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Hunt Institute for Botanical Documentation

Rachel McMasters Miller Hunt

Rachel McMasters Miller was born in Turtle Creek, Pennsylvania, to Rachel Hughey McMasters Miller (1861–1940) and Mortimer Craig Miller (1856–1933), a Princeton-educated maritime lawyer. Rachel fondly recalled her childhood and her wildflower "bible":

When I was a little girl, I lived on my Grandmother's [Margaret Anne Markle McMasters, 1836–1892] estate, in a large house on a hilltop, surrounded by great trees and many gardens. Perhaps I inherited from her my interest in gardening, for she loved every inch of her acres.... There were farms beyond the hill, and a deep valley below with a pond, where the wildflowers of Western Pennsylvania grew rampant—arbutus, hepatica, blood root, white and purple violets. I learned to know the wildflowers by name when a friend of my Mother's gave me a wildflower book—How to Know the Wild Flowers, by Mrs. William Starr Dana [Frances Theodora Smith Dana Parsons, 1861–1952]. It was my "Bible"—and in my Library today I have that same book (Quinby and Stevenson 1958–1961, 1:vii).

The long relationship that she had with this manual gives some insight into her continual return to her youthful roadside tramps and her crafting her garden plant by plant, much the way she built her library.

Rachel attended the Thurston School (now Winchester Thurston) in the Shadyside section of Pittsburgh and Miss Mittleberger's School for Girls in Cleveland, Ohio, where she had a foundation in the core subjects, languages and art and graduated in 1901 as president of her class. At the age of 15, Rachel received her first rare book, Leonard Meager's The English Gardener (1670), from a family member. Given her interest in plants, gardens, books and history, this book planted the seed for a lifelong appreciation of reading and collecting books about botany, gardens and other plant-related topics. In a lecture Rachel described her enjoyment of book catalogues, "Then suddenly into my youthful life came a book catalogue from England, and may I say, from then to now, my favorite 'bed time story' has been a book catalogue" (Hunt n.d.).


The subject of bookbinding is a large one—combining history, poetry, philosophy, the Gospel of Work, the Gospel of Utility and the Gospel of Beauty—Rachel McMasters Miller Hunt (1923).

Rachel's love of books led her to study bookbinding, typography and the history of the book. In 1901 on a trip with her family to the Pan American Expo in Buffalo, New York, they visited the Roycroft community of craftsmen in East Aurora, New York, founded in 1895 by Elbert Hubbard (1856–1915), a prominent figure in the American Arts and Crafts movement. Greatly affected by the beautifully designed and meticulously crafted hand-bound books, she returned home to experiment with making her own. After a trip to Europe with her family in 1903, Rachel met Euphemia Bakewell (1870–1921), a native Pittsburgher, active suffragette and former student of the English Arts and Crafts bookbinder T[homas]. J[ames]. Cobden-Sanderson (1840–1922) of the Doves Bindery (1893–1922) in Hammersmith, London. She convinced Bakewell to teach bookbinding to a group of her friends in Pittsburgh, but after several classes only Rachel remained. She continued her studies with Bakewell for the next two years, learning all aspects of the craft. In 1905, on her next trip to Europe with her parents, she visited the Doves Bindery. While overseas she located the obscure shops recommended by Bakewell and purchased tools, marbled papers and leathers for her own work.

Rachel set up a bindery on the third story of her family's new home on Morewood Avenue in Shadyside, naming it the Lehcar Bindery, which is Rachel spelled backwards. Rachel expertly practiced all of the stages of bookbinding (except gilding) and produced over 126 complete bindings—most of the books she bound were exemplars of fine printing from modern private presses, their design influenced by the ideals articulated by luminaries of the Arts and Crafts movement, such as William Morris (1834–1896) and Cobden-Sanderson, while others were antique volumes. Rachel became a member of the Guild of Book Workers of New York in 1907. She received numerous commissions and displayed her bindings in several important national book exhibitions. After seeing Rachel Hunt's work, the English binder Alfred de Sauty (1870–1949) commented that she

has a finely balanced sense of craftsmanship. Her ability to design covers in harmony with the content of the books marks her as a creative artist. Her capacity for original invention and variation of traditional design, together with the quality of her workmanship, admits her into the small company of those who have elevated bookbinding to a fine art (Titcombe 1974, p. 27).

Rachel's bindings were described and enumerated by Marianne Fletcher Titcombe, a librarian and bookbinder at Hunt Botanical Library (1970–1973), in The Bookbinding Career of Rachel McMasters Miller Hunt (Pittsburgh, Pa., Hunt Botanical Library, 1974). The numbers assigned to the books in that catalogue were used for many years to identify them in our Library collection where they were housed but not catalogued because for the most part they are not botanical. However, we since have catalogued them and digitized the bindings. A finding aid is now available for photographs of the bookbindings.

Rachel shared her love of the world of books with her family. Her lengthy courtship with Roy Hunt was marked by gifts of books, including a copy she bound of the Book of Common Prayer, hand-tooled in aluminum, as an Easter gift in 1913. She also bound another copy of the same book that was used later that year in their wedding ceremony in June.

Roy Arthur Hunt (1881–1966) was born in Nashua, New Hampshire, the only child of Alfred Epher (Ephraim) Hunt (1855–1899) and Maria Tyler McQuesten Hunt (1854–1939). Months after his birth, the family moved to Pittsburgh, where Roy's father, who received a Ph.D. in chemistry from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 1877, went on to be one of the founders of the Pittsburgh Reduction Company, which in turn became the Aluminum Company of America (Alcoa). Roy attended Shady Side Academy and earned a bachelor of arts from Yale in 1903. The summer before graduating, Roy worked at Alcoa as a machinist's helper. After graduating he began his 63-year career with Alcoa as a mill clerk at the plant in New Kensington, Pennsylvania. In 1907 he was assistant superintendent of the New Kensington plant; by 1914 he was working in Pittsburgh as general superintendent of the company's fabricating facilities, increasing production during World War I. In 1918 he was promoted to vice president of the fabricating and smelting plants and in 1928 to company president. He remained president of Alcoa until his retirement in 1951 and on the board of directors until his death at age 85.

After their marriage, Rachel continued to use the bindery at her parents' home nearby until 1920. When she and her young family moved in 1926 to Elmhurst, she had a room built on the third floor to house her binding equipment and also named it the Lehcar Bindery. Due to the responsibilities of a growing family, Rachel realized that she needed to focus her energies on her four sons (Alfred, Torrence, Roy Jr. and Richard, born 1919, 1921, 1924 and 1926, respectively) and her many civic responsibilities and that she did not have the time needed to devote to her craft. Instead, Rachel transferred her love of the book and the craftsmanship of bookbinding to a love of collecting botanical works.


My life has been spent among books, and my specialty has been in the great wide field of botanical literature.... The whole world is open to the botanical collector, whether it be history, art, biography, bibliography or travels, everything is there to be studied and enjoyed—Rachel McMasters Miller Hunt (Hunt n.d.).

Rachel attended her first book sale in 1911 at the age of 29, purchasing two botanical volumes. One of these was Jardin d'Hyver ou Cabinet des Fleurs (Douay, 1616), an early gardening manual by Jean Franeau, sieur de Lestocquoy. The 1911 sale was a momentous occasion for book lovers, as the extensive private collection of well-known New York bibliophile Robert Hoe III (1839–1909) was being sold, the catalogue for the sale running to four volumes. The head of a family printing business, Hoe had founded the Grolier Club to study, collect and appreciate books on paper and their art and illustrations. Rachel Hunt was the first woman to lecture at the male-only Grolier Club and was inspired to help to found the all-woman Hroswitha Club, which has since merged with the Grolier Club.

While her boys were still young, Rachel did find time to share her interest in gardens and books by giving lectures to bibliographic societies and garden clubs. She now used the bindery as a favorite space to entertain friends and share her collection. As Titcombe later wrote, "To Mrs. Hunt, a book was not a passive object sitting on a library shelf. She involved herself deeply with each of the books in her collection, not only with the subject matter, but also in the details of the lives of the author, the publisher, the printer, and the artist. She knew and appreciated the team effort that is required to produce a printed book" (1974, p. 1). With architect Benno Janssen (1874–1964), in 1936 Rachel and Roy began building a library at Elmhurst to house her growing collection. Her home and garden became loci for many of Pittsburgh's intellectual gatherings in the last century, and she enjoyed visits from scholars, hosted garden clubs and entertained publishers, book collectors and authors. She was an active member of the Garden Club of Allegheny County, the Garden Club of America, the American Horticultural Society and the Herb Society of America.

Sometimes Rachel accompanied Roy on Alcoa business trips to South America, the Caribbean and Europe, visiting botanic gardens, libraries and bookshops, and in 1929, as a member of the Garden Club of America, she went on an extensive tour of gardens throughout Europe. While visiting libraries in the United States and abroad, she developed friendships with librarians, professors, bibliographers and art historians who were knowledgeable about her area of collecting. She also read many of the texts that she collected, enjoying all aspects of the publications. She never had an agent and was known to pore over dealer and auction catalogues, but book dealers were also quite helpful with information. She later wrote,

Over the years I have climbed mountains of stairs, for many rare books are housed on the second and third floors of buildings. In time, my Library came to include not only the long-sought herbals but also the books that grew out of herbals—little manuals on early gardening, some lovely folio books with color plates of flowers, botanical travels so fascinating to read and enjoy ... almost every subject connected with botany including unusual pamphlets (Quinby and Stevenson 1958–1961, 1:x).

To assemble the collection of botanical books and original drawings and prints has been a labor of love over many years. It has opened up wide avenues of history and art. Some of the books and drawings have come from royal and famous collections, and all of them have been a source of pleasure, of inspiration, and research (Hunt 1951, p. xvi).

Rachel was much taken with the important role played by art and illustration in communicating about plants. Echoing this attitude, in a foreword to the catalogue for a 1952 exhibition of books, prints and drawings from Rachel's collection, Elizabeth Mongan commented that a "graceful relationship existed between art and science in the field of botanical illustration. The illustrator, depending on his period, used his command of line and colour in the service of information and discovery" (Hunt 1951, p. iii).

Rachel was one of six charter members of the Hroswitha Club, a group of women book collectors founded in New York City in 1944 and named after the 10th-century nun Hroswitha of Gandersheim, who collected books and authored comedic plays. Elected members included authors, bibliographers, librarian curators and private collectors, and they met at major libraries, private collections and members' homes, mainly in the northeast. Rachel lectured on the joys of collecting and the knowledge she gained through building her own collection of books, art, manuscripts and portraits. Her busiest decade was the 1950s when she lectured in libraries and galleries that exhibited her collection, including the National Gallery of Art (1951), Carnegie Institute in Pittsburgh (1952), University of Virginia (1952), Yale University (1953), Currier Art Gallery (1953) and the Metropolitan Museum of Art (1954).

From 1950 to 1958, Rachel's librarian and cataloguer, Jane Quinby (1901–1979), worked at the Hunts' home, listing and cataloguing works as they were acquired. In this way she catalogued Rachel's collection chronologically in detail and compiled the information for the first volume of the Catalogue of Botanical Books in the Collection of Rachel McMasters Miller Hunt (Hunt Catalogue; 1958–1961). Later Allan Stevenson (1903–1970) was commissioned to produce volume 2 and to write an essay, "A bibliographical method for the description of botanical books." The Hunt Catalogue showcased 767 of the choicest items in Rachel's collection of books, manuscripts, artworks and other unpublished items. Quinby's and Stevenson's detailed bibliographic information was paired with contextual essays created by additional bibliographic and subject experts with whom Rachel Hunt, through her collecting, lectures, travels and correspondence, had developed relationships. The Hunt Catalogue is still in use today as an important bibliographic and historical reference, not only by scholars but also by booksellers around the world who regularly cite "Hunt numbers" in their catalogue descriptions as a standard reference to rare botanical books of the 15th–18th centuries.

Rachel Hunt's early collecting interest was focused on incunabula (books printed in Europe from movable type before 1501), herbals (books cataloguing the names, descriptions and medicinal uses of plants) and other printed books about plants in the 15th–17th centuries. Later she wrote of the 18th century as a time of great houses and splendid grounds, of patronage for the arts, music, letters and science, of voyages of exploration and the exotic plants brought back to Europe, and of the birth of botany as a science. Gradually she became intensely interested in botanical works of the 18th and early 19th centuries. These ranged from expositions on new ideas in plant anatomy and classification to the magnificent color-plate works illustrated by the greatest artists of the day. In addition to books, she collected portraits, manuscripts and letters and botanical art relating to the books in her collection.

Selected Artworks

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