The Victorian-era fever for ferns, dubbed pteridomania, also reached this country and is beautifully embodied in New Zealand Ferns, a late 19th Century album of pressed specimens.
Recently acquired by Special Collections, the volume contains 29 pages of ferns mounted by Eric Craig (1829-1923). Born in Scotland, Craig arrived in Auckland in 1853 and, after initially working in the building trades, turned his interest in ferns and curios into a business1. By 1875 he was selling `Ferns, in Books neatly bound…’ 2 and by the 1880s was advertising `botanical, ethnological, conchological and natural history specimens’ from his `Curiosity Shop’ on the eastern side of lower Princes St3.
Craig grew, bought and exchanged local and exotic ferns, and ventured on collecting trips, including one to the South Island during which he “penetrated the ferny dells amid bush scenery, and has brought forth from the almost hidden recesses of uncultivated nature some of her choicest treasures.”4
In 1886, Craig was commissioned by the `Irishwomen of Auckland’ to produce a volume of pressed ferns for British MP and former Prime Minister William Gladstone in recognition of his support of Irish home rule. The sumptuous volume contained more than 160 varieties of ferns, was bound in boards inlaid with more than 4000 slivers of local woods by master craftsman Anton Seuffert (1814 ca. –1887) and featured silverwork by Mr Teutenberg5. Another Seuffert-inlaid fern album is held by the Alexander Turnbull Library.
Jo Birks, Special Collections
1 Link with old Auckland. (1923, April 10). Auckland Star, p. 7. Retrieved from Papers Past.
2 Advertisement. (1875, July 7). Auckland Star, p. 3
3 Craig, E. (188?). Catalogue of botanical, ethnological, conchological and natural history specimens on sale at the Curiosity Shop, Auckland. Auckland : J.R. Cross, Printer
4 (1881, May 5). Auckland Star, p. 2
5 The Auckland Irishwomen and Mr Gladstone. (1886, September 14). Auckland Star, p. 2