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©George Langford III, 2011

COLUMBUS, Ohio, January 21, 1880.
Prof. J. P. LESLEY,
State Geologist of Pennsylvania:

DEAR SIR: My report on the Coal Flora of Pennsylvania and the other United States having been delivered to you some months ago, and. the first half of it, as far as to the end of the Ferns, being now printed as a separate volume, I offer, at your suggestion, the following remarks as a short preface to it reserving, the more elaborate Introduction, which I have prepared to the whole work, to be inserted at the close of the descriptions in the second volume.

The want of some convenient book for the study and determination of fossil plants in the Coal measures has always been and still is the chief difficulty which discourages both students and collectors.

True, a great number of works on the subject have been published ; but they are all either partial or local in their character. They describe, and illustrate by figures, either some one group of Coal plants, or a number of isolated species, or those of some particular European coal field.

The best and most famous of these works is that of Brongniart, Histoire des Vegetaux Fossiles, published at Paris in the years 1828-1844, and left unfinished at the death of that illustrious botanist.

The student of the vegetation of the Carboniferous age, therefore, can pursue to advantage his researches only after having first procured a series, in fact a whole library, of very costly books; and will sometimes find himself compelled to peruse a number of volumes, in order to arrive at the determination of a single species.

We now have, it is true, the Vegetable Paleontology of Schimper,—an admirable work, the faithful friend and assistant of the phyto-paleontologist. But the use of this book demands an already intimate acquaintance with fossil botany, and therefore cannot be recommended for be ginners or collectors. As it describes all the as yet known species, from the earliest (Silurian) to the latest (Pliocene) geological formations, nearly six thousand in number, the descriptions are of course very brief; and as the Atlas which accompanies it consists of only one hundred and ten plates, only such figures are given as serve to illustrate especially the essential characters of the genera.

It is hardly necessary to say that the determination of the vegetable remains of the Coal, in their usual fragmentary condition of Fern-fronds, stems, bark of trees, etc. cannot be made with any degree of accuracy from mere descriptions.

My purpose in preparing this work on the Coal flora of the United States, from materials which I have been procuring and studying for years, has been to make it a kind of manual, to meet the deficiency of books. Thus far, our libraries contain only heterogeneous, partial and local reports on the coal plants of this continent. I wish to offer to amateurs in this field of research the means of conveniently and successfully studying those vegetable remains of a remote age, so widely and abundantly distributed throughout the vast American coal fields, and of late so actively sought after and so carefully collected and preserved by intelligent observers.

This aim has not yet been as fully attained as I could desire; for, a number of the species which I have described in the text are not figured in the Atlas. But it is to be considered that the possible number of plates is indefinitely great. Fossil species, especially those of plants, are generally represented by mere fragments, or accidentally exposed parts, of a whole plant. In some cases the complete, elucidation of a single species would require, for itself alone, a number of large plates. The cost of an exhaustive representation may be imagined. It is possible, however, that the Board of Commissioners of the Survey may see fit to authorize a second volume of plates, additional to the Atlas already published.

To compensate for any deficiency of figures as: far as possible, I have given in greater detail descriptions, either of different parts of such plants as are only partly figured, or of plants not as yet figured at all. The prolixity of such descriptions is unavoidable.

I have described all the species of vegetable forms known to me as occurring in the coal measures—not only of Pennsylvania—but of the United States; and I have included among them plants of Carboniferous types discovered in the older or so-called Devonian rocks.

As far as my researches teach me, the Carboniferous measures find their upper limit at one or two hundred feet above the Pittsburg Coal. In the measures lying above this limit another flora has been discovered, of which some of the species have a character representative of Permian types. This flora has been studied by Prof. I. C. White, of West Virginia University at Morgantown, and Prof. W. M. Fontaine, now of the Virginia University at Charlottesville, whose conjoint report upon it is being just published by the Board as Report of Progress PP.

Thus, I trust, the student of fossil botany will find two easily accessible books with which alone he can pursue his researches through the whole Carboniferous system from top to bottom.

My materials have been derived from every available source. I have endeavored to see all accessible localities offering a chance for obtaining specimens. I have examined both private collections and the cabinets of scientific institutions, and have widely offered my assistance in determining specimens for any who were willing to transmit them for that purpose. This has brought to me a mass of materials which I have put to use in notes or figures.

Very valuable assistance has been rendered to my researches by a large number of persons, testifying thus their interest in the preparation of the work. Indeed, I freely acknowledge that it would have been deprived of a considerable part of its importance but for the communication of rare materials furnished by the long, expensive and systematic explorations of Mr. I. F. Mansfield in the roof shales of his Cannelton coal bed; by the immense collection of plant-remains put at my disposal by Mr. R. D. Lacoe of Pittston; and by the generous contributions of Dr. J. H. Britts of Clinton, Mo., and others.

The localities of specimens, and the names of contributors are carefully recorded in the descriptive text ; and to all who have helped me in my long researches I hereby send these words of grateful remembrance.

Prof. Louis Agassiz was the first promoter of this Coal Flora of the United States. After his death, the Museum of Comparative Zoology which he founded at Cambridge, Mass. generously allowed me the use of the materials appertaining to the institution, with permission to make them known as opportunities for benefiting science occurred. But without your own interest in the publication of this work it would probably never have seen the light. To Prof. Agassiz and to yourself, my two highly honored friends, therefore, I should dedicate it, were it not the property of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania.

Very respectfully yours,