RESEARCH - Louise Little pressed flower sample mystery

Written by Marcus Bicknell on .

louise little IMG 3756We received from Louise Little in January 2018 these photos of a plant sample with a printed label “HERBARIUM C. BICKNELL BORDIGHERA”. Prof Massoni and the year 1876 are referenced.

This sample is a mystery to me and the researchers in the Clarence Bicknell Association, for a couple of reasons. We would be grateful if any botanical expert could give us guidance.

1)    We have never seen this printed label before and we think it unlikely that it was printed by Bicknell himself. It could, however, have been printed by the institution housing the herbarium (that is, the collection of pressed flowers and plants), a collection big enough to have warranted printing of a label. The network of collectors and museums was large at the end of the 19 century, so it would be one of them.

2)    The hand-writing is not Clarence Bicknell’s.

3)    Bicknell was not established in Bordighera in 1876. He first arrived there in 1878 and settled there a year later. We have no previous evidence of Bicknell collecting samples and sending them to other collectors before he settled in Bordighera. The Museo Bicknell, which housed his own botanical collections, was not built until 1888. Therefore, whoever prepared this printed label and the framed pressed flower, most likely back-dated it. It might be that the person framing it did not know at which Prof Massoni received the sample. It is possible that the date reads 1896 in which case this paragraph is not applicable.

4)    The water-coloured frame for the pressed flower is unusually ornate, as if to try to add value to the object. Similarly, the wood of the frame is of a kind called “distressed beach wood” and very popular in modern framing, even available in this form on eBay and other popular web sites. Any thought that the frame is a modern fabrication is offset by the fact that the French-language newspaper on the rear of the frame appears to be a genuine period piece. The text of the newspaper is all in French, but there is no indication of which newspaper it is from. The text is mainly on events in Rome, dated 12 and 15 January 1872. This would seem to confirm that date of 1876 for the pressed flower, not 1896.

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5)    In the top left corner is written Firenze and what could be a catalogue number.

6)     The pressed flower was found so framed by Louise Little in the last few months a local brocante fair in South West France “and was instantly drawn to it due to its colours and age, but at the time was not sure of its historical significance. 

Thanks in advance for any information you can provide.

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