[ Home ] [ Articles ]

Vol. 7(11), pp. 5-10The McAllen International Orchid Society JournalNovember 2006


R J Ferry

The publication Reichenbachia, originally conceived and produced as a series of plates and descriptions was noted by Reinikka (1972) as "perhaps the greatest monument" to Henry Frederick Conrad Sander. However, it should probably be termed to be the greatest monument to the combined drives of both Sander and the work's major artist, Henry G. Moon. The orchids were painted life-size, and the woodcut etchings and printing was all done within the firm's own printing facilities.

Some portraits were colored by lithography, but others, where it was expedient, were hand painted. The text was given in English, French, and German. An "imperial Edition of 100 signed and numbered copies were bound in four Morocco leather bound volumes, and an unknown number of other bound sets was also released, and the title was chosen to honor "Professor Dr. Reichenbach, of Hamburgh, the great Orchidologist, who devotes his life to the study of the orchid family."

The first announcement of the publication of Reichenbachia came out in the June 12th issue of the Gardener's Chronicle. Page 751 of that publication reads as follows:

Now Ready,
Orchids Illustrated
and Described.
By F. Sander, St. Alban's.
This work is issued in Monthly Parts, each containingfour beautifully Coloured Plates by eminent Floral Artists
The History and Culture of Each Plant is given in English, French, and German. The Latin Descriptions and Leaders, &c., by Professor Reichenbach.
Price of each Number to Subscribers,
7s. 6d. Per Month
Size of Plates, 21 inches by 15 inches.

Sample Copies post-free on application, to be returned in case of non-subscription to


Fig. 1. Title page, Reichenbachia, Vol. I. Digital photo DSC_1166a, 02 December, 2006.

In the world of orchid literature and flower pictures, Reichenbachia was never plentiful., and even when Baker (1941) wrote about it in the American Orchid Society's Bulletin, it was known to be a rare publication. Baker attests to a copy in the library of the Massachusetts Horticultural Society in Boston, and he "believed" a set was in the Library of Congress and "probably in other large libraries," but that was about it. The set Baker examined was said to be the original paintings from which the illustrations were made, and that set was in possession of the L. Sherman Adams Company of Wellesley, Massachusetts. Each of the 100 copies of the "Imperial Edition" of 100 copies was numbered and signed. That edition differs little from the regular edition (Fig. 1) other than in the size of the pages and quality of the paper. In 2006, a set of the "Imperial Edition," if one may be found, is expected to be priced at about $150,000.

Your editor has no knowledge of what became of the original paintings held by the L. Sherman Adams Company, but it is known that a complete set is in the hands of a private collector in Holland, and one strongly suspects a complete sets might also be found at Harvard University and the Royal Garden at Kew. Beyond that, your editor knows of only parts-of-sets still in existence. It is known that in addition to the the "Imperial Edition", an unknown number of other bound sets were produced. Four or five years ago, an orchid bookseller quoted $20,000 to your editor when queried about a set of Reichenbachia, and a colleague just recently surmised that today's price tag might be closer to $25,000 to $30,000!

Where have these sets gone? Well, one avenue has been that art dealers have bought sets, cut out the plates (illustrations), and sold them as framed works of art. The individual plates are clearly marked with the word Reichenbachia in the upper left corner, and the Tab number in the upper right corner. As recently as six years ago, your editor and wife saw Tab #1, Odontoglossum crispum, attractively framed and for sale at $400. However, orchid art, like many things valuable may be found in unlikely places waiting to be discovered by the discerning eye. Four or five years ago, your editor noticed a couple of flower pictures in a local antique store, and inquired as to the price of "these old photos," both of which were in rather shabby frames, one lacking glass. Furniture pieces had been bought at that establishment, and the dealer simply said to "take them along as a gift." One was Tab 17 from a set of Reichenbachia! Once again, chance favored the prepared mind!

What, however, is some of the background behind this monumental set of orchid illustrations replete with descriptions written in English, French, and German by then-professor Reichenbach? For that, we need to look at thumbnail sketches of at least two individuals: H. F. C. Sander and Henry G. Moon.

Henry Frederick Conrad Sander (1847-1920)

H. F. C. Sander was born in Hanover, Germany in 1847, and at age twenty entered the nurseries of James Carter and Company, seedsmen at Forest Hill. There he met Benedict Roezl the Bavarian explorer and plant collector with whom he decided to combine forces and interest. Roezl had been sending plants to England for years, but lacking a partner to properly dispose of his shipments, he had met with only enough monetary success to allow him to continue his collecting and exploring. The association was to be a success story for Roezl, and a major turning point in Sander's life.

Sander left Messrs. Carters and commenced business as a seedsman in George Street, St. Albans. The business began modestly, but Roezl's consignments of orchids and tropical plants became so extensive that a huge warehouse adjoining the seed shop was literally filled from floor to ceiling. Orchids had never before entered England in such quantity, and Sander's systematic method of selling the plants was so profitable for both men that Roezl was able to retire comfortably in his native city of Prague.

Sander, however, discontinued the seed business and continued with orchids. In 1873 he built his first greenhouse almost entirely with his own hands. However, the structure soon proved incapable of containing the growing collections, and in 1881 a home and nursery covering four acres was built in the Camp district of St. Albans. These expanded facilities combined with Sander's business aptitude to expand the business by orders of magnitude. At one time as many as twenty three paid collectors were searching jungles and mountains worldwide for the firm of Sanders, St. Albans. Enormous quantities of orchids were received! Sixty greenhouses were stocked with thousands of plants and some of the finest species of orchids then known. Several houses were devoted to seed raising, and numerous hybrids were additionally tested and propagated. Between one and two million plants were handled at the St. Albans establishment in the 1880s and 1890s, and the firm became recognized as the showplace of horticulture in Europe, and kings and noblemen were frequent visitors.

To most orchidists, the name Sander is most readily associated with the various addenda to Sander's Book of Hybrids, the best known basic edition of which is more correctly titled Sander's Complete List of Orchid Hybrids. Indeed, until the recent introduction of computer databases, searching through the Sanders' Addenda was the only way one could.

In 1885 Sander conceived of a work that illustrated orchids life-sized, accompanied by text and descriptions in both English and German. With this in mind, he commissioned Moon to do the life-sized paintings for Reichenbachia, and both Sander and Moon supervised much of the work-in-progress for the next few years.

The work begun in 1886 but not completed until 1890, and was not without confrontations between Sander the businessman and Moon the artist! Moon married Sander's only daughter in January, 1894, and he spent the next twenty years of his life painting orchids, yet, despite being a member of the family, the monumental work of Reichenbachia was not completed without some stormy encounters between Sander and his son-in-law and strong-willed artist. Sander, the businessman, wanted plants and flowers painted "perfectly," but the Henry Moon was determined to paint what he saw, including whatever botanical imperfections were before him. There were times when paintings sat unfinished on the easel due to the differences of opinion, but in the end, Moon won the battle by saying he'd paint it the way he saw it or not at all!

As the orchid business grew, Sander looked to further expansion, so during the 1880s Sander established an orchid nursery at Summit, New Jersey, initially placing one of his collectors, Forsterman, in charge. However, the Summit nursery proved to be too distant from the home offices for convenient management, and it was sold to John Lager and Henry Hurrell in 1896. Thus was began the oldest orchid company in America, a firm which continued until the late 1970s when it was moved from Summit, New Jersey to Lilburn, Georgia, and subsequently closed in 1980 by a third generation John Lager.

Editor's note: As the firm of Lager and Hurrell was closing operations, your editor was offered first refusal on the library, and various artifacts, and needless to say, acted on that offer promptly! However, although much of literary value was available and obtained, there was nothing of two jewels of the orchid world: Reichenbachia and Bateman's Orchidaceae of Mexico and Guatemala. For what it's worth, the last sale, 5 or 6 years ago, of an original folio set of Bateman's Orchidaceae of Mexico and Guatemala went at auction for $250,000!

Henry George Moon (1857-1905)

Henry George Moon was born 18 February, 1857, at Barnet, England as the eldest son of Henry Moon, a parliamentary agent of Westminster. Until his father's death in 1866, Henry's school days were spent at Dr. Bell's in Barnet where--even as a young lad--his love of art was evident. After his schooling at Barnet, he was a student at the Birbeck and St. Martin's schools of art, where he won numerous awards.

Fig. 2. Cattleya Percivaliana, Reichenbachia, Vol. I, Tab. 2. Digital photo DSC_1167a, 02 December, 2006.

In 1878, at 21, Moon began working as a clerk in a law firm with a view to profession of a barrister, but that field could not hold his interest over art, and in 1880 he joined the art department of The Garden, a popular horticultural publication. From that time on, most of the magazine's illustrated colored plates, including many orchids, were done by him (Fig. 2). Much of Moon's spare time during this period was spent in the further study of landscape painting, often in the company of Mr. W. E. Norton, an American painter to whom Moon attributed much of his own success in art. In later years, Moon also painted plates for The English Flower Garden, Wild Garden, and Flora and Silva.

Moon first visited St. Albans in 1884, to H. F. C. Sander's orchid nurseries to make drawings for Mr. Robinson who then was the publisher of The English Flower Garden. The following year, 1885, Mr. Sander asked him to illustrate the Reichenbachia, and he spent the next four years painting most of the pictures and supervising the work's printing. The printing was all done by hand in the Sander printing shops at St. Albans. Moon made the woodcut etchings and the firm's expert printer and engraver, Mr. Moffat, with the help of one or two boys, effected the printing.

In the fall of 1892, Moon, now 33, decided to settle permanently at St. Albans with his mother and sister. He married Sander's daughter in 1894 and continued painting for Sander and several publications, making frequent excursions in the local countryside, to paint directly from nature. Years later, a commentary from Mr. R. E. Arnold would say,

"H. G. Moon was very close to nature, and primarily, for this reason he stands out as, perhaps, the greatest of all British flower painters,... His plants live, there is an atmosphere of reality about them, and instantly, when viewing one of his pictures, is the plant's natural surroundings, its natural environment, cast vividly upon one's mind."

William Robinson, had been interested in Moon's work from the beginning, but was particularly intrigued with his landscapes. He once said, "I often thought that if less of his work had been given to plant drawing, how much better it would have been for landscape art." Moon actually did paint several Turner-like landscapes, but the outstanding Reichenbachia remains his best known accomplishment.

Regarding Reichenbachia, Moon did most of the paintings, but other artists also contributed to the work. Some paintings are signed, but others are not. Other names that appear include W. H. Fitch, A. H. Loch, George Hansen, Charles Storer, J. Watton, and J. L. Macfarlane. Oaks Ames (1941) noted that Macfarlane executed the plates of Cattleya dowiana aurea (Vol. I, ser I, t. 5), Oncidium tigrinum (Vol. II, ser I, t. 87), and Oncidium triumphans (Vol. II, ser. I, t. 83. Storer made only one plate, that of the "white gigas," Cattleya labiata var. Warscewiczii Rochellensis, which, in the 1890s, was a far-famed and unique gem of the Langwater collection at North Easton, Massachusetts. That collection was named for estate name of F. L. Ames, then governor of Massachusetts and the father of Oakes Ames. In 1888 Stoerer did the painting for the Reichenbachia work at the Ames estate in North Easton, Massachusetts.

Henry Moon was also an active art judge and critic, and his opinions were always valued. He was frequently in demand as a critic at London sketching clubs--the Birbeck, the Gilbert Garrett, the Langhorn, Polytechnic, and others.

Despite being in frail health for some years, he maintained a demanding pace with his concentration on each painting, making his own frames, and keeping up with the demands on his time and talent from other organizations. His death at forty eight years of age on 6 October, 1905, brought profound grief and regret in the firm and households of Sander and the worlds of both art and horticulture. He left a widow and two small sons.


Ames, O. 1941. Reichenbachia. Amer. Orch. Soc. Bull. 10(5): 14-16. (October)

Baker, R. W. 1941. Reichenbachia. Amer. Orch. Soc. Bull. 9(5): 317-320. (May)

Blowers, J. W. 1962. Sander's Century of Orchid Growing. The Orchid Review: 70. No. 833: 341-343. (November)

Reinikka, M. A. 1972. A History of the Orchid. Coral Gables, Fla: University of Miami Press. 316pp.

Sander, F. 1888. Reichenbachia, Vol. I. London: H. Sotheran & Co. 110pp.

Sander, C. F., and F. K. Sander and L. L. Sander. Addenda to SANDER'S LIST of ORCHID HYBRIDS, (1905 TO 1907). St, Albans: Sanders. (Note: this is a paper folder containing loose pages numbering to 19). 19pp.

_______. 1927. Sanders' Orchid Guide. St, Albans: Sanders. 451pp.

Sander, F. K. 1940. Sanders' Complete List of ORCHID HYBRIDS. (revised to include hybrids to January 1st, 1946). St. Albans: Gibbs & Bamforth. Table I 258pp. & Table II 307pp. Note: also have the Supplement of Corrections for this volume.

Copyright © 2006 R J Ferry