Dating back to the 6th century BC, Confucius (born 551 BC) acknowledged orchids as the aristocrat among plants for their simple elegance and representation of the pinnacle of human development.
The ancient Greeks also recognized orchids as a source of virility. Greek women believed that if the father of their unborn child ate large, new orchid tubers, the baby would be a boy and if the mother ate small orchid tubers, she would give birth to a girl. In ancient Rome and Greece orchids were prized as aphrodisiacs, and this belief caused love and lust to become a symbolic meaning of orchids. The word “orchid” is derived from the Greek word “orchis,” meaning “testicle.”
Perhaps the most famous of all orchids is the Vanilla Planifolia, from which vanilla is derived. Vanilla Planifolia is perhaps the last remaining orchid of economic (rather than purely ornamental) value. Although we think of vanilla today as a source of flavoring, it was known throughout Europe for three centuries as a plant with curative and near-magical properties. In these times vanilla was thought to cure melancholy, impotence and hysteria, rheumatism, menstrual problems and epilepsy. The Aztecs a half a world a way ascribed similar characteristics to the same plant. The Aztecs believed that drinking vanilla mixed with chocolate would give them extraordinary strength.
During the Victorian era, orchids came to symbolize luxury because of the rarity and expense associated with the flower. In modern times, orchids still symbolize beauty and luxury, but they have become much more accessible to people of all economic standings. The once rare and expensive indulgence has been transformed into a popular house plant and can be found easily at florist shops. Anyone with the slightest green thumb can grow their own orchid plants at home.
A flower that comes in over 60,000 species and surrounded by heady myths and legends, the orchid must have been a challenging concept for the Guyot toolmakers and die cutters to articulate in steel. Nevertheless, the skilled and talented craftsmen of the Depression Era did just that, and in the mid-1930’s the first run of what would eventually grow to be an offering of five sizes of a deeply detailed and very lovely orchid stamping came out of the press.
Guyot’s orchid motif series is still in active production today.
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