Guide to the Charles Vancouver Piper Papers 1888-1926
Cage 317

Summary Information

Manuscripts, Archives, and Special Collections, Washington State University Libraries
Piper, Charles Vancouver
Charles Vancouver Piper Papers
Cage 317
Date [inclusive]
3650.0 items.
General Physical Description note
2.5 linear feet of shelf space.
Correspondence and notes regarding taxonomic investigations of plants of the state of Washington, the collection of botanical specimens, the preparation of regional floras, the history of botanical study of the Pacific Northwest, and the identification of plants for the public. Siginificant correspondents include: R.K. Beattie, F.V. Coville, F.A. Golder, Edmond S. Meany, B.L. Robinson, W.N. Suksdorf.

Preferred Citation note

[Item Description]. Cage 317, Charles Vancouver Piper Papers . Manuscripts, Archives, and Special Collections, Washington State University Libraries, Pullman, WA.

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Biographical/Historical note

Charles V. Piper was born in Victoria, British Columbia, in 1867. He grew up in Seattle, and attended the Territorial University of Washington until about 1892, although he had received his bachelor’s degree in 1885 at the age of 18.

Piper’s career as a botanist had two almost distinct, although overlapping, phases, first as a regional taxonomist in the Northwest and later as an agronomist with the United States Department of Agriculture at Washington, D.C. His activity as a student of Northwest flora began in the mid-1880s, associated with his mountaineering hobby and supported by the Young Naturalists, a Seattle scientific society. Piper joined the staff of the newly opened Washington Agricultural College and School of Science, now Washington State University, in late 1892, and spent the next decade at Pullman, except for one year while a fellow at the Gray Herbarium of Harvard University. At Pullman, he and his collaborator, R. Kent Beattie, composed the first reasonably complete and authoritative regional Flora, beginning with a survey of the Palouse area of Southeastern Washington and expanding into the 1906  Flora of Washington. The investigations Piper conducted at Pullman also served as the basis for two later publications,  Flora of Southeast Washington and Adjacent Idaho (1941) and  Flora of the Northwest Coast (1915).

Piper’s career as a USDA researcher began in 1903 and continued to his death in 1926. His primary work consisted of the location, domestication or development and introduction of grasses. His most notable success during these years involved his discovery of Sudan grass, a plant he found in Africa and introduced to North America as a forage plant.

As a plant scientist Piper often attempted to take positions which placed him simultaneously in several of the various schools of thought which characterized the bitterly divided field of botany of his day. Throughout his career he consistently emphasized attention to economic and agricultural plants, much to the criticism of the purists of the profession. He also attempted to combine various positions in the nomenclature dispute: while arguing for the necessity of historical research to establish the validity of original names, his Flora adhered to the names proposed by the International Rule school. He himself undertook a great deal of the historical research inspired by the American Rule school. He was greatly involved in the re-discovery of Meriwether Lewis’ lost herbarium and encouraged the publications of journals of earlier plant explorers of the Northwest, such as Archibald Menzies and David Douglas. On one occasion, Piper even traveled to England to make a copy of Douglas’ journal, which was not then available in the United States. Piper also took a mixed position of matters of "splitting" and "lumping." While criticized as a "splitter" and "too anxious for new species," he expressed opinions which tended to encourage "lumping."

Poor health began to restrict Piper’s activities in his early 50s and he died at Washington, D. C. in 1926.

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Scope and Contents note

Those of Charles V. Piper’s papers which are located at Washington State University consist primarily of correspondence and notes relative to taxonomic studies of Northwest flora, and to the history of Northwest botany. Piper’s letterbooks contain considerable correspondence relative to the identification of plants sent to Washington State University by the public.

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Arrangement note

Piper’s correspondence is arranged in a chronological sequence. His notes follow the subject files he established, with the exception of his typescript copy of the Journal of David Douglas, an item found among the papers of R. Kent Beattie and relocated with Piper’s papers. An index for this collection is available in Manuscripts Archives and Special Collections. Additional Botanical manuscripts in MASC may be found in the following collections:

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Administrative Information

Publication Information

Manuscripts, Archives, and Special Collections, Washington State University Libraries © 2012
Terrell Library
P.O. Box 645610
Pullman, WA, 99164-5610

Conditions Governing Access note

This collection is open for research use.

Custodial History note

The papers of Charles V. Piper, 1867-1926, were received by the Washington State University Herbarium in 1926 along with his library and herbarium, donated by Maude Hungate Piper, Stanley Piper and R. Kent Beattie. Transcripts of correspondence located in other archives and repositories were added from time to time.

Immediate Source of Acquisition note

The materials in this collection of botanical documents were transferred to the Washington State University Library in 1975 from the university’s Ownbey Herbarium.

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Related Materials

Related Archival Materials note

Another segment of Piper’s papers is located in Office File of C. V. Piper, 1903-1924, Series 71, Records of Division of Forage Crops and Disease, Bureau of Plant Industry Records, Record Group 54, National Archives, Washington, D. C.

Additional Botanical manuscripts in MASC may be found in the following collections:

Cage 53: Botanical papers, 1881-1973

Cage 318: Beattie, Rolla Kent Papers, 1899-1956

Cage 316: Cusick, William Conklin Papers, 1906-1924

Cage 319: St. John, Harold Papers, 1912-1957

Cage 315: Suksdorf, Wilhelm Nicolaus Papers, 1867-1935

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Controlled Access Headings


  • Botanists--United States--Correspondence

Personal Name(s)

  • Beattie, R. Kent (Rolla Kent), b. 1875
  • Coville, Frederick V. (Frederick Vernon), 1867-1937
  • Golder, Frank Alfred, 1877-1929
  • Meany, Edmond S. (Edmond Stephen), 1862-1935
  • Piper, Charles V. (Charles Vancouver), 1867-1926 --Archives
  • Robinson, Benjamin Lincoln, 1864-1935
  • Suksdorf, Wilhelm, 1850-1932


  • Science
  • Washington (State)

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Other Finding Aids note

Northwest Botanical Manuscripts: An Indexed Register of the Papers, 1867-1957, of William Nikolaus Suksdorf, William Conklin Cusick, Charles Vancouver Piper, Rolla Kent Beattie, and Harold St. John. Pullman: Washington State University, 1976. This guide includes a detailed correspondence index. A PDF version is available in the WSU Research Exchange.

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General note

Charles Vancouver Piper

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Biographical treatments in Piper appear in Albert S. Hitchcock, Charles Vancouver Piper, 1867-1926, Proceedings of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, 57 (1928) 275-276 and Irwin F. Lange,  Pioneer Botanists of the Pacific Northwest, Oregon Historical Quarterly, 57 (1957) 120-124.

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Collection Inventory

Series 1: Correspondence 


 1888-1891   125.0 items.

1 / 1

 1892-1894   150.0 items.

1 / 2

 1895-1896   200.0 items.

1 / 3

 1897-1898   225.0 items.

1 / 4

 1899   155.0 items.

2 / 5

 1900-1901   200.0 items.

2 / 6

 1902-1904   175.0 items.

2 / 7

 1905-1911   130.0 items.

2 / 8

 1912-1915   130.0 items.

2 / 9

 1916   100.0 items.

3 / 10

 1917   90.0 items.

3 / 11

 1918   185.0 items.

3 / 12

 1919   170.0 items.

3 / 13

 1920   120.0 items.

3 / 14

 1921   130.0 items.

4 / 15

 1922   85.0 items.

4 / 16

 1923   95.0 items.

4 / 17

 1924   65.0 items.

4 / 18

 1925   60.0 items.

4 / 19

 1926   15.0 items.

4 / 20

 undated   10.0 items.

4 / 21

Letterbook Feb. 1902-Aug. 1902   1.0 volume. 380

4 / 22

Letterbook Sept. 1902-June 1903   1.0 volume. 370

4 / 23

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Series 2: Notes and Working Papers 


Notes   20.0 items.

5 / 24

Allocarya   20.0 items.

5 / 25

Aster   45.0 items.

5 / 26

Berberis   40.0 items.

5 / 27

Carex   20.0 items.

5 / 28

Castilleja   5.0 items.

5 / 29

Crypthantha   10.0 items.

5 / 30

Delphinium   10.0 items.

5 / 31

Erytheronium   25.0 items.

5 / 32

Fungi   40.0 items.

5 / 33

Grasses   50.0 items.

5 / 34

Grindellia   10.0 items.

5 / 35

Lathyrus   20.0 items.

5 / 36

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