By last count I had about 117 trees surrounding my house. Maple, Oak, Sumac, White Pine, Apple and others not yet identified. Each with thousands of leaves just waiting to carpet my yard in a variety of colors. I grew up in this house and recently purchased it from my mother so I have spent many years with these trees and many hours raking up the leaves about this time every year. As a kid we would rake huge piles and jump in them, occasionally getting nicked or cut by hidden branches. Worst of all, we landed in hidden doggie doo. Gross, yes, but a fact of life for kids and dogs who spend lots of time outdoors. We would also take great pleasure in stuffing the leaves into our shirts or pants, trying to make ourselves “huge” like our favorite football players or in some cases monsters. Bigfoot was and still is my personal favorite………
A more serene use for the leaves was pressing. Carefully choosing our favorites from among the thousands of leaves, my mom and I would seal them between layers of wax paper. I ran across some of these recently while going through some of my old stuff carefully preserved from an autumn years past.
Leaf and flower pressing is an old tradition common around the world. The practice reached its height of popularity here in the United States during the Victorian Era (1875-1914). Many articles were written about the proper techniques for pressing and which flowers or leaves to press. Plants and flowers were assigned a “language” all their own for this and other purposes. American Elm leafs signified patriotism, Azealas-temperance, Cedars-strength, Daisies-innocence, White Oak-Independence. The list of plants and flowers and their language is huge and quite variable depending on the source.
All of which leads me to Charles W. Holbrook of Windsor Locks and his Connecticut invention. Charles received a patent in 1875 for his invention of “An Improvement in Clamps for Pressing Leaves“. So maybe Charles was aware of the Victorian hobby of collecting and preserving leaves and flowers. He also has patents for a Book Clamp in 1870 and a Tellurian in 1888. (This is a device for measuring the movements of the sun, moon and earth. ) The Holbrook family operated the Holbrook School Apparatus Manufacturing Company in Hartford for a number of years. Charles was probably appealing to a number of markets; schools and Victorian leaf and flower pressers among them.
Leaf pressing is still popular today, especially with kids. Here is a link for an easy way to press favorites from your backyard. I plan on doing it soon with my son, kind of carrying on a tradition. I like to think many Victorians and Charles Holbrook would nod in appreciation.