Making a Herbarium: Pages and Labels

Beautiful antique herbarium.
Page from antique herbarium.
Page from antique herbarium, showing label.

This is the last of three posts on “Making a Herbarium,” and will include ways to make a herbarium look antique, as well as official-looking labels you can create for your pages. Before starting, though, I just wanted to share some pictures of an actual, antique herbarium, lent to me by friend Beth. She had just acquired the herbarium at an auction, and at this point, it’s not known where it came from or who made it. Judging by its stamped cover and its size, perhaps it was part of a university collection, and not a Victorian lady’s craft project. Also, the plant labels looked to be mimeographed. Turns out that Thomas Edison invented the mimeograph machine in 1876, but a manufacturer didn’t take out a license until 1887. At any rate, the beauty of this herbarium is something for us to aspire to!

Page showing aged paper.

I have mentioned using inexpensive watercolor paper for display of your dried plant specimens. It’s possible to “antique” the paper by baking it in an oven. Just set your pages on an impeccably clean baking sheet, and bake at 400 degrees for about 15 minutes. The exact timing depends on the type of paper used, and just how brown you want it to be. This is not a dangerous procedure, but I always stay in the kitchen just to keep an eye on it. Also, in the page shown, I used a deckle ruler, which has a wavy edge, to tear my sheets and to add a pretty detail.

You can also make labels and envelopes for your pages. Here is a pattern for making little envelopes from waxed paper which can be used to hold seeds from the specimen. Xerox the pattern, and use it to draw around on waxed paper. Then cut and fold the waxed paper; put seeds into the envelope, and tape to your page.

You can type up a page label, listing the genus and species of the plant, as well as when and where you gathered it.

Of course you don’t have to make labels, and I’ve seen many pages in which the plant information was just scrawled on casually in pencil or pen. You can also make notes on the page about the plant: “Gathered on the crags of Glamis Castle while being chased by a hooded figure.” Or, more prosaically, “Gathered in a marsh just south of West Chicago, Illinois.”

There are a number of ways to affix your dried specimen to its page. I have used cellophane tape in many cases. This tape may yellow, but this will only add to the antique effect. Cellophane tape can also be pressed over stem tips to prevent them from curling up. I’ve also heard of using white craft glue to glue specimens to the page. In the antique herbal shown above, specimens are held on the page by very narrow strips of some sort of adhesive tape.

When your pages are ready, stack neatly and place between the book covers. Tear a piece of muslin, about half an inch wide, and four feet long. Tie the bundle together. Or use a torn length of silk. Or sprigged muslin coordinated to your cover. Or Google your way to a library or archival supply website, and order some unbleached cotton tying tape, for an authentic touch.

To go whole hog, consider making a date label for the cover. It will make your herbarium look wonderfully official! You can paste it to the cover, or slip it beneath the tied ribbon.

I once saw a photo of a page from an eighteenth-century herbarium in which the dried flower had been attached to the page with sealing wax,with the stem anchored with a copper clip. Next project, maybe?

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