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The Charles B. Reif collection of Natural History prints, 1485-1899

Identifier: 05-06-001

Scope and Content:

The Charles B. Reif collection of Flora/Fauna prints, 1485-1899, is a collection of engravings, lithographs and hand-colored lithographs, chromolithographs, paintings, colored woodcuts, ink drawings, water-colored paintings, etchings with aquatint, and hand-colored aquatints of various flora and fauna from the late 15th century to the late 19th century. The collection was curated and owned by Dr. Charles B. Reif, a Wilkes Biology professor, who used these prints for instruction in his biology classes. As biologist, naturalist, collector and painter, Charles Reif had an interest in art, particularly biological works. Along with his scientific studies he had four years of coursework in the Art Department at the University of Minnesota, where he received his Bachelor of Arts degree in 1935. His undergraduate adviser at Minnesota was Dr. Dwight E. Minnich, then Chairman of the Department of Zoology, who was also interested in natural history art. A strong friendship between the two men developed over the years and they began a collection of diverse works as a joint project. Between 1920 and 1965, Dr. Minnich and his wife Helen traveled to Europe each year, where they bought art relating to natural history, fashion illustration, and book ornamentation. The Minnichs obtained extra copies of natural history prints which Dr. Reif purchased for his own collection. The extent of Dr. Minnich’s broad collection was described in “A Botanical Cabinet,” an essay which Richard Campbell wrote for an exhibition of watercolors and prints from the Minnich Collection that celebrate the golden years of European flower illustration, 1550-1850 (Arts, The Minneapolis Society of Fine Arts, May, 1987, pp.11-13).

After receiving his Doctor of Philosophy degree in Zoology in 1941 at Minnesota, he became the Chairman of the Biology department at Wilkes College in 1942. Dr. Reif maintained his interest in collecting natural history prints and in 1950, began to develop what he called, the “Minnich Collection of the Department of Biology of Wilkes College,” an eclectic assemblage of prints in many media dating from 1485 through 1899. It was his aim to develop a collection of prints for the Biology Department before they were too difficult or expensive to obtain and as a way of conserving the heritage of past biologists and artists.

Dr. Reif regarded the collection as a teaching aid and he used it to present a lecture each year during the Biology seminar course, “History of Biology.” Although the fundamental purpose of the collection was to teach natural history, the prints are also of interest to art historians and general historians. To study the history of biological illustration, one first examines early books on biology and horticulture. It is from these that many of the oldest prints in the Reif collection were taken. To obtain prints for sale, dealers cut up copies of the classic works so that the plates could be sold separately, a scheme unfortunately still practiced, which realized more money for the dealers but destroyed the books. A later practice was for publishers to print plates without text, to be sold as individual illustrations. Among the first scientific books to be printed were Herbals, which appeared between 1470 and 1670. The earliest Herbals included plants with medicinal value and described the plants and how they were used; later books, based on travel experiences, emphasized descriptions of the flora and fauna of various exotic regions. One work of this type by Carolus Linnaeus (1707-1778) was “Flora Lapponica” (1737) which described the plants of Lapland. Another book by Linnaaeus, “Hortus Cliffortianus” (1737), described and illustrated interesting plants in the Amsterdam garden of George Clifford, a wealthy Dutch financier and horticulturalist. With the discovery of sexuality in plants and successful use of sexual characteristics in plant classifications by Linnaeus, medical books, known as Pharmacopoeia, diverged from the botanically oriented works, which became known as Florae. The descriptive and often beautiful illustrations in these medical works and Florae were prepared primarily to illustrate the major features of particular plants or animals. Their aesthetic value, although secondary in purpose, is frequently of great importance to the modern collector. Various print media were developed to improve the quality of illustration. The earliest works used the carved end grain of wooden blocks to make line prints, which could be left black and white, or colored with supplementary blocks or by hand. Later methods used copper plates for engravings, etchings, and aquatints. In the nineteenth century the water resistant process of lithography was developed. Prints in the Reif collection illustrate the various media that preceded photography and the study of these prints reveals the historical progress of the accurate representation of plants and animals. This is especially evident in regard to birds:in early days only dead specimens, sometimes stuffed and mounted, were studied, and these were often placed in positions not true to life. An example of this is the work of Mark Catesby, an Englishman who worked in the early eighteenth century and who has been called the Founder of American Ornithology. As Roger Tory Petersen, American artist and author has commented: Catesby’s drawings are typical of those being done in Europe at that time. They are meticulously executed, but archaic and crude with little semblance of sound structural drawing. They do not for a moment give us the impression of living birds. Their antique captions give these quaint drawings a historical interest, but little more.” (“Baby Elephant Folio,” Audubon’s Birds of America, 1981, Introduction, p.10). In the late 18th and 19th centuries more realistic representations were obtained by drawing from life, or from specimens in life-like poses, placed in natural settings of flowers and scenery. Similarly, early botanical illustrations of plants often failed to provide structural details while later works sometimes introduced too many details. During the early period of scientific illustrations, the artist responsible for the drawing remained relatively anonymous. In later years artists such as Wilson, Gould, and Audubon were responsible for both the descriptive text and the original artwork, and the engravers or lithographers undertook reproduction and publication of the artist’s work; but naturalists often became involved in all phases of publication, from collecting and drawing to fundraising, printing, and sales. The books then published were magnificent works that represented the combined efforts of arts, printers, and publishers. The evolution of the international scientific naming system is illustrated in these prints. In the period before 1750 Carolus Linnaeus introduced the binomial system of classification, which gives every organism two names, a binomial which must be in correct Latin form and written in italics. First in the name of the genus–e.g.: Lilium, and the second indicates the species–e.g. superbum, –a superb or outstanding lily. The generic name is capitalized; the specific name is not. The name of the person to first describe the species follows, and completes the modern scientific name. In this case, the completel name is written as Lilium superbum Linnaeus, followed by the common name, “Turk’s Cap Lilly.” Common names vary in every country; and, although scientific names remain constant, opinion concerning the correct name for an organism may change, and the name given to the plant or animal on an early print may no longer be in use. For this reason corrections have been made on the checklist to reflect changes in nomenclature and in expert opinion. A print may show only a common name, or scientific name, or both. In some cases no name is used. Such aspects make the study of this collection interesting and valuable. -Robert E. Ogren, Ph.D., Wilkes College. Artists found within this collection include the following:

Leohart Fuches, John Gerard, Johann Von Cube or Johannes Von Cuba, Gustav Philip Trauter, John James Audubon, Francois LeVaillant, Kruger Jr. and Ludewig Schmidt, Mark Catesby, Prideaux John Selby, Conrad Gesner, Jakob Hoefnagel or Jacob Hoefinagel, August Johann Rösel von Rosenhof, Eleazar Albin, Samuel Fallours, Franz Michael Regenfus, Francois Nicholas Martinet, Jean Jacques Ernst or J.J. Ernst, Christian Sepp, Thomas Bewick, Édouard Traviès de Villers, Julius Bien, John Gould, William Matthew Hart, Robert Bruce Horsfall, Rory McEwen, Basilius Besler, Christoph Jacob Trew, Giorgio Bonelli, George Brookshaw, Pierre Joseph Redoute, and Pierre-Antonie Poiteau.


  • 1549 - 1899


Open for research.

Biographical Sketch of Charles Braddock Reif:

The son of Charles C and Pauline Braddock Reif, Charles Braddock Reif also known as Chuck, was born in Minnesota on July 31, 1912. Throughout his childhood and into his teenage years he would spend many nights alone in the northern woods of Minnesota. He had considered living his life as a hermit, but not being able to finance that life he decided to become a professor. He was married to Carolyn Lee Hoff Reif for almost 47 years until she passed away. Because of his views concerning human overpopulation, Charles and Carolyn did not have any children. However, Carolyn worked for the Crippled Children's Association for many years, and Charles participated in approximately twenty summers of organized camping with children of various ages. For the final six years of his life, he would move back to Minnesota and marry his childhood sweetheart Dorothy Towne Schlichting Reif. In 1942 he became a founding Chair of the Biology department here at Wilkes University (Wilkes College at the time). As a professor, Charles used many techniques that he had learned from his camping experiences. His teaching motto was “KISMIF”, "Keep it simple, make it fun." However, he was very particular about the details, such as exact observations and proper use of English. Dr. Charles Reif specialized in the study of ecological limnology which allowed him to study the lakes and streams of Northern Minnesota as well as Northeastern Pennsylvania. In honor of him, his former students established the Charles B. Reif Scholarship Fund of Wilkes University. To give back to his community he would take groups on a nature study in a bird sanctuary. For his outstanding contribution to the community, the mayor of Wilkes-Barre presented him with a key to the city. On April 29, 2006, Charles Reif passed away in his home in Minnesota.


1 boxes (1 print box and oversized items are in Mapcase M-1-3)

Language of Materials



According to a newspaper article from the Times Leader on December 30, 1988, the Chuck B. Reif collection of Natural History prints came from the private collections of two biology professors, Charles B. Reif and Robert E. Ogren. Reif mentions in the article that he started collecting the prints when he was a graduate student in the 1940s at the University of Minnesota. When he transferred to become the Chair of the Biology Department in 1942, he continued this interest by staying in touch with his undergraduate advisor, Dr. Dwight E. Minnich. Dr. Minnich and his wife would travel to Europe and collect natural history art prints and they would obtain extra copies for Reif. As a result, Reif continued to collect more art prints to what he originally titled, “The Minnich collection of the Department of Biology at Wilkes College.” This collection started in 1950 and continued until his retirement in the 1980s.


Charles B. Reif donated his natural history prints to the Sordoni Art Gallery in 1988 to have them featured in an exhibit, titled, “Flora and Fauna: Flowers, Plants, Birds, and Insects abound.” Dr. Robert Ogren also had prints from his private collection that he donated to the gallery for this exhibit. The Sordoni Art Gallery transferred these prints at some point to the Wilkes University Archives where they remained in exhibit matted frames for many years until the matted frames were removed by Work-Study Student Dawson Sensenig in February 2022. The exhibit was organized by retired Biology professors, Dr. Charles B. Reif and Dr. Robert E. Ogren.

Condition Note:

The prints in this collection range from being in perfect condition to okay condition. There is no real damage besides the yellowing of some pages. The rest of the prints are in good condition unless otherwise noted.

Copyright Status:

Items are in public domain. Anyone can read or obtain copies of any of the materials for research purposes.

Series Descriptions:

The Charles B. Reif collection of Flora/Fauna prints, 1485 - 1899, is arranged into three series, Series I: History of Plants Reprints, 1485 - 1613, Series II: The Biology Departments Fauna Prints, 1759 - 1899, and Series III: Wilkes Biology Department’s Flora Prints, 1750 - 1853. These prints were collected by Wilkes College biology professor Charles B. Reif in the late 1940s through the 1980s and used for instructional purposes in his biology classes.

Series I: History of Plant reprints, 1485-1718

Series I: History of Plant reprints, 1485-1718 is arranged chronologically and contains prints from Leonhart Fuch’s Herbal, first printed in 1543, John Gerard’s The Herball, or, Generall Historie of Plantes, first printed in 1597, and Johann Von Cube’s Gart der Gesundheit, first published in 1485. Leohart Fuches was born on January 17, 1501, and passed away on May 10, 1566. He was a German physician and botanist who wrote Herbal and had it printed in 1543. Herbal was the book that highlighted his career, it featured over 500 of his own hand-drawn illustrations which included the first visual record of “new world” plant types such as maze, cactus, and tobacco. He focused primarily on the medical usage of each plant featured in this book. John Gerard was born on October 4, 1564, and he passed away on July 27, 1637. He was a Jesuit priest who operated covertly during the Queen Elizabeth era, during which the catholic church was subject to persecution. The Herball, or, Generall Historie of Plantes was first published in 1597 and was the most circulated botany book in the 17th century. It was originally thought to be a translation of Dode s Stirpium, but it was later discovered that Gerard was brought in to finish the work of a Robert Priest. Johann Von Cube or Johannes Von Cuba, was born in 1430 and passed away in 1503. He was a German illustrator who focused primarily on flora. He is the credited artist and author for an early print of a book on natural history under the name Gart der Gesundheit, a collection of German and Latin texts on drugs from the herbal, animal, and mineral kingdom.

Series II: Wilkes Biology Department’s Fauna Prints, 1754-1899

Series II: Wilkes Biology Department’s Fauna Prints, 1754-1899 is arranged chronologically by date and contains prints, collected by Wilkes College biology professor Charles B. Reif, of birds, shells, fish, and insects. In this series there is artwork by the following artists:

Gustav Philip Trauter, who lived between the years 1750 to 1780 and was a German engraver artist, his artwork in this collection is called Abalone with Sea Shells and is a hand-colored engraving of seashells. John James Audubon was born on April 26, 1785, and passed away on January 27, 1851. He was an American artist, naturalist, and ornithologist who combined his passion for ornithology and art by producing many prints of birds such as Children’s Warbler, Towhe Bunting, The Yellow-Bellied Marmot, and Graf’s Finch or Bay-Winged Bunting. Francois LeVaillant was born on August 6, 1753, and passed away on November 22, 1824. He was a French naturalist, author, explorer, and ornithologist. His work in this collection includes De L’Impriverie de Bourlier, Martin pecheur (European Kingfisher), and Le Grand Toucon a Gorge Orange No. 5. Kruger Jr. and Ludewig Schmidt were a German/Austrian artist duo who were active between… (German/Austrian engravers and portrait miniature painters (1816-1906). Mark Catesby, born on March 24, 1683, and passed away on December 23, 1749, was an English naturalist who studied the flora and fauna of the new world. Mark was the first known author and artist to publish anything on the flora and fauna of North America with his publication the Natural History of Carolina, Florida and the Bahama Islands. His artwork in this collection includes the piece known as Water Frog. Prideaux John Selby was born July 23, 1788, and passed away on March 27, 1867. He was an English ornithologist, botanist, and natural artist. His artwork found within this collection is a hand-colored lithograph known as White Spoonbill, Male.

Conrad Gesner, born March 26, 1516, and passed away on December 13, 1565, was a Swiss physician, naturalist, bibliographer, and philologist. Known as the inventor of the pencil and the father of bibliographies, his artwork in this collection includes the woodcut art known as De Audibus (de Vanelli = Lapwing).

Jakob Hoefnagel or Jacob Hoefinagel was born in 1575 and passed away in 1630. He was a Flemish painter, printmaker, miniaturist, draftsman, art dealer, diplomat, merchant, and politician. His artwork that can be seen in this collection is a hand-colored engraving known as The Mouse Triptych.

August Johann Rösel von Rosenhof was born March 30, 1705, and passed away March 27, 1759. He was a German miniature painter, naturalist, and entomologist. He became known as an important figure in entomology because of his highly detailed paintings of insects. His works in this collection are known as Historiae Polyporum (Duckweed and Bryozoa), Historiae Polyporum (Hydra), and Classis I. Papilionum Nocturnorum.

Eleazar Albin was born in 1690 and passed away in 1742. He was an English naturalist and watercolor illustrator. He also wrote and illustrated a handful of books such as A Natural History of English Insects, A Natural History of Birds, and A Natural History of Spiders and Other Curious Insects. Artwork by Eleazar in this collection includes the hand-colored engraving known as the Phaenicopterus, The Flamengo.

Samuel Fallour (active 1703-1720) was an Ambon-based Dutch East India Company soldier turned cleric who lived on the island of Ambon, Indonesia in the early 18th century. He was recognized by Ambon governors for his artistic talent. Starting in 1703, Governor Balthasar Coyette commissioned drawings from Fallours, who created multiple copies of his works as well as Francois Valentjin, who produced his works in 1724. The world’s first color catalog of fish was printed in 1719 and contained Fallours paintings of fishes, crayfishes, and crabs. Local fishermen would deliver freshly caught fish to Fallours and he’d paint them and sell the paintings to wealthy East Indian Company officials and European collectors who had a penchant for his bizarre style. Many viewers were skeptical of the accuracy of his colored fish, and their instincts were correct as Fallours would often choose colors arbitrarily. Fallours would also lie about the type of fish he painted, such as a four-legged anglerfish, and even claimed to have encountered a mermaid, most likely to attract buyers and patrons. Although he was prone to embellishment and invention, according to marine Ted Pietsche, a professor of marine science in Seattle, Washington, “if one ignores colouration and the numerous errors in number and placement of certain anatomical features, one can associate many of these drawings with existing animals.” Ambon is also now heavily polluted with sewage, bottles, cans, and plastic bags, making Fallours paintings part of the historic record for species that once existed in the region. His artwork in this collection is entitled Reef Fishes.

Franz Michael Regenfus was born in Nuremberg Germany in the year 1712 and passed away in Copenhagen in the year 1780. He was a German artist who had an interest in exotic natural-history objects. His artwork in this collection includes the piece known as Shells.

Francois Nicholas Martinet was born in 1731 and passed away in 1800. He was a French engineer, engraver, and naturalist who engraved numerous pieces of artwork on natural history, specifically ornithology. His artwork in this collection includes the hand-colored engraving Martin pecheur (European Kingfisher).

Jean Jacques Ernst or J.J. Ernst was born on October 31, 1742, and passed away on July 4, 1820. He was a French artist who primarily focused on the engraving of insects. His artwork in this collection includes the hand-colored engravings called Butterflies and the other hand-colored engraving called Insectes d’Europe, Peints d'après Nature.

Christian Sepp was born in 1712 and passed away in 1775 and his son Jan Christiaan Sepp or J.C. was born November 8, 1739, and passed away on November 29, 1811. They were a German artist duo where Christian would engrave and J.C. would hand color those engravings. Their artwork in this collection includes the hand-colored lithograph by the father-son duo known as Neder Landsche Vogelen.

Thomas Bewick was born on August 11, 1753, and passed away on November 8, 1828. Thomas was an English wood-engraver and natural history author. He is best known for his work known as A History of British Birds which was widely known for his wood engravings. Featured in this collection is a wood engraving from 1807 entitled Civet.

Édouard Traviès de Villers was born on March 24, 1809 and passed away on November 18, 1876. He was a French watercolorist, lithographer, and illustrator who was known for his paintings of natural history objects, such as birds. His work in this collection features the hand-colored lithograph known as Le Martin-Pecheur.

Julius Bien was born on September 27, 1826, and passed away on December 21, 1909. He was an American lithographer originally from Germany and produced a lithographed edition of John James Audubon’s The Birds of America. He was a specialist in chromolithography, a specialty he had learned in Germany. Lithography compared to copperplate engraving produced a softer printed image. Bien used original copper plates to transfer them onto the stone, using only six colors to achieve a variety of other printing colors in dotted patterns. He did not ultimately complete the project; of the original 435 plates, he only completed 150 of them, and in 1860 publication was halted. According to historian Ann Lee Morgan, Bien’s plates “testify to a popular appreciation of natural science in pre-technical America…they suggest the mid-century fascination with nature as a source of value and beauty. Although they build directly upon Audubon’s achievement and are therefore not conceptually innovative, they represent the highest standard of chromolithography had achieved, and even now they stand as a landmark to the medium.” His work in the collection includes chromolithographs such as Graf’s Finch or Bay Winged Bunting, Song Sparrow, and Kentucky Warbler.

John Gould was born September 14, 1804, and died February 3, 1881. He was an English ornithologist. He published a number of monographs on birds, illustrated by plates produced by his wife, Elizabeth Gould, and several other artists including William Matthew Hart whose artwork is included in the collection. He has been considered the father of bird study in Australia, and the Gould League, an independent Australian organization dedicated to environmental education, founded by Queen Victoria, was named after him in 1909. His work in the collection featured a hand-colored lithograph entitled Paradisea Sanguinea.

William Matthew Hart, born 1830 and died 1908, was an Irish-born English bird illustrator and lithographer who worked with John Gould. He began working for Gould in 1851 and his working relationship with him lasted thirty years. By 1870, Hart had become Gould’s chief artist and lithographer. His work in the collection features a hand-colored lithograph entitled Paradisea Sanguinea.

Robert Bruce Horsfall was born October 21, 1869, and died March 24, 1948. He was an American wildlife illustrator. His paintings were included in several works in the early 20th century such as Frank M. Chapman’s, Warblers of North America. His work in the collection features a watercolor entitled Birds.

Series III: Wilkes Biology Department’s Flora prints, 1750-1853

Series III: Wilkes Biology Department’s Flora prints, 1750-1853 is arranged chronologically by date and contains prints of various flora and fruits such as tulips, liliums, roses, peaches, pears, and melons. These prints were collected by Wilkes biology professor Charles B. Reif sometime in In this series there is artwork by the following artists:

Rory McEwen was a Scottish artist and musician who was born on March 12, 1932 and passed away on October 16, 1982. Before he decided to devote his career to painting he was a guitarist and singer who performed in such venues as the Scala Theater and even the daily BBC Tonight TV program. From 1964 and on he decided to devote himself to painting where he would paint primarily plants such as flowers and leaves. His artwork can be seen in the British Museum, V&A, Tate Gallery, Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art, Hunt Institute, Pittsburgh, and MOMA, New York, and in this collection as well. His artwork featured in this collection is the etching with aquatint pieces known as Old English Tulips #1 and Old English Tulips #2.

Basilius Besler was born on February 13, 1561, and passed away on March 13, 1629. He was a respected German apothecary and botanist who was known primarily for his Hortus Eystettensis, a short title produced in 1613 describing the plants of the garden of the Prince-Bishop of Eichstatt in Bavaria. To honor his legacy he was commemorated by Charles Plumier in the naming of a genus of shrubs known as bacteria. His artwork in this collection goes by the name of Four Roses.

Christoph Jacob Trew was a German botanist who was born on April 26, 1695, and passed away on July 18, 1769. He was originally a city solicitor, court physician, Count Palatine of the Holy Roman Empire, and advisor to the Margrave of Brandenburg-Ansbach. He also had a passion for academic botany. He was a member of the Royal Society of London, the Berlin Academy, and the Florentine Botanical Society. In 1750 Trew began to work on Plantae Selectae Quarum Imagines and it had many illustrations by Georg Ehret. The artwork in this collection includes Lilium (Lilium Superbum, Turk's Cap Lily).

Giorgio Bonelli, born in 1742 and passed away in 1782, was a physician and botanist who lived in Rome, Italy. He taught medicine and write Hortus Romanus which was a series of 299 hand-colored plant prints within the first three volumes. His artwork in this collection includes the hand-colored engraving known as Opuntia Vulgo Herbariorum (Prickly Pear).

George Brookshaw, also known as G. Brown, was an English painter and illustrator who was born in 1751 and passed away in 1823. Before his career as a painter took off he spent his early career as a furniture painter which often featured floral decorations. As he got older he ended up publishing manuals on fruit, flowers, and birds. His artwork in this collection includes the hand-colored aquatint titled Polinac Melon.

Pierre Joseph Redoute was born on July 10, 1759, and passed away on June 19, 1840. He was a painter and botanist from Belgium who became known for his watercolor paintings of roses, lilies, and other flowers. He gained the nickname “The Raphael of Flowers” and some have even called him the greatest botanical illustrator of all time. His artwork in this collection includes the hand-colored lithograph known as Iris Squalens; Iris Sale.

Pierre-Antonie Poiteau was born on March 23, 1766, and passed away on February 27, 1854. He was a French botanist, gardener, and botanical artist. Known for his detailed paintings of fruit, his artwork in this collection includes his painting known as Pecher a'fleurs Frisees (Peach).

Processed By:

Dawson Sensenig, Archives Work-Study, in Spring 2022, edited and supervised by Suzanna Calev, Archivist in Spring 2022.
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Repository Details

Part of the Wilkes University Archives Repository

84 W South St.
Wilkes-Barre PA 18701 US
570-408-7823 (Fax)