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Romeyn B. Hough (1857-1924) was the son of a doctor and forestry expert who had been one of the first to recognise the dangers implicit in the devastation of America’s great forests, and he devoted his life to the study of American trees, producing a
handbook on the trees of the northern states and Canada that remained a standard dendrological reference for many years, and this tremendous record of American wood types – a geographically arranged selection that could not be duplicated today.

A copy of the principal work offered at Christie’s on March 17 lacked the last of the 14 parts, but it still contained 987 samples, providing wafer-thin transverse, radial and tangential sections of 329 species on card mounts, like that illustrated right.

Each part comprises a set of these cards in cloth covers and a volume of ‘copious explanatory text’ in the original wrappers – all contained in matching cloth slipcases with metal fittings.

The first 13 parts appeared in the years 1888-1913, but the fourteenth was not issued until 1928.

As a result, and because some
subscribers wanted only certain parts, or failed to survive the long publication period, complete sets of this extraordinary publication are naturally very rare.

The principal work at King Street was a composite, the first ten parts coming from the library of a Professor Robert Parr Whitfield and the other three being ex-library copies with various marks.

Offered with it was a copy of a two part supplementary work of 1916 which contained 50 species of woods with commercial potential extracted from the larger work. This was formerly in Medford Public Library, Massachusetts, and has lending-library ticket sleeves pasted to the lower covers – for the benefit of those Medford citizens who liked to curl up in bed with a good log.

The various parts were originally priced at $5, reflecting Hough’s work involved in collecting all the specimens and assembling the sets. At King Street this almost complete record of his life’s work sold at £12,000 to Simon Finch.