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09-Jul-2017 05:04

By 1855, Charles Kingsley had recognised the prevalent passion for ferns as a phenomenon and in the course of encouraging the study of natural history in his book 'Glaucus', coined the term 'Pteridomania', meaning 'Fern Madness' or 'Fern Craze':-"Your daughters, perhaps, have been seized with the prevailing 'Pteridomania', and are collecting and buying ferns, with Ward's cases wherein to keep them (for which you have to pay), and wrangling over unpronounceable names of species (which seem different in each new Fern-book that they buy), till the Pteridomania seems to be somewhat of a bore: and yet you cannot deny that they find enjoyment in it, and are more active, more cheerful, more self-forgetful over it, than they would have been over novels and gossip, crochet and Berlin-wool.At least you will confess that the abomination of "Fancy-work" - that standing cloak for dreamy idleness (not to mention the injury which it does to poor starving needlewomen) - has all but vanished from your drawing-room since the "Lady-ferns" and "Venus's hair" appeared; and that you could not help yourself looking now and then at the said "Venus's hair", and agreeing that Nature's real beauties were somewhat superior to the ghastly woollen caricatures which they had superseded."His comments about 'fancy work' turned out to be rather ironic because Pteridomania did, within a few years of 1855, give rise to an ever expanding range of home-made and factory- or workshop-manufactured 'fancy work' and other decorative items - with the fern motif appearing on everything from christening presents to gravestones and memorials.However, many people in large towns and cities could not succeed in growing ferns in their gardens or houses because of the dreadful air-pollution from coal fires and gas fumes until the introduction of the glazed case (Wardian Case) in the late 1840s which not only excluded poisonous fumes but also maintained high humidity which was essential for many species.A wide variety of these Wardian Cases was made during the 1850s and later, some of which were very ornate, but very few have survived.

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An attempt is made here to place the production of ferny objects within a social context and provide an indication of the timescale within which the objects were produced.Various types of outdoor ferneries and conservatory ferneries were also popular and many of the structures have survived in old gardens even though, in most cases, the ferns themselves have not.



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