When groups of Irises emerge with characteristics sufficiently different from those that have gone before, the subject of a classification that is determined by a time line needs to be addressed.
When I first began collecting irises it seemed to me that the plants I was collecting from around the old buildings and period houses in New Zealand were 'historic irises', they have blooms that have a certain tailored look with a vintage style that is mostly lost in irises of more recent origin. I then started collecting the irises of Jean Stevens which was a neat fit with my 'Historic Iris collection'.
But there is growing problem with the classification that 'ALL Irises introduced over 30 years ago are considered Historic Irises', as this includes Irises from the 60's, 70's and now a few from the 80's, most of these just don't have that historic 'look'. Almost all of these irises visually are 'Modern Irises' in shape, style and form and each year more irises (650+ next year alone) with that modern look are classified as 'Historic'. This will become a very big branding problem as each year passes and as there are almost 7,000 irises that were registered in the 1980's you can bet this problem is not going to go away anytime soon.
There was a suggested determination (which I agree with) of a dividing line between historic and antique irises published by 'The Historic Iris Society' in their publication 'ROOTS', Spring 1989, when Phil Edinger in answer to a question suggested "You asked about a dividing line between historical and antique. I would say 1930 ought to be it. By that year (but just by then) all modern colors and patterns (save for Progenitor-type dominant bicolors and luminata) were present at the 4N level. From then on it was a matter of refinement."
I have heard there has been discussions around the traps on the designation of what constitutes 'a historic iris' but no outcome, so you would have to think there must be a committee involved, but it is starting to get beyond a joke if it ever was funny. From a personal standpoint, new thirty year old irises are old enough to deserve collecting and preserving yet new enough in style of the bloom to be regarded as modern but now they have turned thirty a 'historic iris' label is attached to them which is a confusing classification. This could simply be sorted by having three age-related classifications 'Antique', 'Historical' and 'Classic Collectables', and I see the dividing line drawn where styles dramatically changed from an old-fashioned look toward modern appeal. 'Antique' as Phil Edinger suggested up until 1930 (1929 Checklist), 'Historical' 1930-1959 checklist, and finally 'Classic Collectables' 1960 checklist onwards (must be a least thirty years old).
LACED COTTON, GLACIER, HENRY SHAW, and CABARET ROYALE are a few of the irises that I have featured on my blog and these are good examples of highlighting the real problem when you classify a iris as 'historic' but visually these irises do not look different to any Modern Tall Bearded Iris.
Not 100% sure what history will make of some of the latest Irises with form like ..Tom Johnson's 'Genealogy' or George Sutton's 'Doctor Who'................. you know, tall bearded irises with the standards that look like a punk rockers multicoloured Mohawk haircut slapped on top of rounded falls that look like a Southern Belle's ball gown giving a truly unbalanced look and to be honest I'm not a great fan of, but you never know perhaps in thirty years time we will eventually get a new classification of 'Historic Quirky Styled Bling'.
If we apply the old Chinese proverb 'A picture paints a thousand words' then most of the burgeoning catalogues of digital photos of so called 'Historic Irises' from the 60's, 70's and the few so far from the 80's will just continuously reinforce the growing confused message regarding 'historic's' especially with that very important group known as the gardening public.
My collection nowadays is not so narrowly focused and includes irises from all vintages.
Update 17th September, 2012.
Yes, my hunch was correct there was a committee involved it was known as 'Historic Change Designation Committee' but the committee was unable to come to a consensus on making any changes so 'the current practice of designating iris introduced 30 years or longer to be historic will stand'. Ground breaking huh??
So what to do? I think I will just ignore the Historic Classification and start one of my own, I'm just not prepared to be just a nodding nincompoop and go along with something that is causing mass confusion with the Gardening public. As recently as yesterday I was talking to a lady who just loves Irises about the variety 'Afternoon Delight' and I said to her 'you know that's going to be a Historic Iris next year' and she just would not believe me. Now just how different would that conversation have been if I had told her that her beloved 'Afternoon Delight' was a Classic Tall Bearded Iris??