Jun 8th, 2012

Reichenbachia: Conserving the Imperial Edition

Text & Photos by Erica Borey, VCU  Museum Studies Intern, Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden

Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden has been very fortunate in the intended donation of a rare and almost complete collection of 19th century orchid prints — the Reichenbachia.  As  you may have read about on our last orchid-related blog post, Frederick Sander, “The Orchid King”,  spared no expense in depicting these beautiful specimens in all their glory.  Sander commissioned his future son-in-law, Henry George Moon, to paint 192 of his finest orchids in great detail.*  These paintings were copied by equally talented lithographers and printed in up to 20 colors – a highly sophisticated process to do correctly.  For the accompanying texts Sander consulted with renowned botanist and orchidologist H. G. Reichenbach, after whom the collection is named. The collection is divided into four parts, each of which is named for one of the queens of Europe. The Imperial Edition (the one that the Garden is working to restore) is distinguished by its oversized backing boards — only 100 copies of these were ever printed! Please enjoy a slideshow of selections from the Reichenbachia Imperial Edition number 86.

Unfortunately, not all of the prints in this collection are in as good condition as the ones above.  Many have suffered damage as a result of years of poor storage conditions. Lewis Ginter reached out to VCU for help with this collection, and as a student of museum practices, I am grateful to have become involved in such an interesting project. As part of my internship over this past spring I was able to move the entire collection into stable, acid-free housing to prevent any further damage. Pressure and moisture have affected dozens of prints in the collection, fusing their protective cover sheets with some of the inks, resulting in this:

Oncidium Superbiens


Fortunately, much of this damage is reversible.  Dr. Arthur Burke, the collection’s owner, has extended his already remarkable generosity to allow for their conservation. Over the summer I will be working to restore those prints in a similar condition to Oncidium Superbiens, left, to full visibility.  Watch for  an update in late summer detailing this process and revealing their ‘before and afters’!


*H.G. Moon was the original artist for the vast majority of the Reichenbachia, but not all of them. Twelve were painted by five other artists: Walter Hood Fitch, John Livingstone MacFarlane, Alice Helen Loch, George Hansen, Charles Storer and John Walton. 


For Further Reading, visit Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden’s Lora Robins Library

Alrich, Peggy A. and Wesley E. Higgins. “Reichenbachia: The Story of a Masterpiece and the People” in Orchids: The Bulletin of the American Orchid Society 79 (July 2010) 392-401.

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About Erica Borey

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