From 1849–1884 Eliza M. French (1809–1889), an amateur phycologist from New London, Connecticut, produced and sold large numbers of bound herbaria comprising pressed, dried seaweeds which she collected at the Atlantic coast. In the second half of the 19th century one of these herbaria was probably bought by Emilie Iselin-Roulet, the wife of Isaak Iselin, an influential merchant and banker in New York, first generation immigrant from Basel, Switzerland. It comprises a neatly decorated title page, 2 brown, 14 red and 2 green algal species, an ornamental page composed of filamentous red and green algae and a poem by Eliza M. French, written in her neat handwriting. The seaweeds had been collected at 7 locations between New London harbor and East River, New York. This herbarium was handed down in the family over 4 generations, then presented to the phycologist Wilhem Vischer, professor at the Botanical Institute of the University of Basel. This seaweed herbarium is now treasured in the manuscript collection of the main library of the University of Basel.
French began collecting marine algae in her early twenties and quickly developed a passion for the subject. She was largely self-taught and corresponded with other collectors and researchers to learn more about marine algae and its taxonomy. Over time, she became one of the most accomplished and well-respected collectors of marine algae in the United States.
Eliza French’s work in marine algae collection and illustration was highly valued by the scientific community of her time and continues to be significant today. Her collections, which spanned over several decades, included a vast array of specimens that were crucial in expanding knowledge of marine algal biodiversity in the northeastern United States and Canada.
French’s collections were especially valuable because they included many rare and previously undescribed species. She was known for her skill in preserving and illustrating the specimens she collected, providing valuable information on their morphology and anatomy. Her illustrations were highly accurate and detailed, and they served as important references for other researchers in the field.
French’s contributions to the field of marine algal taxonomy were significant, and she is credited with discovering several new species of algae. She was also instrumental in developing a better understanding of the distribution of algae along the northeastern coast of North America. Her collections and scientific contributions were recognized by several organizations, including the Boston Society of Natural History and the American Society of Microscopists.
Overall, Eliza French’s work in marine algae collection and illustration provided a wealth of information on the biodiversity, distribution, and morphology of marine algae in the northeastern United States and Canada, and her contributions continue to be studied and appreciated by researchers in the field today.
Eliza French was also known for her meticulous attention to detail and her artistic skill in capturing the delicate forms and intricate structures of the algae she collected.
French made her specimens by carefully pressing and drying the algae onto paper or cardboard, a process known as herbarium mounting. She would then carefully arrange the specimens and add handwritten labels that provided information about their collection location, date, and other details. Many of her specimens were also accompanied by detailed illustrations that showed the anatomical features and distinguishing characteristics of each species.
In terms of color contrast, French used a variety of techniques to create visually striking specimens and illustrations. She sometimes added color to her illustrations using watercolors or other pigments, and she also experimented with different lighting and background materials to create contrast and highlight the features of the algae. For example, she would sometimes use black or dark paper as a background to enhance the color and form of the algae specimens. The end result was not only scientifically informative but also aesthetically pleasing.