collections

The American Woods

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Below is a selection of pages from Romeyn Beck Hough’s unique fourteen volume work The American Woods, a collection of more than 1000 paper-thin wood samples representing more than 350 varieties of North American tree. Between 1888 and 1913, Hough published a total of thirteen volumes of the work, but died in 1923 before being able to fulfil his epic fifteen volume plan. However, a final fourteenth volume was published in 1928 using his samples and field notes compiled by his daughter. Each specimen page of the work is dedicated to a single tree and consists of a cardboard plate into which three translucent slices have been placed, three variations of cross-section — transverse, radial, and tangential. The wafer-thin slivers — which would glow like a slide when held up to the light — were prepared using a slicing machine of Hough’s own design and which he patented in 1886. In addition to the specimens Hough also provides information about the characteristics, growth habits, medicinal properties, and commercial possibilities of the tree. With some of the trees in the book now very rare the series now has an added value and, as Rebecca Onion from Slate’s The Vault comments, “stands as a memorial to the shape and extent of American forests at the end of the 19th century”. The images below are from Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library who have digitised 274 of the pages, but you can also see the whole set on the Internet Archive.

In 2013, Taschen published a new edition — Romeyn B. Hough: The Woodbook — sadly not with the actual wood slices, but still very nice!

Housed at: Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library
Underlying Work: PD Worldwide. | Digital Copy: No Additional Rights
Download: Right click on image or see source for higher res versions

Gleditschia triacanthos – Honey Locust
Dalea spinosa – Dalea
Pletanus occidentalis – Sycamore or Button-wood
Pyrus rivularis – Oregon Crab Apple
Quercus rubra – Red Oak
Sassafras officinale – Sassafras
Asimina triloba – Papaw
Broussonelia papyrifera – Paper Mulberry
Castaneavesca, Var Amer. – Chestnut
Jaglans nigra – Black Walnut
Juglans cinerea – Butternut
Platanus racemosa – California Sycamore
Platanus Wrightii – Arizona Sycamore
Prosopis juliflora – Mesquit
Quercus coccinea – Scarlet Oak
Quercus digitata – Finger Oak
Quercus Michauxii – Basket Oak
Quercus Muhlenbergii – Chinquapin Oak
Quercus obtusiloba – Post Oak
Quercus Prinus – Rock Oak
Rhus Typhina – Sumach or Stag-horn
equoia gigantea – Big Tree, Giant Redwood
Thuja gigantea – Pacific Arborvitae
Vitis aestivalis – Summer Grape
Liriodendron Tulipifern – Tulip Tree or White-wood