History of Reichenbachia

This was the title given to the orchid book which was to be the "Rolls Royce" of books, in dedication to the author's friend and fellow countryman, HEINRICH GUSTAV REICHENBACH, who was the foremost taxonomist/botanist of his era.

The author was FREDERICK SANDER, the "Orchid King". The artist of almost all the 192 water colour paintings which are the basis of the book was HENRY GEORGE MOON, son-in-law of the author.

The complete works consist of two series, each with two volumes. The total of four volumes were officially published in 1888, 1890, 1892 and 1894, although the full printing of the final volume was not completed until 1901 due to financial constraints. Each individual volume was dedicated to a royal customer as follows -

Series 1 Volume 1 - Queen Victoria
Series 1 Volume 2 - Augusta Victoria, German Empress & Queen of Prussia
Series 2 Volume 1 - Maria Feodorovna, Empress of Russia
Series 2 Volume 2 - Henriette, Queen of the Belgians

Each volume contained 48 life-size paintings reproduced by chromolithography with blocks
hand-made with wood, using as many as twenty different inks. The original water colours were sold to a US citizen during the 1930s depression and then left to The American Orchid Society who still have these originals in their possession.

Only one hundred IMPERIAL editions were printed, each measuring 29.5" by 23.5" and weighing 44lbs per volumel They were leather-bound and only the finest biscuit paper was used. Several hundred FOLIO editions were produced and it seems that this work of love was completed as a gross extravagance regardless of costs, which in 2011 money terms would be in excess of half a million pounds! Only a small proportion of this was recovered from sales.

The relationship between father-In-law and son-in-law, and between artist and employer, produced some friction. To enhance sales Sander was keen to see pictures which showed no faults on the plants and if anything exagerated the size of this sepal or that lipl Fortunately Moon's professionalism as a botanical artist has ensured we have an accurate record in all the paintings.

Professor Reichenbach died on 6 May 1889 and in his will published two weeks later he left his vast collection and library to the Imperial Hof Museum in Vienna, with the stipulation that it should not be used for 25 years. This ultimately selfish act denied the help to younger botanists that he himself had had from Dr Lindley. In the preface to the second series volume Sander wrote "It is not too much to say that 'savants' all over the world were shocked by the selfish withdrawal of treasure which shold, so far as possible, be made common property for students. That Reichenbach, our honoured chief, should do his best when dying. to check the progress of those studies to which he dedicated his life, is humiliating to our common nature. We in England must work on, recovering the stores of information which he has buried - and we shall succeed. "

Reichenbach had been a friend and often helpful to Sander in his rivalries with competitors; that their relationship should end like this is indeed sad.