Description

    With 3,225 Hand-Colored Botanical Plates

    William Curtis. Curtis's Botanical Magazine; or, Flower-Garden Displayed. London: Stephen Couchman, 1793-1831.

    39 uniformly bound octavo volumes containing issues 1-58 and the General Indexes. 3,225 hand-colored plates, measuring approximately 5 x 9 inches; some folding plates measuring 11.25 x 9 inches.

    Custom red cloth with gilt spine titles and marbled page edges. Cloth is lightly rubbed and worn with some insect damage, most evident to page edges. Toning and light, scattered foxing throughout. All volumes in very good or better condition.

    Still in publication, Curtis's Botanical Magazine is the oldest periodical in existence featuring colored plates.


    More Information:

    "The journal was founded by William Curtis (1746-1799). Although his passion for flora and fauna was evident from an early age, he was originally apprenticed as an apothecary. However, having moved from Hampshire to London in 1766 to practise this trade, his botanical interests prevailed and he abandoned his career to earn a precarious living by teaching and writing. His first publication was a pamphlet on collecting and preserving insects. In 1773, he was appointed as Demonstrator of Botany at the Chelsea physic garden. After leaving this post in 1777, he opened his own London Botanic Garden at Lambeth Marsh. He later moved the garden to a more salubrious site at Brompton. Admission to the garden and Curtis's lectures was by an annual subscription of one guinea; a share in plants and seeds could be had for a subscription of two guineas.

     

    "The beautiful hand-colored plates are the chief glory of the magazine. As Curtis states in the preface to the first issue, the plates were drawn 'always from the living plant, and colored as near to nature, as the imperfection of coloring will admit'. With little chance to exert any artistic freedom, each artist had to draw the specimens exactly and accurately in order to create a scientifically authoritative work. Up to volume 70 the plates were created using copper etching, with watercolor being added to each copy. Considering that up to 3,000 copies of each issue (containing an average of 3 plates) were published in the magazine's early years, the impossibility of producing a standard uniformity in the coloring can be appreciated. Different colorists would produce varying results, while even the pigments used were not necessarily consistent in their quality. At one time, some 30 people were engaged in coloring the Botanical Magazine. Not only was this tedious and repetitive work, but low wages did not encourage high standards and there were inevitable fluctuations in care and accuracy. Incredibly, in spite of these problems, the magazine's plates were all hand colored until as late as 1948 when a shortage of colorists forced the periodical to adopt photographic reproduction. Seldom offered in a lot this large and complete."

     

    Glasgow University Library Special Collections Dept.



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