who sent this in, and from where?
May 29, 2023 1:51 AM   Subscribe

This is a handwritten note that accompanies a mycological exsiccata in the herbarium at Vienna. The first line reads "Aseroe [or Ascroe] rubra Labill" a Tasmanian species of fungi. The second line begins "from" - but how does it continue?

The date of the handwriting is undefined, but likely 19th century or early 20th. The "from" would indicate an anglophone writer, but the cursive style seems potentially Germanic (also given the Vienna context). The location this specimen would have been taken from (the last word of the second line) is likely Australasian, or perhaps British. Any and all educated guesses at deciphering the last line are greatly welcome!
posted by progosk to Science & Nature (13 answers total)
Best answer: The one word looks clearly like "Hull", and using this, I found a reference in this PDF, titled "Farlow Reference Library of Cryptogramic Botany, Harvard University", that mentions:
Aseroe rubra. Labill. FI. N. Hull. On the ground. Hokieika, Winton.
posted by Gomez_in_the_South at 2:13 AM on May 29 [3 favorites]

Response by poster: That's a leap forward, thanks Gomez! The ref you found doesn't actually read "Hull" (that's OCR for you... lossy just when you need it!) but "Fl. N. Holl." = Novae Hollandiae (Plantarum Specimen) which is one of Labillardière's publications.

On the basis of this, "from N. Holl" (which seems a potentially plausible reading of the fist half of the last line) would mean the Vienna specimen is originally from Australia (referred to by its old name, which remained in use throughout the 19th century), with "ad Xxxx", being a more specific Australian toponym. Progress!
posted by progosk at 2:36 AM on May 29 [1 favorite]

I read it as N. Hull and Priss?
Hull is a port city on the East coast of England in case that resonates.
posted by nouvelle-personne at 2:45 AM on May 29

Response by poster: N. Hull and Priss

But would North Hull mean anything, specifically? Also, the "r" is quite distinctive throughout the first line, not a good match for the last word's lowercases...
posted by progosk at 2:52 AM on May 29

It could also be "Nr. Hull" as in "Near to Hull"
posted by quacks like a duck at 3:11 AM on May 29

Response by poster: the more I look at the o in "from" and the second letter in the third word, the more I'm convinced it's "N. Holl" = mainland Australia. That leaves the last word as an eighteenth-century down-under locality to be identified (from what are either its first 3 or 4 letters, or else an acronym/abbreviation)...
posted by progosk at 3:45 AM on May 29

That ad could mean "at" for a more specific Nov.Holl. location. It could also mean "to" as in ad astra and just possibly here ad Paris: assuming that a French mycology whizz was acting as the European clearing house. More writing in the same hand would help.
posted by BobTheScientist at 6:03 AM on May 29 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: That ad could mean "at" for a more specific Nov.Holl. location.

Yes, that's my current working hypothesis.

possibly here ad Paris

I'd been tempted by that thought, what with the French context of the original collection and naming of the species at the beginning of that century, but on the one hand that capital letter doesn't convince me as a P (a suspicion: could it be a V?), and then the distinctive r and a credible s are just missing...

More writing in the same hand would help

Indeed, but this is an undigitalised record hand-picked out among tens of thousands in the Vienna herbarium, many of which might not have originally been authored there, but be parts of collections that came to be part of their overall store of species (so by any number of authors), which means that any other relevant handwritten records are going to be a huge challenge to stumble upon.
posted by progosk at 6:29 AM on May 29

What about the German for Vienna, Wien? Or just Vienna abbreviated?
posted by sciencegeek at 9:11 AM on May 29

Possibly the last word might be Pins/Pines (i.e. for Isle of Pines New Caledonia). So: Aseroe rubra. Labill from N. Holl and Pins/Pines . (I'm really just spitballing, I'm dubious that this is correct.)
posted by gudrun at 9:34 AM on May 29

I think that's a G., not an N. My guess would be "G. Hull of Paris" but I feel more confident about the first half.
posted by praemunire at 9:48 AM on May 29

Best answer: which means that any other relevant handwritten records are going to be a huge challenge to stumble upon

Obviously this depends a lot on how much work you want to put into this, but the way to do it would be to look at collections accessioned in the same year (which might pull in both a local cataloger and the whole collection if it came in labeled by a prior collector). Then at the catalogs of other collections containing the same species. Instinctively I say this is English, not German, handwriting, but can't prove it.

The last word (which I now think ends in "o") is unusual in that this person generally does space his letters and give significant ascenders and descenders, but in this last word it's hard to distinguish. Either he sped up for the last word or it's all (except for the initial) letters without ascenders or descenders.
posted by praemunire at 10:09 AM on May 29 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: So, just to update y'all: on Gomez_in_the_South's serendipitous instigation, the hypothesis "N[ew]. Holl[and]" took shape; from there, concentrating the quest on the last word in the note, it's the peculiar capital letter it starts with, plus the rush the writer was in, as praemunire duly noted (see also the missing abbreviation dots to "Labill" and "Holl") that led me to wonder if that last word were in fact "Kew", the Royal botanic garden in London, where it's known a specimen of A. rubra had suddenly appeared in some soil imported from Australia - with the Vienna collection thus a duplicate.

Well, here's Berkeley's record (in Smith's English Flora) of Hooker's collection, in 1824, of that first exotic/imported A. rubra in the UK: "In soil from New Holland at Kew."

I think this is as close as we'll get - and I, for one, am satisfied, and thankful to all the mefi nudges!
posted by progosk at 2:27 PM on May 30 [6 favorites]

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