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History of the American Conifer Society

Part Two: The Publications: Bulletin, Conifer Quarterly

Jim Morris, ACS Historian

Let’s start with the Conifer Quarterly. Judging by recent issues, this one will have stunning color photographs on both sides of the front and back cover. Each article will likely be illustrated with more color photos. The pages are literally slick; the articles are printed on high quality paper that is intended to be archived and last indefinitely. This publication is produced with the expectation that it will be consulted by coming generations of conifer students and collectors. By design, it will have technical articles as well as articles that will be helpful to conifer newbies; it may even have a little conifer humor.

The Conifer Quarterly was titled the Bulletin until 2002. Twenty-five years ago, in the summer of 1983, Vol. 1 No. 1 of American Conifer Society Bulletin was published as the first public product of the newly established ACS. It was bursting with pride and professionalism, but it was clearly a product of its times and it was published with a close eye on the bottom line of the meager financial resources of the fledgling Society. The paper was pulpish, and all of the photographs were black and white. It was edited by Robert L. Fincham, an ACS founder, who quickly recruited his wife, Dianne, as editor for subsequent issues. Being an accomplished editor as well as pinch-hitter, Dianne Fincham served as Editor twice, Vol. 1, No. 3 to Vol. 2, No. 4 and again from Vol. 4, No. 2 to Vol. 5, No. 2.

From the beginning, the Bulletin was a vehicle to accomplish the announced purpose of the Society, . . .the development, conservation, and propagation of conifers, with an emphasis on those that are dwarf or unusual, standardization of nomenclature, and education of the public. Editors have always been tasked to draw a balance between scientific articles and gardening information, both needed to serve our diverse membership. Vol. 1, No. 1 had a technical article, Taxonomy of Cultivated Gymnosperms, and also a basic article of step-by-step instructions, accompanied by photographs, explaining transplanting using the half-trench method. That article was written, of course, by Bob Fincham. The last issue, Vol. 24, No. 4, included a well-footnoted article on A California Conifer Conundrum, and another titled, Happy Times in Seattle, which described the last ACS national meeting.

The Quarterly is the primary contact the average ACS member has with the organization it is eagerly awaited and absorbed by the faithful. The Conifer Quarterly doesn’t just happen, and depending on how it has been managed at any given time, it has been both appreciated and criticized by the membership. The Board minutes are replete with pleas for Directors to write and solicit high quality articles. The edition you are reading probably has about forty-eight pages, but by the fifth year of publication, one volume had dwindled down to nineteen pages. Employment and retention of qualified editors has been a paramount duty of each board; other than finding and managing money to meet the Society’s aspirations and obligations, no subject has absorbed more attention.

This publication also serves as the conduit for information from the Board and staff to the membership and back. This is where most members are likely to find out what your President is thinking, what is going on at the regionals, what the Board decided at the last meeting, who has been recently recognized for major accomplishments that benefited the conifer world, and much more. Writing Letters to the Editor and responding to the occasional survey published in The Quarterly are convenient ways for members to provide feedback to ACS management. Conifer humor has a ready forum. Even the Conifer Crossword, initiated by Talon Buchholz in Vol. 8, No. 2, and now created by Evelyn Cox, continues to feed the Addicted Conifer Syndrome.

The Conifer Quarterly is an expensive publication to produce and the cost of production has always absorbed a large majority of the dues we pay as members of ACS. From the beginning, ads within The Quarterly have been solicited to help the publication pay its way, and they are a great vehicle for conifer producers to reach collectors. The first Bulletin contains the first ever ad, for Iseli Nursery, of course. Vol. 4, No. 4 was the first to have a color photo on the cover, Cedrus deodara Golden Horizon , and color printing required upgrading the paper stock for the cover. That eventually led to marketing of color ad space on the other surfaces of the cover and, again, in Vol. 6, No. 3, Iseli was the first buyer of color ad space.

The gorgeous Iseli ads led to a Dear Editor letter from member J.C. Taylor, . . .I think it is sinful, downright SINFUL, and outrageous to show pictures in the ACS Bulletin which are similar to the one on the back cover of Summer issue (Vol. 8, No. 1). . . . .If I had never seen pictures of those beautiful plants produced at Iseli Nursery, then I never would have become so frustrated by the simple fact that I will probably never be able to have something so beautiful as that for my own garden. . . The Editor apologized for any complicity in frustrating Mr. Taylor.

The quest for conifers is apparent, even outside the nursery ads. As an example of the propagation of interest, Vol. 6, No. 2 had an article about the exotic wonders of Pinus bungeana Zuccarini and the very next volume had a paid ad by a collector soliciting information about where that plant could be purchased.

Production of The Quarterly is the responsibility of the Editor but any of them would be quick to agree with the immediate past editor, Anne Brennan, who vividly described the flurry of last minute work when everyone on the staff and even her husband pitched in to perfect the product. Editors have also praised the volunteer work of the technical editors who are named on the inside cover of this edition. Those experts fact check the articles, the nomenclature, the photographs, and other aspects of each edition to make sure you are getting the most accurate information. Evelyn Cox says they do this because of their abiding love of conifers and of learning.

Despite that effort, mistakes or perceived mistakes still generate corrections from readers, including this letter that made Editor Jane Frampton’s top ten list of why an editor’s life is never dull, Dear Jane Frampton: My Summer 2002 issue came today, and as I was glacing (sic) through I came across a typo on page 107 in the Pakistan article by Don House. (sic) The Quarterly genuinely solicits feedback, praise and criticism, from readers, and letters to the editor are only critiqued once every twenty-five years by wiseacre historians.

Here are the names of the editors who have served ACS over these twenty-five years: Robert L. Fincham, Dianne Fincham, Richard Critz, Susan Martin, Elizabeth L. Ley, Rebecca Ryan, Peter Loewer, Charlene Harris, June Frampton, Anne Brennan, and Evelyn Cox. The litany of each was, Keep those articles coming, keep those articles coming . The Quarterly is purely a community effort; it is members educating and entertaining each other, and it won’t happen without each of us contributing.

View Part Three: Why We Are This Way

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