Hough’s American Woods

May 14th, 2012 by
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Hough's American Woods 1

During a recent visit to the Anderson Horticultural Library at the Minnesota Landscape Arboretum, the librarian was kind enough to show me their collection of Hough’s American Woods.  The pages you see pictured do not contain photographs – they’re actually three pieces of veneer for each species, along with a description and information contained in the booklets.

They are in incredible condition considering the age (see below), and the library has one of the few complete collections in existence.

I wasn’t familiar with this collection, but fortunately Tim Knight responded to my inquiry (within an hour, no less…) with the following information.

[Romeyn Beck] Hough is well known in forestry circles, not by this volume, but from his Handbook of Trees of the Northern United States and Canada which was used by many universities to teach dendrology.

His series Hough’s American Woods was actually a series of portfolios covering differing regions. For example, the first four volumes (I-IV) covered woods of the north Atlantic coast, and volume V covered North Florida. He didn’t revisit southern Florida until volume XIII. These portfolios were issued to subscribers, and few complete sets were purchased for two reasons: 1) It took him from 1888 to 1913 to publish them all, so not many subscribers hung in there throughout, and 2) most subscribers only purchased those of particular interest to them since foresters in the North Atlantic states had little interest in California species. Hence the reason so few complete sets exist. In addition, most sets contain volumes from differing years as he published on different years and he reissued past volumes on the same year he was issuing new first editions. Incomplete sets have sold for varying amounts and usually average greater than $1,000 to $5,000 per volume. Appraisals have ranged from $30,000 and up for complete sets. I saw one complete set in North Carolina State University’s rare book collection, and I think the New York Public Library also owns one. BTW, he was self-published and charged $5.oo per volume!

You’ll learn more about the purpose of my visit to the Arboretum in the July/August 2012 print issue (and believe me, it was a REALLY good reason), but seeing this collection in person was certainly worth the visit on its own.

Matt Becker

Hough's American Woods 2

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