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Vol. 8(2), pp. 3-6The McAllen International Orchid Society JournalFebruary 2007


Greig Russell

Fig. 1. Dust jacket of Reinikka's (in)famous book. Item scanned, 17 January, 2007.

In 1972, when Merle A. Reinikka's A History of the Orchid (Fig. 1) came out, it was a resource of immense value. At that time, information was not readily available and any study of any merit tended to require almost unreasonable effort to effect. Visits to more than one library, much letter writing hoping to elicit clues which would lead to useful sources of information, and a large measure of luck, were the orders of the day. One would have been lucky to find one single reference to any fact of interest and after briefly assessing its source, one would take a leap of faith and simply accept the fact blindly. Today, information is much cheaper and it is possible to fact-check with the greatest of ease using that magnificent resource, the Internet. It is now an easy thing to find all the errors in Reinikka's text.

Why I am discussing all this is because our beloved editor used Reinikka as his chief source of information when he wrote his piece on the sublime Henry George Moon in the November issue of the MIOS Journal. It just so happens that I have also been looking into the life of this self-same gentleman of late. One of the tools I like to use is the genealogy resources of the Internet, and particularly when one is looking into American or British families, there is much information available, and much of this information is free. By paying a fee, an even broader range of information can be accessed; but being a South African, I require a bucket-load of our Mickey Mouse currency to buy a handful of foreign exchange, so I tend to avoid that route. The other version of this simply calls me a cheap-skate.

Regarding the genealogy of Henry George Moon (H.G.), I can say with certainty that he was born in St Pancras, Middlesex - possibly in Camden Town (since 1900 this area has been in Greater London), and not in Barnet, Hertfordshire, as we are told. The family never appear to have lived in Barnet at all; from 1857 to 1863, they were living in St Pancras, around 1865 they lived in Tottenham, Middlesex and around 1867 they were in Hornsey, Middlesex. By 1871 they were back in St Pancras where they remained until about 1892. Another error is the date of the death of H.G.'s father Henry; although given as 1866, he definitely died in the last quarter of 1868. It is also said that on H.G.'s death, he left two sons; I can find three Moon children born in St Albans between 1895 and 1905; two boys and a girl. Perhaps the girl died before H.G. did, although I can find no evidence of this.

My genealogical research into the Moon family has proven to be a study in 19th century family tragedy. H.G.'s mother Sarah was born in Lincolnshire, and was an orphan by the age of 15. She appears to have been the inmate of the Stamford Union Workhouse, which housed paupers, for a period of up to ten years after her parents died, until she met and married Henry Sr. The latter died 17 years after their marriage, aged but 43. Sarah gave birth to at least 6 children and possibly more, lost a son at 4 years of age, a daughter at 16, and her oldest daughter, Isabella, lost her son, Sarah's first grandchild, when he was two or three months of age, Isabella herself dying a year later. When Sarah died at the respectable age of 72 in 1898, only three of her children survived her at most. H. G. only survived her by seven years, dying at the age of 48.

Another problem in the Reinikka material is the lack of definition of the nature of William Robinson's publications. Robinson was an Irish-born gardener of humble origins who fled Ireland as a young man, going to London, working at Kew for a while and then taking to writing and publishing on gardening matters. In this latter profession he made his wealth, using it to purchase a country estate in Sussex--the famous Gravetye Manor, where he laid out one of the most famous of English gardens. He wrote a number of books, two of the most famous being The English Flower Garden and Wild Garden. The first of these went through many editions, transforming considerably during its evolution. He also published three periodicals, The Garden, Gardening Illustrated and Flora & Sylva. The first existed from 1871-1927, and the second from 1879-1956. Flora & Sylva was the show-off magazine; very artistically composed, printed on hand-made paper, with the highest of quality in authorship and artistry. It lasted but 33 months, from April 1903 to December 1905, containing two color plates per month. Of its total of 66 colour plates, most were painted by H. G. Moon. Its publication ceased because the expense of its production almost broke Robinson.

Regarding the printing of the Reichenbachia, Reinikka also had some of his facts mixed. The "woodcut etchings" is the best of them. Have you ever tried to etch wood? H.G. Moon certainly had nothing to do with the printing of the Reichenbachia. He was a temperamental and somewhat sickly artist, and what he did was to paint--pure and simple. The unsung heros of the Reichenbachia were the lithographers. These were Joseph Mansell of London (122 plates), Gustav Leutzsch of Gerra, Germany (67 plates) and J.L. McFarlane, who lithographed his own paintings, which were then printed by M. & N. Hanhart of London (3 plates). It must be remembered that great paintings lithographed poorly would simply result in poor plates. The lithography was done on a stone surface (as the word "lithography" implies), one colour per stone, and up to twenty-one stones, perfectly drawn and aligned, would be required for a single plate. The time required for this, and therefore the cost of the work, was immense. Following this work, the finished plates were delivered to the text printer and book binder, where they were mounted.

A search through the literature proves that David Sander was Reinikka's source for the "woodcut etchings" story. David was unfortunately a careless writer who never checked his facts because he believed that he was always infallible. The trail of errors he has left is quite terrible. The story about "Moffat" printing the Reichenbachia in a back room of the St Albans nursery is another one of these. At most, "Moffat" printed the text of this work, and not all of that either, the first volume of the first series was printed by J. French, Printer, a London firm. Additionally, "Moffat" was not a Belgian or a Belgo-Scot, as is often said; he was born at Brampton, near Carlisle in Cumberland, just on the English side of Hadrian's Wall, in about 1851. According to the census sheets from 1901, his name was John Moffett and his wife Sylvie was Belgian. In all likelihood he had lived and trained in Belgium for some of his life, but by the mid 1880's was employed at St Albans. In the 1901 census sheet, he described his occupation as "compositor printer", which as I understand it is a printer who sets his own type.

If you are looking for expert opinion on the Reichenbachia, you can do no better than read what Denis Duveen (1977) had to say about it. His technical description of the work is flawless. However, he does not look quite as favourably upon the orchid paintings of H.G. Moon as many others do, but his views are interesting and informed. Another superb piece of work on the subject is that of Marc Montefusco (1981); this is a must-read. Montefusco specifically pokes holes in some of the material published on H.G. Moon, but this is done in a far more gentlemanly manner than I can manage.

My personal comment on the Reichenbachia plates goes as follows:

Regarding Henry Moon's paintings; from a purely botanical perspective, at first glance they may disappoint. They lack the familiar, diagrammatic nature so often seen in the botanical paintings of others. However, with increasing familiarity, the wonderful beauty inherent in them becomes more greatly appreciated, until the viewer finally realises how truly representative, aesthetically-pleasing and life-like they are, and so devoid of harshness and jarring discord; and so yet another "Moon-admirer" is born (the latter probably being some orchidaceous form of lunatic).

In 1987, the American Orchid Society was able to purchase a collection of nearly all the original paintings upon which the Reichenbachia plates were based, and these now reside in the Library Archive at AOS headquarters (the infamous Taj Mahal). Additionally, in 2005, Dr. Arthur W. Burke, Jr. of Virginia donated a beautiful, complete set of the Reichenbachia to the AOS. It had originally been the property of John Lager--so Mr. Editor, now you know what happened to the Lager & Hurrell Reichenbachia!

The final error that deserves comment is the one perpetrated by our beloved editor himself. According to him, Henry Moon, Sr. was "a parliamentary agent in Westchester". When I enquired sarcastically whether this all happened in the "Republic of New York", he answered "For some obscure reason, writing 'Westminster' into the computer yielded 'Westchester.' That may have something to do with a British prejudice by an American computer."

...and I believed Blair and Bush were big buddies! Do I know nothing?

References to Moon and the Reichenbachia not mentioned by Ferry

Reinikka, M. A. 1965. H. G. Moon--Orchid Artist. Amer. Orch. Soc. Bull. 34(4): 329-330.

Sander, D. 1965. The Imperial Reichenbachia. Amer. Orch. Soc. Bull. 34(4): 302-307. (Reprinted with permission from The Orchid Journal 2(5): 219. (May-June 1953)

________. 1966. A Christmas Present for an Orchid Grower? Orchid Review 74(11): 366-367.

Swinson, A. 1970. Frederick Sander: the Orchid King. London: Hodder and Stoughton.

Duveen, D. I. 1977. Classics of Orchid Literature--Reichenbachia. Amer. Orch. Soc. Bull. 46(2): 150-154.

Moon's Obituary. 1905. Flora and Silva 3: 341.

Moon's Obituary. 1905. Orchid Review 13: 374.

Montefusco, M. 1981. Sander's Reichenbachia--A Victorian Masterpiece. Amer. Orch. Soc. Bull. 50(5): 541-546.

McQuerry, M. N. 1987. A.O.S. Acquires original Reichenbachia Paintings. Amer. Orch. Soc. Bull. 56(6): 588-590.

Slaughter, T. 1992. Reichenbachia Restoration. Amer. Orch. Soc. Bull. 61(6): 588-589.

Cooke, L. S. 2005. A Gift of Reichenbachias. Orchids. (Amer. Orch. Soc.) 74(10): 776.

Endnote: The author would appreciate any additions to the above bibliography.

Copyright © 2007 Greig Russell