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Norman Taylor (1883-1967)

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21.3 linear feet  (38 boxes)


Norman Taylor (1883-1967) is primarily recognized as the author of the perennial horticulture reference work, Taylor's Encyclopedia of Gardening. He was botanical editor for Webster's New International Dictionary (ca. 1945) and the American Heritage Dictionary (ca. 1960). Additionally, he authored one of the first popular books on psycho-active plants, Flight from Reality (1949), later reprinted as Narcotics, Nature's Dangerous Gifts (1961), and other popular works on gardening and nature conservation.

Taylor was born in Hereford, England in 1883 and emigrated with his parents, two brothers, and a sister to Yonkers, New York in 1889. He was naturalized in 1896. As a child and youth he was plagued by illness, which forced him first to leave grammar school then high school. After two years at Cornell University as a special student in agriculture and horticulture, he began working in the Forestry Department of the New York Zoological Park as a plant maintainer. During this period he met Nathaniel Lord Britton, who hired him as a museum assistant at The New York Botanical Garden and who became his personal tutor in botany. Taylor accompanied Britton as a collector on his field trip to Inagua in 1904 and worked with G.V. Nash as a collector in the Dominican Republic and Haiti. Other expeditions in which Taylor participated were to Cuba, Haiti, and Turk's Island.

In 1911, Taylor was appointed Curator of Plants of the new Brooklyn Botanical Garden. He helped lay out the grounds and did intensive studies on the flora of Long Island. He walked nearly 2,000 miles over all of Long Island, mapping locations of plant families. He became interested in recording the sites of giant trees, a subject he would return to in The Ageless Relicts, the Story of Sequoia, published in 1963. During his career at the Brooklyn Botanical Garden, Taylor consulted with Robert Moses on the planning of State Parks in Long Island and was instrumental in having Montauk Point declared a State Park. While at the Brooklyn Botanical Garden, Taylor was named editor (1917-1919) of the Journal of the International Garden Club. This led to many lectures at society garden clubs throughout the country.

In 1928 Taylor was engaged by the Chicle Development Company to search for chicle, chicle substitutes, and gutta percha in Brazil. He wrote to Fortune magazine, suggesting an article on chewing gum. Fortune wrote back, asking him to write an article on the story of Cinchona. This was published in 1934 and circulated throughout the cinchona industry, leading to his appointment in 1936 as Director of the Cinchona Institute in New York, a non-profit research institute connected to the quinine industry of Holland. Taylor served as liaison to the American medical community, and as spokesperson within the United States for the prevention and treatment of malaria. He retired from this position in 1951.

Norman Taylor's popular writing career began in 1920 while he was still associated with the Brooklyn Botanical Garden. He wrote a series of articles on the appreciation of nature under the name "The Naturalist" for the New York Evening Post. After some attempts to publish work on non-botanical topics, he was recommended by Nathaniel Lord Britton as editor of botany, ornamental horticulture and forestry for Webster's New International Dictionary (2nd ed.) (1926-1934).  Years later, his dissatisfaction with the management of the Merriam-Webster Company led to his work on the American Heritage Dictionary, published in 1965.

Taylor left the Brooklyn Botanical Garden in 1929 and after two years of negotiation began the first edition of The Garden Dictionary, a work that would become a horticulture standard, having four editions and spanning thirty years. The first edition was awarded the Gold Medal of the Massachusetts Horticultural Society in 1936. The second edition appeared under the title Taylor's Garden Encyclopedia, as did all subsequent editions. Taylor's publisher, Houghton-Mifflin, continues to issue a series of horticulture books under the name Taylor's Guides.

In the 1950s, Taylor contracted with Van Nostrand publishers and produced a series of seven books on garden topics. He was one of the first professionals to encourage organic gardening and his Encyclopedia provided a platform for the dissemination of those ideas to the general public. Additionally, Taylor's knowledge and contacts in the medicinal plant world led to Flight from Reality (1949) and Plant Drugs that Changed the World (1965).

He was awarded an honorary Ph.D. from Washington College in Chestertown, Maryland in 1958. The New York Botanical Garden presented to him its Distinguished Service Award in 1961 and the American Horticultural Society honored him with its Liberty Hyde Bailey Medal in 1963. Taylor was a member of the Explorer's Club, the Players Club, the Century Club, and the Cosmos Club.

Norman Taylor attributed his love of travel to his childhood stays at Brighton. After his numerous expeditions on behalf of The New York Botanical Garden, and the Cinchona Institute, he continued his peripatetic lifestyle, touring the world with his wife Margaretta Stephenson one third of the year, and dividing the remainder between their homes on West Tenth Street in Manhattan and their beloved estate, Elmwood, in St. Anne, Maryland, which he had purchased on his retirement from the Cinchona Institute (1951).

Norman Taylor died at Elmwood in November 1967.


The Norman Taylor Papers contain correspondence, manuscripts, bound volumes, journals, notes, clippings, scrapbooks, maps, photographs, pamphlets, lantern slides, medals, index cards and containers, and specimens relating to his professional life and work  Taylor traveled extensively and luxuriously, and a significant amount of material has informational value related to his lifestyle. Other information contained in the collection concerns the workings of the private social and professional clubs of which he was a member. Field notebooks have been removed to the Collectors' Field Notebooks collection.


Series 1: Cinchona Scientific File
Series 2: Cinchona Products Institute
Series 3: Flora of Long Island
Series 4: Taylor's Encyclopedia of Gardening
Series 5: Catalogs
Series 6: Publications
Series 7: Contracts
Series 8: Unpublished Work
Series 9: Lecture Notes and Lantern Slides
Series 10: Social Correspondence
Series 11: Studies
Series 12: Expeditions and Travel
Series 13 Awards
Series 14: Personal Files
Series 15: Negatives

Series 1     Cinchona Scientific File, 1915-1951
                   2.5 lin. ft. Arranged geographically and by subject.

This series contains research data on the incidence and control of malaria in many of the states in the United States. Other materials in this series are research papers on the cultivation and quality of the cinchona found in tropical countries. Photographs on the locating and production of cinchona in Colombia, and manuscripts, notes, and a bibliography for Taylor's work on the history of cinchona are found in that folder. Cinchona specimens are found in the Philippines folders and folders labeled as such. Taylor donated his files on malaria to the New York Academy of Medicine and his files on Cinchona to The New York Botanical Garden in 1966. Oversize material from this series is found in Box 2.

Series 2     Cinchona Products Institute, 1937-1954
                   1.5 lin. ft. Arranged by subject.

Taylor headed the Cinchona Products Institute from its inception in 1937 until it closed in 1954. Materials in this file relate to the work done by Taylor in promoting the use of quinine to the general public and within the medical profession. A professional public relations firm produced radio scripts relating to quinine. Also here are files on other medicinal plants which were being considered for cultivation and promotion by the Cinchona-Instituut in Amsterdam. Notable in this series is a holographic letter from the Countess de Cinchon, which may have decorated Taylor's office. A chronological file of all of Taylor's correspondence with the Cinchona-Instituut traces the history of this cartel during the war. Oversize educational and prevention posters from around the world are found in Box 5.

Series 3     Flora of Long Island, 1917-1925
                   1.66 lin. ft. Arranged by subject.

This series contains lists and maps and notes for a comprehensive study of Long Island flora, arranged by Engler and Prantl families. Each folder contains maps of locations of the particular families. Of particular interest is the written and photographic record of big trees in Long Island and records of Long Island forests. Also included in this series is Taylor's study of Gardiner's Island, which he wanted the State of New York to develop into a preservation area. Photographs from this study are found in Box 14. Taylor advised Robert Moses while he was planning Long Island's State Parks, and correspondence and clippings related to his efforts in creating a preservation area at Hempstead Plains and Montauk are found here, along with correspondence on the subject from Elizabeth Britton. Taylor also collaborated with Arthur Hollick on a report on the historic significance of Fox Island Beach and appeared as an expert witness in a court case related to the preservation of the Beach.

Series 4     Taylor's Encyclopedia of Gardening, 1932-1966
                   4.5 lin. ft. Arranged by subject.

This series contains the proposals, manuscripts, publishers' contracts, correspondence, reviews, and promotional memorabilia related to the successive editions of Taylor's most enduring work. Although originally titled The Garden Dictionary, by the 2nd edition in 1942 it had been renamed Taylor's Encyclopedia of Gardening. The perpetual subject files, named by Taylor himself, contain information pertinent to the entire scope of issues covered in the encylopedia. Pamphlets found in those files have been removed and are now housed with the New York Botanical Garden general collection. Other published material by Taylor is found in Series 6: Publications and Series 2: Cinchona Products Institute. Unpublished work by Taylor is in Series 8: Unpublished Work. Taylor's lectures and notes are found in Series 9: Lecture Notes and Lantern Slides.

Series 5     Catalogs, 1946-1954
                   5 lin. in. Arranged by subject.

This series contains nursery catalogs which Taylor kept either for reference in his writings or for use at Elmwood. Some catalogs have been removed and are now housed with the Garden's Seed Catalog Collection.

Series 6     Publications, 1905-1967
                   1.33 lin. ft. Arranged chronologically.

The Publications series contains all of Taylor's published works, apart from Taylor's Encyclopedia of Gardening. Of interest here is the transition from his scientific to his popular work through a series of articles he wrote under the pseudonym "The Naturalist," for the New York Evening Post. Also here is material from the two dictionaries on which he served as botanical editor, and the series of articles he wrote for the Encyclopedia Britannica. Included herein are the working files, filled with clippings and notes which found their way into his various texts and editions. Correspondence with publishers, including his financial negotiations, is found with the work to which it is connected. Other correspondence is found in Series 10: Correspondence. Contracts for his publications are found in Series 7: Contracts. Taylor's unpublished work is found in Series 8: Unpublished Work. Taylor's lectures and notes are found in Series 9: Lecture Notes and Lantern Slides. A scrapbook commemorating the publication of the fourth edition, 1961, is found in Box 14. Also in Box 14 is a scrapbook containing Taylor's research on nature publications as part of his consulting editorship with G.P. Putnam's Sons.

Series 7     Contracts, 1947-1964
                   1 lin. in. Arranged alphabetically.

This series contains the contracts and transfers of rights linked to many of Taylor's works.

Series 8     Unpublished Work, 1926-1967
                   1 lin. ft. Arranged chronologically.

Taylor wrote some pieces on speculation on non-botanical subjects that never found a publisher. Richardson's Juvenile Encyclopedia, for which his work was solicited, was never issued. His essay on the "Bittersweet Origin of Chocolate," while not published at the time, led to Flight From Reality, where it appears as a chapter.

Series 9     Lecture Notes and Lantern Slides, 1916-1962
                   2 lin. ft. Arranged by subject.

Taylor's explorations in Brazil and the Caribbean provided material for public lectures at The New York Botanical Garden and Brooklyn Botanical Garden. His notes and lantern slides, many of which are from commercial houses, are found here. Later, his renown as an expert on gardens brought him many lucrative lecture engagements around the country. Correspondence associated with these appearances is found in this series. Material related to lectures and interviews he gave as a representative of the Cinchona Products Institute are found in Series 2: Cinchona Products Institute.

Series 10     Social Correspondence, 1912-1967
                    1.33 lin. ft. Arranged alphabetically.

This series contains Taylor's correspondence outside his work with the Cinchona Products Institute. Contained here are letters to and from his publishers and associates. Taylor's memberships in the Century, Cosmos, and Explorer's Clubs are thoroughly documented as are his socio/political interests, especially his support of Victor Krevchenko, a dissident from Soviet Russia. There is no personal correspondence in this series and, save snapshots taken by the Taylors on their travels, there is no personal biographical material in the collection.

Series 11     Studies, 1900-1943
                    3 lin. in. Arranged chronologically.

Taylor was educated under the tutelage of The New York Botanical Garden's Nathaniel Lord Britton and G. V. Nash. This series contains his early notebooks and studies on taxonomic classification and his collection of G. V. Nash reprints. His studies on Cohune Palm Oil and Tung Oil are commercial in nature. Other early studies are found in Series 3: Flora of Long Island.

Series 12     Expeditions and Travel, 1904-1967
                    1.75 lin. ft. Arranged chronologically.

This series contains journals, notes, photographs, correspondence, and memorabilia dating from Taylor's first expeditions accompanying Nathaniel Lord Britton and G.V. Nash and his search for Chicle in Brazil through the extended European and world tours undertaken by Taylor and his wife  in the 1960s. Material from the Brazilian expedition is also found in Series 9: Lecture Notes and Lantern Slides. A scrapbook of the Taylors' 1961 European tour and oversized material from this trip is found in Box 30.

Series 13     Awards, 1936-1963
                    2 fldrs., 2 medals. Arranged chronologically.

This series contains correspondence, publicity, citations, and the physical awards bestowed on Norman Taylor. In 1936 he was given the Gold Medal from the Massachusetts Horticultural Society for the Garden Dictionary. The New York Botanical Garden gave him its Distinguished Service Award in 1961 and the American Horticultural Society gave him its Liberty Hyde Bailey Medal for lifetime achievement in 1963. Material concerning his honorary Ph.D. from Washington College in Chestertown, Maryland is found in Series 14: Personal Files.

Series 14     Personal Files, 1905-1967
                    2.5 lin. ft. Arranged by subject.

This series contains material related to Taylor's professional career and personal life, including his bibliographies and curricula vitae. Other materials in this series include files related to Elmwood, his home on Maryland's eastern shore, personal letters to editors, materials related to his club memberships, and his personal lists of movies, concerts, and operas he witnessed. A scrapbook of biographical data is found in Box 30. The card catalog for his personal library, donated to the Garden, and also in this series, is found in Boxes 36 and 37. Box 38 holds the metal containers in which his card catalog was originally filed.

Series 15     Negatives, n.d.
                    3 lin. in. Arranged by subject.

This series contains negatives separated from preceding series. Negatives are identified identically to the series and folders from which they were separated. Negatives from snapshots of the Taylors' tours predominate.


The New York Botanical Garden
CFN    Numbers 43-45, 50, 53, 68, 158, 183

New York Academy of Medicine
In 1963, Norman Taylor donated his collection of medical information on malaria to the New York Academy of Medicine.

Processed December 1999 by Laura Zelasnic under a grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) PA-23141-98 and a grant from the Harriet Ford Dickenson Foundation.

For more information and a complete description contact:
Susan Fraser, NYBG Archivist
The LuEsther T. Mertz Library
The New York Botanical Garden
Bronx, NY 10458-5126
(718) 817-8879

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