Documentation on the Collection

Section  of Presentation prepared by Jon P. Speller 


A. Frontispiece photograph of Romeyn Beck Hough 1857-1924 and title page of 


Preface by E. S. Harrar and Acknowledgments by Robert Speller & Sons, Publishers: 




B. Selected Reviews of Hough's Encyclopaedia of American Woods:


Hough's Encyclopedia of American Woods (with actual wood specimens cut by Romeyn Beck Hough 1857-1924), Published by: Robert Speller & Sons, Publishers, New York, 1957 et seq.

Scientific American, September 1982 Issue

Romeyn Beck Hough devoted a lifetime to elaborating a synoptic American Woods with real samples species by species until his death in 1924, when he had over the years issued piecemeal a dozen volumes. They were prized in their time (every normal school in the state of New York was issued a copy of the first volume by the authorities), but the scale and slowness of the work has meant that few complete sets are to be found.

In the 1950's the present publisher discovered enough stock of those remarkable old wood sections to prepare 1,000 copies of the treatise. For such an ambitious work, however, the text was badly dated. Professor E. S. Harrar, late of Duke University, a wood scientist of distinction, prepared a new text to support the wonderful samples of 385 American trees, including a couple of dozen of the most important introduced and naturalized forms.

...Each species is represented by three sections, 10 centimeters by four, a tenth of a millimeter thick, easy to view from both sides. It is striking to tilt transverse sections before the light; the collimated parallel tubes with the wood pass light freely only as long as they are not much inclined to the line of sight. Radial and tangential sections complete the display. Microscopic examination is easy and rewarding. All the sections were taken by Hough from small rough timber samples he tirelessly sought out. He verified their identity with meticulous care in the herbarium and in the field.


   “...This ample encycopedia is patently not for everyone, but it is a treasure of bookmaking, the legacy of a century of scholarly energy and devotion and a paradigm of technical documentation, reaching beyond symbol and icon to collect between its covers a representative sample of the natural world in all its unmatched variety.

    - Scientific American, September 1982”

Library Journal

Worth its cost...No other work offers the same opportunity to study natural colors, textures and grain of the woods. - Library Journal

New York Public Library's New Technical Books

Regarded as a treasure...Each description in the text volume covers the range of a species of tree, the history of its discovery, its uses, past and present commercial importance, and its physical appearance; tables give strength, weight, etc. - New York Public Library's New Technical Books”


 C.Getty Research Library Catalog





Author: Hough, Romeyn Beck, 1857-1924. Title: Hough’s encyclopaedia of American woods / by E. S. Harrar. Edition: 1st ed. Publication Information: New York : R. Speller, 1957- Description: v. in : maps, port., samples (in pockets) ; 24 cm. Notes: Each vol. in 2 parts, text and wood sections; parts with samples issued in loose-leaf binders and lack dates and title pages. Earlier editions have title: The American woods. Vol. 8 by E. S. Harrar and F. W. White [i.e. F.M. White] Bibliography: Includes bibliographies and indexes. Subjects: Trees --North America. Wood. Form/Genre: Wood samples. Additional Authors or Names: Harrar, Ellwood S. (Ellwood Scott)White, Fred M. Hough, Romeyn Beck, 1857-1924. American woods. Additional Title: Encyclopaedia of American woods. Topical Collection Title: Conservation collection (Getty Research Institute) LCCN: 57010592 ISBN: 0831500751 (v.6) 0831500913 (v.8) ID number: 18290205-B

Location: SPECIAL COLLECTIONS - CONTACT REFERENCE Call Number: TA419 .H83 Holdings at This Location: v.1,pt.1,(text 1957) v.1,pt.2,(samples) v.2,pt.1,(text 1958) v.2,pt.2,(samples) v.3,pt.1,(text 1963) v.3,pt.2,(samples) v.4,pt.1,(text 1964) v.4,pt.2,(samples) v.5,pt.1,(text 1967) v.5,pt.2,(samples) v.6,pt.1,(text 1971) v.6,pt.2,(samples) v.7,pt.1,(text 1981) v.7,pt.2,(samples) v.8,pt.1,(text 1979) v.8,pt.2,(samples) v.9,pt.2,(samples) v.10,pt.2,(samples) v.11,pt.2,(samples) v.12,pt.2,(samples) v.13,pt.2,(samples) v.14,pt.2,(samples) v.15,pt.1,(text 2004) v.15,pt.2,(samples) v.16,pt.2,(samples) Copy: Copy 1 Status: Available





Smithsonian Institution
National Museum of Natural History


Plant Histology Workshop
Monday, 12 June 2006


"The Hough books - "one of the greatest American works on trees and woods," compiled between 1888 and 1913 by Romeyn B. Hough; it includes over a thousand mounted wood sections, unique from an ecological standpoint, and of great interest to students of American furniture and woodcrafts."







  Following is exact quote from the Yale University Beinecke Rare Book & Manuscript Library's "Trees in Fact" Exhibition in 2007:


"The exhibition begins with a colorful series of botanical books—“Trees in Fact”—starting with what is thought to be the first treatise on the oak tree, Jean Du Choul’s De varia quercus historia (Lyon, 1555). This section of the show culminates in Romeyn Beck Hough’s American Woods (Lowville, New York, 1888-1910). In twelve geographically arranged volumes, Hough gathered samples of 350 types of wood. Each of the sample cards includes three translucent specimens of the same wood, cut crosswise, longitudinally, and at an angle between. Because of their age, the specimens in American Woods are ecologically valuable. Because of their beauty, the book is a highly sought title." 


FArticle in The New York Times, July 14, 1890


"ALBANY, July 13 - The latest addition to the State Library is a collection of woods, which is designed to include every kind of timber growing naturally witin the limits of the State. The first installment comprises forty-three species. Each specimen is taken from the trunk, 3 1/4 feet long, and shows the bark and grain. The collection is being made by Romeyn B. Hough of Lowville, publisher of American Woods."



G. USDA, United States Department of Agriculture, National Agriculture Library,NAL Collection Number: 264


Collection Number: 264
Collection Name: Hough, Romeyn Beck, Papers
Earliest Date: 1882
Latest Date: 1908
Bulk Dates: 1882-1900
Linear Feet: 0.5
Collection Description: The Romeyn Beck Hough Papers include Hough's journals from 1882-1887, 1890-1894, 1898-1900; a July 6, 1908, letter to Hough from Melvil Dewey requesting Hough's book Handbook of the Trees of the Northern States and Canada; and an undated statement made by Dewey, President of the American Library Institute, commending Hough’s book at a meeting of the Virginia State Library Association.
Historical or Biographical Sketch: Romeyn Beck Hough (1857-1924), son of Franklin Benjamin Hough, was a naturalist, author, and businessman in the state of New York. In 1888 he published the first volume of a series of 12 books titled American Woods, which contained the native and naturalized species of woods in the United States and Canada. These volumes were unique in that they included samples of wood as illustrations. Hough also devised a machine for cutting wood sections with thicknesses of 1/10 to 1/1,200 of an inch. In the scientific world, American Woods was well-received and won numerous awards, including the grand prize at the Paris Exposition in 1889. Subsequently, Hough produced another book, Handbook of the Trees of the Northern States and Canada, containing photographic and textual descriptions of 208 kinds of trees found in Canada and in the Eastern United States. To do research for these publications, Hough traveled frequently and kept journals of his activities.
Subjects: Forestry; Natural Resources