History of the Collection

Section of Presentation prepared by Jon P. Speller 



    The story behind the extraordinary Hough Wood Specimen Collection is quite interesting. In 1883 the man now considered to be a father of modern day forestry, Romeyn Beck Hough (1857-1924), conceived the idea of an encyclopedic collection of American Woods that would be as comprehensive and complete as possible. He realized that the best way to study and compare the various types of wood was to work with actual cuttings. He therefore undertook the most arduous task of locating, identifying, obtaining and cutting actual wood sections in a very large quantity. In order for his transverse, radial, and tangential proposed wood specimens to be translucent, among other rigorous standards he set, Romeyn Beck Hough had to invent special machinery capable of slicing wood sections out of the heart of the tree of a thinness of even 1/1,200 of an inch, with each specimen taken from a tree trunk 3 and 1/4 feet long, and developed a now lost technology of his own to meet all of the rigid criteria of his standards, so they can not be reproduced today with specimens meeting his standards. His original publication of his seminal, now extremely rare, American Woods was done spasmodically over a forty year period from the publication of his first volume in 1888 until the last posthumous volume published by his daughter, Marjorie Galloway Hough, in 1928. The stature of Romeyn Beck Hough's life work and technology was well acknowledged during his lifetime, e.g., his American Woods received the grand prize at the Paris Exposition of 1889.

In 1954 Jon P. Speller of Robert Speller and Sons, Publishers discovered that a large number of Hough's original wood cuttings were still in existence, and were made available by Marjorie G. Hough to him for his family to publish an updated HOUGH'S ENCYCLOPAEDIA OF AMERICAN WOODS to commemorate her father's work. Robert Speller & Sons, Publishers have published sixteen volumes of wood sections, comprising 385 species, and nine volumes of text. The late Dean E. S. Harrar of the School of Forestry of Duke University, Durham, North Carolina, a wood scientist of distinction, completed the first eight volumes before his death.

After utilizing wood specimens for 385 species in HOUGH'S ENCYCLOPEDIA OF AMERICAN WOODS, the remaining woods from those 385 species plus some species that were never published by Romeyn Beck Hough or Robert Speller & Sons, now comprise an invaluable and unique, totally irreplaceable, scientific wood specimen collection of 1,100,000 woods sections. The chain of custody of these wood specimens is evidenced by what Editor Jon P. Speller wrote for the Acknowledgments of Volume I of HOUGH'S ENCYCLOPAEDIA OF AMERICAN WOODS on April 22, 1957: "Of greatest assistance in making possible the publication of Hough's Encyclopaedia of American Woods has been the incalculable cooperation of Miss Marjorie Galloway Hough in supplying the vast stock of wood-sections cut by her father during his lifetime."

In 1958 Jon P. Speller also prepared and published (Library of Congress Catalog Card No. 58-14166)  his short, but systematic, HOUGH'S AMERICAN WOODS BASIC VISUAL AID KIT that included sections from ten species from sections cut by Romeyn Beck Hough himself, including representative transverse, radial or tangential wood specimens representing conifer, ring-porous hardwood, and diffuse porous hardwood trees grown in a geographical area encompassing 46 of the States of the United States (92%) as well as some areas of Canada and Mexico. 

The Hough Wood  Specimen Collection of more than 1,100,000  rare wood sections cut by Romeyn Beck Hough  himself are available from the owner, Robert Speller & Sons, Publishers, Inc. Tel:  845 887 4965 or Email drjonspeller@yahoo.com