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    With 966 Hand-colored Plates

    William Curtis. The Botanical Magazine; or, Flower-Garden Displayed. London: Stephen Couchman, 1793-1806.

    Twenty-four volumes in twelve. 966 hand-colored plates, measuring approximately 9.25 x 5.25 inches, with some folding plates measuring approximately 9.25 x 11.5 inches. (Leaves in all volumes appear to have been trimmed slightly from their original size when bound.)

    Recently bound in uniform red cloth with gilt-stamped spines. Patterned endpapers. Red sprinkled edges. Some insect damage to bindings. Heavy damage to head of spine of the last volume. Pages and plates show general toning and some foxing. Each volume has a bookplate pasted to the verso of the title page. Each volume has an inked name, dated 1881, on title page, many of which have fallen victim to page-trimming. A hand-written passage from Sir Thomas Browne's Religio Medici is in ink on the second flyleaf of the first volume. The books are in generally very good condition, with the plates in good or better condition.

    From the title page: "In Which the most Ornamental Foreign Plants, cultivated in the Open Ground, the Green-House, and the Stove, are accurately represented in their natural Colours. [...] A Work Intended for the Use of such Ladies, Gentlemen, and Gardeners, as with to become scientifically acquainted with the Plants they cultivate."

    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."


    Glasgow University Library Special Collections Dept.

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    Auction Dates
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    16th-17th Friday-Saturday
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