Ed. Note: In art, as in life, the orchid has enjoyed many decades of popularity throughout the world. But some might be surprised to find that these “exotic” flowers were en vogue with the horticultural set well before the 20th century made their cultivation rote. Even in the 1800s—and as far back as Charles Darwin’s investigation of his eponymous star orchid—there was a fervent interest in these elegant blooms.
Andrew Tschinkel, the LuEsther T. Mertz Library’s Digital Imaging Technician, gives us a glimpse into the orchid’s illustrated past.
Mertz Digital, the LuEsther T. Mertz Library’s online collection, has just added several vintage nursery catalogs from the firm of Lager Hurrell. The firm of Lager Hurrell was established in 1896 in Summit, New Jersey and was, for decades, the largest commercial producer and distributor of orchid plants in the Americas.
John E. Lager (1861–1937), who founded Lager Hurrell in 1896, was a legendary orchid hunter whose exploits took him to the most remote jungles of the world in a life long quest for extraordinary and beautiful orchid specimens. He was the subject of a 1933 TIME magazine profile for discovering a specimen that the writer described as “the world’s rarest orchid,” the pure white Cattleya Gigas Alba, sold by Lager Hurrell to the Baron Firmen Lambeau of Belgium for the then astronomical price of $10,000! [Potentially $180,000 by modern estimates.]
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A splendid example of the preeminence of Lager Hurrell was its “Grand Orchid Exhibit” at the American Orchid Institute in New York City in 1905. The firm’s display won first place with 359 plants of 103 species and varieties. It was described as the most remarkable exhibit of orchids ever shown here or abroad.
The NYBG’s current ode to the orchid, The Orchid Show: Key West Contemporary, ends its 2014 run on Monday, April 21—and it’s not something you want to let pass you by. Orchid Evenings also continue with two more events following April 12′s sold-out night, so don’t miss out on tickets to the April 18 and 19 celebrations!
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