Friday, February 27, 2015

Note by a Wood Collecting Lawyer

Species identification of commercial timbers and lumber has always been a sticky issue, especially for collectors that would like to use commercial lumber of exotic species to increase the size of their collection. In this article from Volume 2, Number 3 (March, 1949) of the Wood Collectors Society Bulletin, we get an interesting perspective that still rings true today.

By Bernard G. Hildebrand.

President Opdyke in the recent article..."America's Number One Wood Hunter" appearing in the "Profitable Hobbies" magazine for Feb., 1949, page 42, correctly emphasizes the necessity for collecting wood specimens by botanical names and the practical futility of dealing with ordinary lumber companies for scientifically designated specimens. Trade names and practices in the lumber business serve certain good purposes but they are inexact for purposes of the true wood collector. Proof of this assertion may be made simply by examining various texts or scientific wood lists.

On occasions failure to describe woods or lumber properly and unambiguously, preferably by scientific names, has resulted in serious disputes between the various parties and in some instances the courts have been appealed to for a solution of the controversy. Oral evidence to explain a contract and application by courts of various rules of interpretation to determine intention at times may produce a peculiar result, perhaps quite expensive to the party drawing the contract or relying upon its simple written terms.

An interesting illustration of failure to describe wood properly even for general trade purpose is found in the law - case of the New York Central Railway Company vs. Warren Ross Lumber Co., 190 N.Y.S. 835 decided in the year 1931. In this case the plaintiff had shipped various carload lots of lumber for the defendant and the question arose whether the freight charges should be based on a general tariff or a special schedule providing for the higher rates and relating to:
"Woods, foreign (cocobolo, ebony, lignum vitae, Spanish cedar, mahogany, rosewood, and other foreign woods except Canadian woods and Mexican pine lumber)."
According to the report of this suit the lumbers shipped were red and white luan, tangile, and other species of Philippine lumber grown in the Philippine Islands and commonly known as "Philippine mahogany."

It appears at the trial the defendant, among other things, convinced the court that "Philippine mahogany" was used as a substitute for "African and American mahogany", that the latter was about twice as expensive and that the lumber in question weighed about 3,200 lbs. per thousand feet and "the true San Domingo mahogany" weighed about 4,800 pounds per thousand feet. The court decided the issue for the defendant (I omit the court's discussion of the word "foreign") saying in part:
"...All of the woods specified, as has been noted above, are expensive commodities, the responsibility for the carriage of which would be greater than in the case of cheaper materials..."
These facts establish satisfactorily in my judgement that the wood in question was not the mahogany mentioned in the schedule quoted. What was intended is what is generally known by the name of mahogany, and that that is the kind of wood intended rather than the cheaper substitute article here involved is shown by the woods specifically enumerated in the schedule, namely cocobolo, ebony, rosewood, etc. all of which are heavy tropical or subtropical lumber of high cost. The denomination of this wood as Philippine mahogany in the trade is no more conclusive of the question than the name 'German measles' is conclusive to that disease being measles, or the name 'horsechestnut' as to that tree being a chestnut.

Or, I may add, of "Brazilian cherry" being a cherry species. We Pennsylvanians are sensitive to that one, in particular.

Families with Woody Members

One of the issues that most wood collectors eventually try to grapple with is..."How many woody species are there?" As we dig into the scientific basis for an answer, we refine our question to one that should be easier to answer - "How many families of woody plants are there?"

Even that is not exactly easy to answer.  Chuck Holder and I had a lengthy discussion last summer at the Ontario meeting whether or not palm "wood" is really wood, or not, since they have vascular bundles, but no growth rings.

Well, this general topic has been an issue of discussion for quite a while, as we learn below from the Volume 2, Number 3 (March 1949) issue of the Wood Collectors Society Bulletin (forerunner of "World of Wood").

Several months ago your president got the idea he wanted a 100% perfect (?) list of families that contain woody matter and he began with those shown in the Yale list which is probably the most complete obtainable anywhere. He consulted others who supplied family names that were included and then he ran into complications.

First we must have a definition of "WOOD". Is it anything that grows above a certain size or must it have annual rings? Many of the families collected by members include the palms (Palmaceae), the lilies (Liliaceae), the grasses (Poaceae) the tree ferns (Cyatheaceae) and others. Shall they be included? Should there be two lists containing only the Gymnosperms and Angiosperms plus another giving the palms, grasses, ferns, lilies, and most of the Compositatae, for the benefit of those who desire to collect them?


In a recent letter from Prof. Robert W. Hess, Associate Professor of Forest Products, Yale University, he says, quote, --

"Although we have frequently discussed the making of a list of families having woody members, I know of no such compilation. It is a very desirable task and becomes increasingly difficult in the extremities. Apparently this will be your field of specialization at least for some time."

Well, thanks to at least one dedicated IWCS member, we have moved this discussion to a more advanced stage. Bill Mudry of Ontario has focused his efforts at identifying and listing all woody species, specifically, on his excellent and useful website
On it, he lists 413 woody families, including the Palmae (formerly Palmaceae) family. So, while the botanists among us can still debate the characteristics of a definitive "woody" plant, we collectors and hobbyists at least have a list to go by that the early IWCS members lacked.

Saturday, February 14, 2015

Suggestions for Getting Started in Wood Collecting

The first newsletter of 1948, and officially, Wood Collectors Society Bulletin No. 1, which attempted to suggest to members some basic guidelines and techniques for the hobby, was published in March of that year. While modern wood collecting is as variable as the folks who collect it, these pointers are still helpful and, at the same time, reminiscent of how simple life was relative to today's world.

I won't re-create the whole Bulletin, but here are some highlights, with some of my thoughts intermingled.

This first paragraph shows that even then, the ultimate objective of wood collecting as a scientific exercise was to determine a complete listing of all woody species and to collectively secure and document specimens of them all in collections around the world. I think it is safe to say that we are still a long, long way from achieving that objective, so the challenge remains.

I think it was a little easier back in those days to cut specimens without getting into trouble. These days, if you're planning to go around cutting branches of trees (or harvesting small trees, or shrubs, or vines) make sure you have permission of the landowner or a permit from the proper authority on public lands. Of course, there are still wide open spaces out there in the world where permission is not required, but be prudent about your collection practices.

I've observed that planning and organizing the collection is as satisfying as the collecting itself, and it adds immensely to the enjoyment of the collection over the years. Conversely, as the article says, a poorly executed effort at organizing will result in "a stupendous job" hanging over your head and will detract from your enjoyment and knowledge of the hobby. I know, walking the roadside or woods, saw in hand is more fun...but those unlabeled, unorganized, or unworked specimens can pile up in a hurry.


I love the sincerity in that last much as I love the next one.

I actually think the next paragraph gets at the heart of a wood collecting fellowship...although nowadays, buying and selling specimens may be more common.

And perhaps the most important, and difficult issue of the hobby...

Finally, I'll share this entire page near the end of the newsletter. It's discussion about the cost of the hobby is a great reference for the time, and the paragraphs on new individuals who were being found in the hobby are great.

You can just feel the excitement of the anonymous author as he details these early stirrings in the life of what would become the International Wood Collectors Society.