Reference Plate Guide

Edgar and Brian Lamb’s Cacti and Succulent Reference Plates from the Monthly Notes of the Exotic Collection


Many, many years ago I was given a set of The Exotic Collection magazine by one of our Manchester Branch members. The magazines were in a number of A5 ring binders. Harry, the Branch member in question, had been sorting through some drawers at home and when he had pulled out the drawer containing the magazines it had fallen to pieces. Not wanting to go to all the trouble of putting the magazines back he brought them to the next meeting and gave them to me. “They need sorting,” he said. “I tried filing them in some sort of order, but then I gave up as it was too complicated.” So the next day I spent most of the morning looking through the ring binders to see what Harry had given me.

What are the Photographic Reference Plates?

They are a collection of A5 fact sheets that detail many cactus and succulent plants. Each plate has a unique number, a photograph of the plant along with the name of the plant, who first described it and where it grows. A rough scale size is noted and also a brief note on growing the plant. The idea for the plate numbers was thought up by Edgar Lamb in the 1930’s and was used in a catalogue issued by W. T. Neale in 1935. Numbers 1 to 1250 would be allocated to cacti and numbers 1416* to 2800 would be used for succulents. [*n.b. I think the 1416 number is a typographical error, because the succulents are supposed to start at 1500.]

Who were/are Edgar and Brian Lamb?

Edgar Lamb wrote many books and articles on Cacti and Succulents. I should think many, many Cacti growers will identify Edgar Lamb as someone who inspired their enthusiasm for Cacti and Succulents having read one, or more, of his many books. Who hasn’t come across The Pocket Encyclopedia of Cacti in Colour, Colourful Cacti and other Succulents of the Deserts or Popular Exotic Cacti in Colour to name just three books. Perhaps the most famous set of books are The Illustrated Reference on Cacti and Other Succulents – five volumes of Cacti and Succulent pictures. Edgar Lamb died in 1980 after a short illness, Brian is currently living in Gibraltar.

When/how were the Reference Plates issued?

The photographic reference plates were issued primarily within The Exotic Collection magazine. Each issue had two plates that were listed on the inside front cover. At a later stage I think it was possible to order sets of plates and there are at least three types of binders that were available to hold the plates.

Why are some Neale’s Photographic Reference Plates?

The first plates issued from 1949 were called Neale’s Photographic Reference Plates. W. T. Neale’s was the name of the nursery/importer that Edgar Lamb bought out in the early 1950’s. They continued with the name until changing it at a later date to The Exotic Collection.

Why are there some numbers missing?

Simply put, not every number was used. I would imagine that eventually they would have been used in the fullness of time.

Why are some numbers duplicate?

Duplicated numbers appear on plates that have been re-issued at a later date – see explanation of plate types below.

Is this list a full set of plates?

Probably. Unfortunately there is no way of knowing if any plates are missing from the list as there has never been a full index issued by the Lamb’s. This index I hope goes someway to rectify that problem.

Explanation of plate types

There are five main plate variations that have been issued over the years, which can be further broken down into seventeen minor variants. The first “A” type are all black and white and have a type font that looks printed. “B” and “C” types could be said to look “home-made” being produced by a type-writer. “D” and “E” types are again produced using a proper printing font. The section in (brackets) describes the plate to differentiate the minor variants. “Horiz” and “Vert” refer to the direction that the words “Photographic Reference Plate” appears on the page. “LC” and “UC” mean Lower Case and UPPER CASE respectively. You also need to pay close attention to the layout and spelling of the “signature” at the bottom of the page – there are minor variations on this, which could be as little as a full stop being positioned slightly differently.

Type A1 = NPRP – E. Lamb F.R.H.S. (Horiz/LC/Print)
Type A2 = NPRP – E. Lamb (Horiz/LC/Print)
Type A3 = NPRP – Edgar Lamb (Horiz/LC/Print)
Type A4 = PRP – Edgar Lamb (Horiz/LC/Print)

Type B1 = PRP – Edgar Lamb (Horiz/LC/Typed_A)
Type B2 = PRP – Edgar Lamb (Horiz/LC/Typed_B)

Type C1 = PRP – E. & B.M. Lamb (Horiz/LC/Typed)
Type C2 = PRP – E & B.M. Lamb (Horiz/LC/Typed)
Type C3 = PRP – E & B.M. Lamb (Vert/UC/Typed)

Type D1 = PRP – E. & B.M. Lamb (Horiz/LC/Print)
Type D2 = PRP – E. & B.M. Lamb (Vert/UC/Print)
Type D3 = PRP – E.& B.M. Lamb (Horiz/LC/Print)
Type D4 = PRP – E & B.M. Lamb (Horiz/LC/Print)
Type D5 = PRP – E & B.M. Lamb (Vert/UC/Print)

Type E1 = PRP – B.M. & S. Lamb (Horiz/LC/Print)
Type E2 = PRP – B.M. & S. Lamb (Horiz/UC/Print)
Type E3 = PRP – B.M. & S. Lamb (Vert/UC/Print)


Illustrated Encyclopedia/Stapeliad Books

There are also five volumes of The Illustrated Reference on Cacti and Other Succulents and Stapeliads in Cultivation that are based on the same principle of the Photographic Reference Plates. In time I hope to include those in the lists.

I have a plate that I think is not on the list

First off – PLEASE check the plate against the plate types above and against the list again. If you are still convinced that you have a plate that is not on the list please contact me at chris _ cactus _ corner AT yahoo DOT co DOT uk. Please mark your email subject as “PHOTOGRAPHIC REFERENCE PLATE”. Thank you.

Why do some of my numbers not match those on the list?

You have to bear in mind that these plates were issued over a 40 year period and in all that time some mistakes and typographical errors are bound to creep in. In the main the plant on the plate is given a number that is “out of place” – in other words the number places it in a totally different genus. If you are lucky the person who may have had the plates before you might have corrected the error themselves. You can also check the list and that will hopefully tell you what the correct number should be. If it doesn’t please contact me at chris _ cactus _ corner AT yahoo DOT co DOT uk. Thank you.

The plates listed below are known errors.

Incorrect Correct

817 col see 1172a B1 Porfiria schwartzii var. albiflora
548a col see 164a C3 Borzicactus humboldtii
519b col see 369a D4 Echinocereus subinermis
588a col see 558a B2 Rebutia steinbachii
886a col see 866a E3 Melocactus matanzanus

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Click the links below to download the PDF files of the index of plates.
Numerical List (updated 2013-09-05)
Alphabetical List (updated 2013-09-05)
Chronological List (updated 2013-09-05)
Issue Guide (1962-1987) (updated 2013-09-05)

What was The Exotic Collection – The Greenhouses

Edgar Lamb bought out the nursery W. T. Neale’s and moved the business to 16 Franklin Road, Worthing. Whilst I think the Lamb’s still sold plants and seeds the aim of The Exotic Collection was to be more of a botanical garden for rare succulent plants. Early journals feature adverts that state those aims which broadly speaking were the preservation, distribution and study of endangered species. Also mentioned is the fact that any plant featured in either the monthly notes or the reference plates had been grown in the collection for at least three years prior to being written about. According to the adverts the greenhouses covered an area of around 6000 sq feet and contained approximately 4000 species.

What was The Exotic Collection – The Monthly Notes

The Monthly Notes were issued from about 1948 to 1987. Each issue comprised of two sheets of thick A4 paper folded in half. There was a photo on the front and back covers and a photo in the middle pages. The other two sides of the paper (four pages of A5) were given over to text and contained many articles on Cacti and Succulents, plus travelogues and cultivation hints and tips. The name The Exotic Collection came into being sometime in the early 1950’s.

Where was The Exotic Collection

The Exotic Collection was based in Worthing, West Sussex at 16 Franklin Road. Nothing remains of the collection now, sadly. The early NCSS Journals featured many articles and photos of the collection. Location of The Exotic Collection (opens Google Earth)

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Remembering Harry Ormerod

(Reprinted from the Manchester Branch Newsletter – July 2000)

I was very sad when I read about the death of Harry Ormerod. Whilst he had not attended a branch meeting for several years, I still remember him for his kindness and generosity and willingness to help out the younger members.

I always looked forward to him coming round with the raffle tickets each month so we could chat or so I could tell him about my latest fishing exploits. More often than not I had some plants for him to identify. He in turn told me stories about what he had been up to. One story that sticks in my mind was the time when the whole street thought UFO’s were landing in Rawtenstall. It was early in the evening during the winter, and totally dark outside. Several people, including Harry, could see a ring of flashing amber lights, apparently low in the sky. The mystery remained until the following morning when it turned out to be numerous roadwork warning lights on the hill behind the houses placed there no doubt by some mischievous children.

He was always willing to help name small plants that I brought with me and more often than not told me how best to grow them. On more than one occasion he was generous enough to give me a small tray of plants, particularly when he found out I had just bought a greenhouse.

I only managed to visit his collection on one occasion. My father and myself spent a happy hour or so looking at his many and varied plants. He only had a relatively small greenhouse – it was about four times the size of mine! As you went in there was a boxed off area on the left in which he kept his tender plants. He had lots of Mammillarias and literally hundreds of Lithops. I never imagined there could be so many. These Lithops took up most of the end of the greenhouse and filled quite a few shelves round the eaves. Needless to say I didn’t come home empty-handed. Several of the plants I brought home that day are still with me.

Harry once said to me that the best thing I could ever do with my collection was to buy and collect those plants I liked the look of and never bother what name they had on them. I have always tried to stick to this advice, though I have relented slightly and have bought quite a few Gymnocalycium’s – having said that, they grow well in my greenhouse, they flower well and I like them, so I suppose it is not too far away from his advice.

Imagine my surprise one evening when Harry turned up with a carrier bag full of small ring binders. He left them with me in the hope I would find them interesting. He had been having a clear-out at home and had bought me his collection of “The Exotic Collection” magazines. For those of you who do not know this publication, it was a small magazine published in the 1970’s by Edgar Lamb and his son Brian. I sat and sorted through them the following morning (as all the pages were jumbled up) for hours and hours. I don’t think I ever got round to reading them all, but never the less they were very entertaining. Thank you Harry.

Later his bad legs prevented him from driving to the meetings. I am sure I am not the only one who will miss him.

Chris L.

Copyright and Acknowledgments:

Copyright in the arrangement of these materials, and the novel content, lies with Christopher Leather © 2012.

Revised and updated September 2013.

Permission is granted to print the PDFs for PERSONAL USE ONLY. For ANY other use, please contact me at chris _ cactus _ corner AT yahoo DOT co DOT uk

Special thanks:

To Ralph Martin, Tony Roberts, Graham Charles, Martin Doorbar and Mike Thewles for their help in checking the data and supplying corrections and additions.