Gamble the author of the present work was the daughter of Robert and Catherine Gamble of Richmond, Virginia and became William Wirt's second wife in 1802. They purchased a house in Richmond in 1808 and went on to raise a family of ten children. The present work is based on Elizabeth Wirt's manuscript of favorite quotations about flowers, which was first published anonymously as Flora's Dictionary in 1829. Later editions (such as the present example) identified the author as "Mrs. E. W. Wirt of Virginia." The various editions show a wide variation in the number of colored plates required: the present edition is complete with twelve plates. Bennett, p.115; McGrath (1837 ed), p.36; Reese Stamped with a National Character (1837 ed) 52; Sabin 104868.
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