Color plate by Clara Maria Pope for Samuel Curtis' A Monograph on the Genius Camellia(1819)
The Phelps Memorial Collection, formed by Mrs. Sheffield Phelps of Aiken, was presented to the University of South Carolina in 1959 by her daughter, Miss Claudia Lea Phelps. Mrs. Phelps, daughter of Preston Lea, governor of Delaware, was founder and first president (1900) of the Garden Club of South Carolina.
Though the Phelps Memorial Collection contains important titles in various areas of botanical interest--a 1960 keepsake divides the collection into categories of "Botany and Flora," "Camellias and Azaleas," "Gardens and Gardening," "Periodicals and Series," and "Travels and Description" and includes such works as Catesby'sNatural History (London, 1771), Bartram's Travels(Philadelphia, 1791), and Michaux's North American Sylva(Paris, 1817-1819) — the core of the collection lies in its superb assemblage of nineteenth-century works on the camellia. The camellia was Mrs. Phelps's greatest gardening interest (on the eve of the Second World War a staff of ten worked the garden at Rose Hill, her Aiken home), and her collection of books on the camellia is almost certainly the finest in North America.
The period 1815 to 1860 was the heyday of interest in the camellia, and the Phelps Collection contains virtually every significant work on the subject published during that period. Highlights include Samuel Curtis's stunning and exceedingly rare Monograph on the Genus Camellia (London, 1819), Chandler and Booth's Illustrations and Descriptions of the Plants Which Compose the Natural Order Camelliæ (London, 1830-1831) — a superb, untrimmed copy, with original printed wrappers and four unique prints prepared for a projected, never-published second volume — and copies of Berlèse's three-volume quarto Iconographie du genre camellia (Paris, 1839-1843) and Vershaffelt's Nouvelle iconographie des camellias (Gand, 1848-1860; nine volumes). In recent years the library has supplemented the collection through the purchase from Miss Phelps' estate of the framed camellia watercolours and engravings which remained at Rose Hill and through the acquisition from other sources of James Petiver's Gazophylacii natura et artis (London, 1709-1711), a book which contains the first Western representation of the camellia (and a work so rare that it escaped Mrs. Phelps' fine-meshed net), and two unique uncoloured proofs of plates from Curtis's 1819 Monograph.