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anglo trinidadian botanist henry prestoe 1878 paris expo stacks bowers galleries

Anglo-Trinidadian Botanist Henry Prestoe & the 1878 Paris Expo

By Jeremy Bostwick, Senior Numismatist and Cataloger

Author: Jeremy Bostwick / Thursday, May 20, 2021 / Categories: World Coin of the Week

As mentioned in a previous blog post, award medals often combine the elegant and artistic elements of numismatics with interesting aspects of material culture, often relating an individual to a particular event in time. Such is the case with a fascinating silver medal in our June Ancient & World Coins Collectors Choice Online (CCO) auction. Emanating from the 1878 International Exposition (World's Fair) held in Paris, this award medal was designed by the refined hand of Jules-Clément Chaplain, a key figure in the founding of the Art Nouveau movement. The obverse features the head of Ceres wearing a laurel wreath, while the reverse depicts Fama announcing winners with her trumpet and victory wreath and a cherub holding up a plaque meant to host the winner's name. In the case of this medal, the recipient was "Docteur H. Prestoe." A search of the "Report of Her Majesty's Commissioners for the Paris Universal Exhibition of 1878, to the Queen's Most Excellent Majesty, Vol. II" uncovers that an "H. Prestoe" from Port of Spain in Trinidad received a silver award in class 44 on the topic of wood. Undoubtedly relating to the same individual, the medal in question is our piece in the upcoming June auction.

Delving further into the career of Prestoe, one realizes the important role he played in botany in the second half of the 19th century. Born in Hampshire, England, Prestoe contributed greatly to the field while based in Trinidad (then a crown colony of the British Empire), writing the "Catalog of Plants Cultivated in the Royal Botanic Gardens, Trinidad, from 1865-1870," and served as curator of the Trinidad Botanic Gardens. He was instrumental in the introduction of coffee growing to Trinidad, as is made evident by letters to the Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew such as the following:

(Director's Correspondence 213/478, 10 October 1876)

"Prestoe acknowledges letters he has received dated from August and September and sends his thanks for the acknowledgment therein of the service provide by the Trinidad Botanic Garden to colonists. Prestoe reports that the Coffee plants he received from RBG Kew are thriving. He laments the fact that there are no Coffee plantations on Trinidad despite conditions being ideal. Prestoe particularly notes the absence of mild forms of diseases, such as the coffee 'worm' which caused great damage in Dominica. He attributes the relatively disease-free environment in Trinidad to the abundance of ants and he has observed that in years when the ant population is reduced by forest fires other insects greatly increase. Furthermore he thinks that the extremes of wet and dry in Trinidad prevent harmful fungoid growth. Prestoe relates how best he thinks the question of coffee diseases elsewhere should be tackled. He concludes that he considers fire to be the best means of destroying the damaging insects and various destructive washes the best measure in cases of mildew. Where fire cannot be used as a purgative Prestoe suggests that close pruning, cleaning the trees and burning the refuse would lessen the chance if not prevent attacks of disease. He notes that a major advantage of his suggested approach is its cheapness."

Additionally, Prestoe was vital in the introduction of the mangosteen tree and its fruit to England, as conveyed by the following quote in an 1891 paper by J. H. Hart, the successor of Prestoe as curator of the Trinidad Botanic Gardens:

[1891] "…would have been the second attempt to transport mangosteens to England from Trinidad. The first attempt was made in 1875 when this mangosteen tree first flowered and fruited. Mr. Henry Prestoe, Hart's predecessor as curator of the Trinidad Botanic Gardens, succeeded in getting them to the UK."

Cementing Prestoe's status in the world of botany is the fact that, within taxonomy, his Latinized name is even utilized for the three different species of plants: "annona prestoei"—a type of edible fruit and medicinal plant; "desmoncus prestoei"—a type of climbing palm, and "arundinaria prestoei"—a type of bamboo. Look for this exceptional French medal, with connections to Victorian England and the Caribbean, coming soon in our June Collectors Choice Online Auction!

To view our upcoming auction schedule and future offerings, please visit StacksBowers.com where you may register and participate in this and other forthcoming sales.

We are always seeking coins, medals, and paper money for our future auctions, and are currently accepting submissions for our Official Auction of the ANA World's Fair of Money in August and our fall Hong Kong Auction in September. Additionally, we are accepting submissions for our Collectors Choice Online (CCO) auctions, the next of which will be in October. If you would like to learn more about consigning, whether a singular item or an entire collection, please contact one of our consignment directors today and we will assist you in achieving the best possible return on your material.