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