Artifact Corner: Pressed Leaves

Hi Everyone, and welcome back to another artifact corner. Today we will be looking at some pieces that were discovered discretely pressed between the pages of Henry Webb’s bible. Henry Webb was married to our Frances Delord Webb, and the father of our Fannie Delord Webb Hall. These leaves were found throughout the book, and in one spot there was a note stating that the leaves were gathered in Hartford, CT in 1846. Interestingly, Henry Webb passed away on October 12th, 1846. So are these leaves that Henry gathered and pressed before he passed, or did perhaps his daughter, who inherited his bible collect these leaves and press them in her father’s bible? We simply don’t know for sure, but pressing and or drying leaves and flowers has a long and varied history. Let’s learn a bit more about it.

The oldest preserved flowers were found in a Roman tomb in Egypt, and are around 2,000 years old. Preserving vegetation takes on many forms and has a variety of uses. In some cases, like our leaves it’s to preserve a memory, but there are so many other uses for dried flowers and leaves. The ancient Egyptians dried plants for use in medicines, fragrances, and cosmetics. The Romans are responsible for bringing dried wreaths and garlands into common use. It became a tradition in both Greek and Roman society to bestow wreaths or garlands to politicians, athletes, poets, and even victorious warriors. Crowns of leaves and dried flowers were worn on the heads of state, much like metal and jeweled crowns are worn today. Different plants held different significance, and each had its own meaning. A dried bay laurel was considered the highest honor, and an olive wreath was used to symbolize peace. That’s where we get the phrase, “extending an olive branch” from, it was a literal symbol of peace in antiquity. In Mediaeval Europe, herb gardens were ubiquitous, and dried herbs were very important in everyday life. Church would scatter their floors with dried lavender, which was thought to ward off evil. In reality, dried lavender can ward off pests and therefore was keeping any illnesses they might bring at bay. So, even though people in the Middle Ages didn’t quite understand the science behind this practice, the idea was still sound.

The Victorian’s were very passionate about flowers. They created a whole language around them, and sending flowers was basically a dialogue. A yellow pansy meant that the sender was thinking of you, a poppy meant that the sender was not free (or in today’s parlance, not single), a white rose was a flat out rejection from the sender, while a red rose or red tulip was a declaration of love. A Canterbury Blue Bell meant that your letter had been received, a Yellow Marquerile meant to expect a visit soon, and a Red Fuchsia meant the sender thought you had excellent taste. So, what do you do with an important or special flower that you want to preserve, well, you can dry it or press it in the pages of your favorite book. Pressing a flower is very easy, and you almost guaranteed already have everything you need. If you have a beautiful flower or leaf you’d like to preserve, grab a book, and some wax paper or parchment paper. You don’t need the wax paper for this to work, it’s mostly to protect the pages of your book. Find a good spot in the middle to end of the book, and arrange the flower or leaves the way you’d like them to be preserved. In about two weeks it will be sufficiently dried, and your flower or leaf is preserved. The color will last for anywhere between 5 to 10 years. Many Victorian’s would keep their pressed flowers or leaves next to special passages or chapters in books they adored, kind of like a bookmark.

Our leaves are in good condition, given that they are 175 years old! We have removed them from the Bible because as they age, they can compromise the pages of the book, which is not something we want. These are a lovely reminder of a memory of a Fall season in CT in 1846, and we are so lucky to have them in our collections. Thanks so much for stopping by.

Music: Acoustic Breeze by Benjamin Tissot,