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Vol. 8(1), pp. 5-13The McAllen International Orchid Society JournalJanuary 2007

James Bateman and Orchid Literature

R J Ferry

Fig. 1. James Bateman of Knypersley Hall & Kensington. (1811-1897)

James Bateman (Fig. 1) was born into nobility at Redivals, Bury, England on 18 July, 1811, and over the 86 years of his life, is particularly noted for three significant contributions to orchid botany.

In the early 1800's, a few factions intermeshed to greatly advance knowledge about orchids. The aristocracy had both the desire for showy horticultural collections and the wealth to not only house them, but to finance worldwide explorations for novel plants. With funding available, there were individuals willing to go into the unexplored areas of the world and risk life and limb to collect and ship plants. Once plants were obtained and cultured, there was a niche tailor-made for individuals who could identify and put some botanical order to these vast masses of plants new to science and horticulture. The system publicized by Linnaeus a few decades earlier had given a vehicle to the establishment of an orderly system of classification, and the race had begun to learn about not only the vast areas of the New World, but the equally vast areas of Asia. Finally, as Queen Victoria's Navy maintained relative control of the seas, it became not only a time of world exploration, but an era of an explosion of scientific knowledge.

However, much exploration was for other than esoteric reasons. Governments and wealthy individuals were not above exploring with hopes of developing new commercial avenues, and much orchid exploring funded by the wealthy lookng to have a "better-than-one's-peers" orchid collection as well as the personal satisfaction to be gained by making one's mark with significant contributions to the botanical science of the day.

An old cliché says "money talks." If that's so, then it may be true that "big money" screams, even when it's not openly mentioned, and such appears to have been true with James Bateman. Little is noted about wealth of the Batemans of Knypersley Hall, but it was obviously there. Young James received his B.A. at Oxford in 1834, at age 23, and his M.A. a year later. His interest in horticulture was encouraged by his father, and while still working on his bachelor's degree, he was sufficiently funded to hire a botanical collector to go to Demerara, Guyana (the northern coast of South America) to search for orchids. This off-campus venture resulted in about sixty species of orchids being sent back alive, a third of them new to cultivation. John Lindley named one of them Batemannia colleyi, commemorating both Bateman the employer and Reginald Colley the collector, which--all in all--was a rather healthy beginning for a novice orchid fancier!

Bateman became a lifelong orchid hobbyist and something of a serious botanist with not only the time and facilities with which to communicate with botanical personalities of the day, but the money to hire explorers, to go to Mexico and New Granada (the area of Colombia and elsewhere in northern South America). In addition, he had sufficient funds to establish facilities to culture the plants collected. Learning about shipments of orchids received by the Natural History Museum at Manchester from a Mr. George Ure Skinner, Bateman wrote to Skinner. The result was productive for both the on-site collector and the avid hobbyist. As plants were received, Bateman cultured and flowered them, and had them identified by London contemporaries, particularly John Lindley. Bateman not only grew orchids, he wrote about them, and hired top quality artist talent to execute the figures.

Fig. 2. Title page: The Orchidaceae of Mexico and Guatemala. By James Bateman, London 1837-1842, Digital photo DSC_1232a, 03 January, 2007

Three of Bateman's works are particular classics in the orchid world. His Orchidaceae of Mexico and Guatemala (Fig. 2) was issued in parts from 1837 to 1843. It consisted of forty huge folio plates measuring twenty seven inches in height and fifteen inches in width, and was accompanied by descriptions and cultural advice. Only 125 copies of this work were issued, and the drawings were specially prepared for Bateman by Mrs. Withers, the flower painter for Queen Adelaide. In 1860, Bateman moved to Kensington, where he compiled the texts for many of the new orchids figured in Paxton's Botanical Magazine. One hundred hand-colored plates were lithographed and combined with textual material. This compilation was issued as a bound and boxed volume in 1867 as A Second Century of Orchidaceous Plants. During the ten-year period of 1864-1874 Bateman issued his Monograph of Odontoglossums. This work was originally intended to be concluded with an analysis of the genus with a conspectus of all its known species, but this section never appeared, and the thirty plates which were issued comprise the entirety of the work. Bateman was also a frequent contributor to the Gardener's Chronicle. He published a Guide to Cool Orchid Growing in 1864, but of this last work, virtually nothing can be learned by your editor!

Fig. 3. Dedication page of the work to Queen Adelaide. By James Bateman, London 1837-1842, Digital photo DSC_1233a, 03 January, 2007

With exception to the material published by John Bateman in the Gardner's Chronicle, Bateman never really published for the masses (Fig. 3). His Orchidaceae of Mexico and Guatemala, dedicated to Queen Adelaide, was of such size and quality as to call for a large space in any library. The number of issues were severely limited in quantity, and were written basically for the very limited subscription circle of the royalty and wealthy nobility of the day. Your editor can unearth no firm figure regarding how many copies were made of his Second Century of Orchidaceous Plants, but it is not unthinkable that no more than three hundred were produced, and the same may be said of his truncated Monograph of Odontoglossums.

Present day prices may give some indication of how many originals were actually made of each of Bateman's three major offerings. The Orchidaceae of Mexico and Guatemala has been noted as the "holy grail of orchid books," and about ten years ago, an original folio of this work was sold at auction for $250,000. The only original your editor has ever seen of this work was the copy in the library of the Marie Selby Botanical Garden. It's known the AOS has an original, and doubtless there is one in the botanical library at Harvard University, and at Kew in England, but beyond those, few copies are known. In 2001, your editor noted an original issue of Bateman's A Second Century of Orchidaceous Plants on the market for $5,000, but a recent communication with a Florida orchidist revealed that an original issue was valued at $10,816. About five years ago, a copy of his Monograph of Odontoglossums was valued at $20,000.

Fig. 4. Title page: A Second Century of Orchidaceous Plants. By James Bateman, London, 1867, Digital photo DSC_1234a, 04 January, 2007

The Second Century of Orchidaceous Plants was issued in 1867 (Fig. 4). It was issued as a book of 146 plates on the left side, with the appropriate narrative on the facing page. Many, if not all of the plates were hand-painted. As issued, the publication was housed in a fold-open box. It may be somewhat understandable that art dealers of years ago, before this publication's value soared, realized profits in dismantling a copy of the book, framing the hand-colored pictures, and selling them as artwork. Framed works of plants and flowers were particularly popular in both Europe and the United States at the turn of the Century, and the art dealer might well have realized many times the amount invested in a particular book or folio, and particularly so if the artwork was not merely a limited edition lithographed print, but one individually hand-painted.

Fig. 5. Opened book, A Second Century of Orchidaceous Plants. James Bateman, London, 1867, Plate 134. Dendrobium glumaceum with narrative. Digital photo DSC_1236a, 04 January, 2007

Inasmuch as display space in this publication is severely limited, your editor is loath to exhibit only a figure from Bateman's Second Century of Orchidaceous Plants, and similarly reluctant to display a figure of the opened book. In each case, what is displayed simply does not do justice to the detailed work and sheer beauty of the original! However, with apologies to the reader, the opened book is displayed here (Fig. 5). In this case, what is displayed is plate #134 on the left, with the narrative showing on the book's facing page.

Obviously, Bateman's three major works are not the sort of orchid literature one might expect to find in the local bookstore. However, a short time before the year 2000 dawned, a few limited edition reprints of certain rare folio productions were done in Holland and issued as somewhat smaller bound volumes. The pages of these books measure about 18 inches across by 20 inches high, and 1000 numbered copies were printed of Lindley's 1838 Sertum Orchidaceum, and 1000 numbered copies were printed of Bateman's Orchidaceae of Mexico and Guatemala. Both the printing and the color work are of exceptionally high quality. Copies of these reprinted books are available, but are not cheap! In 2001, a copy of Sertum Orchidaceum was on the market at a little over $500, but present-day prices put it at least at double that figure. In 2002, one of the numbered reprinted books of Orchidaceae of Mexico and Guatemala was for sale at around $860, but the book is relatively scarce. Your editor expects the current price of one of these numbered-reprints, if available, would be somewhere around $1,500.

Fig. 6. Pl. No. 17. Epidendrum macroclinum v. roseum (present day nomenclature: Encyclia cordigera) Digital photo DSC_1229a, 03 January, 2007.

Fig. 7. Plate No. 2. Catasetum maculatum. As figured in Bateman's Orchidaceae of Mexico and Guatemala. Digital photo DSC_1227a, 03 January, 2007

Having "broken the ice" so to speak, and displayed a figure of the open-book artwork from Bateman's Second Century of Orchidaceous Plants, a couple of samples from Bateman's Orchids of Mexico and Guatemala might as well be exhibited with similar apologies for the reduced size of each plate in this publication. Taken at random, the first is Plate No. 17. Encyclia cordigera, known in Bateman's time and published as Epidendrum macroclinum var. roseum (Fig. 6). The second one shown is Plate No. 2. Catasetum maculatum (Fig. 7), shown on the following page.

What is the future outlook? Without a doubt, few originals of these works will remain in private hands for a few more years. Over time, such originals tend to be either broken up for the art they contain, or to become another item in some university's research library or rare book collection. Given also that only 1000 numbered copies of the reprinted edition were made, one expects to see prices of these reprinted works steadily climb over the years as copies become scarce and the number of orchid fanciers grows. Your editor would not be surprised to see these reprinted edition copies at least double and redouble in value over the next ten years or so.

With all that's been said above, what, actually, is the value of such works other than as baubles in the possession of some well-off collector of orchid literature? Well, in the case of Bateman's Orchidaceae of Mexico and Guatemala, the original description and figure of Stanhopea tigrina is to be found in that publication, and the same is true for what was described as Odontoglossum bictoniense in Bateman's Monograph of Odontoglossums. Likewise, Lindley's Sertum Orchidaceum was published with the same purposes in mind. These reprinted and individually numbered issues accurately exhibit the same information as the originals, but in slightly smaller sizes. Still, in the last analysis, an original is an original, and a reprint remains a reprint, and the value of the publication is reflected accordingly. One might compare an original Rembrandt painting versus a very good copy of one, but face it: the original has a certain long-term value not possessed by any reprint, however good.

For a somewhat lesser comparison, consider volume 7 of the MIOS Journal. Most of its twelve issues would have a certain value (more or less) as reading and reference material. However, when books are published citing the four formas published in Vol. 7 No. 12, that December issue will forever remain the "original publication" for those contributions to botany. The printed originals filed with various institutions will remain the standard for descriptions of those formas. One might go into the computer and electronically alter a future-printed edition of that volume, but those printed original copies remain the botanical standard, which is precisely why such "hard copies" are filed with various agencies! So what might be the value of one of the original copies of the MIOS Journal, Vol. 7 No. 12? At present, not much, but in the distant future, nobody knows, and the same, on greater orders of magnitude, might have been predicted for Bateman's works.

As one grows orchids and begins seriously to study that family of the flowering plants, one begins to take interest in what is published about orchids. Then, little by little, the more serious orchidist begins to amass a personal reference library about orchids and other plants. Ultimately, however, how seriously one takes such studies is reflected in the size and scope of one's library unless, of course, the individual resides within close range of a research institution containing a comprehensive collection of the literature in which one is particularly interested. With particular regard to orchid family, this means one would need to live close to the facilities of the Museum in Zurich, Switzerland; Kew Gardens in England; the botanical gardens in Singapore; the AMO facilities in Mexico City, Mexico; or--within the United States--Harvard University, the Missouri Botanical Gardens in St Louis, or the Marie Selby Botanical Gardens, the Florida Museum of Natural History at Gainesville, or the AOS facilities, these last three all being located in Florida. To a lesser degree, certain specialized orchid literature is well represented at the Huntington Gardens and the Arboretum of Los Angeles County, both located in southern California. However, few--if any--of these facilities are readily accessible to the average hobbyist to peruse and dig at leisure, and some are even difficult of entry to the doctoral level researcher without permission and some sort of special recommendation. True, there is the possibility of inter-library loans, but here again severe restrictions come into play. In fact, some books, folios, and other materials simply are not loaned by the owning organization. The risks of having the item absent from the institution's security system are too great!

Over the years, personal digging by your editor discloses comparatively little orchid literature in any of the state universities or other research institutions in Texas or any of the states nearby. Considering that the orchid family is--by far--the largest of the flowering plant families in terms of numbers of species, this may be somewhat surprising to the orchid student. However, other factors come into play. In this area of the world, as in many others, orchids are seen as being of little economic importance compared with products of botanical origin that are capable of being smoked, eaten, worn, used as shelter, or with health implications. Hence grant money flows to research in cotton, corn, tobacco, rice, trees, and other things botanical in the areas of food and fiber, and lumber. Consequently, the research literature base increases concerning those plants, and remains sparse with respect to orchids. It's simply a matter of money and where humanity put its priorities!

The foregoing may portend a somewhat dismal outlook for orchids and orchid literature. However, such is not the case. The past five years, have seen orchid plants increasingly visible in such unlikely places as local garden centers such as Lowe's, Home Depot, and ordinary flower shops in relatively rural locations. In fact, orchid sales within the United States were close to a billion dollars for the year 2005, and sales in 2006 were expected to be higher! Excerpts from recent internet offerings on http://orchidguide.com give an idea of the significance of orchids in the world horticultural marketplace:

"Thailand's orchid exports in 2006 from January to October is valued at 48 billion baht in volume and 2.5 billion baht in value, an increase of one per cent compared to last year. According to the Kasikorn Research Centre, there are 20,000 rai or 8,000 acres of orchid orchards in the country. Most orchards are located in Bangkok and its adjacent provinces. Thailand is ranked the world's number one [or number two ?] orchid exporter, followed by Singapore and Malaysia. The key orchid importers are Japan and New Zealand. Thailand is ranked the world's second orchid plant exporter after Taiwan.
- Reprint of news article in the above internet publication, Vol. 8, issue 401; 11/29/2006, message 3.

and

"Singapore is already a major player in the global orchid industry, exporting over $20 million worth of orchids to over 33 destinations including Japan, Australia, Greece, the US and Netherlands, as well as supplying about 15% of the market share of cut orchids."
- Singapore National Development Minister Mah Bow Tan, in internet publication, Vol. 8, issue 418; 12/17/2006, message 8

In sum, with mass sales of orchids increasing globally, the number of individuals becoming much more than "casual orchid plant buyers" may be expected to increase. As plants are cultured and divided, plant prices (within particular orchid societal groups) should decrease somewhat. However, published literary classics do not proliferate like plants, indeed, it is a long-standing trend by art sellers to buy a publication and then take it apart and sell individual pictures at a profit, so the number of literary classics surviving these commercial ravages decreases! Given more orchidists, one can expect an increase in the demand for "serious" orchid literature and art, and over the last few years, this has been exactly the case. However, with the quantity of such classics decreasing with time, the value of one's personal orchid library, may well increase far beyond an owner's present-day expectations.

Copyright © 2007 R J Ferry