A Rare Entirely Complete Copy of Curtis' English Flora, With all 648 Plates Done over 54 Years, the Whole Elegantly Packaged


(London: Printed for and Sold by the Author, at his Botanic-Garden, 1777, 1798; Printed for George Graves, 1819-28). 490 x 295 mm. (19 1/4 x 11 1/2"). With the dedication to the Earl of Bute and list of subscribers in volume I; eight-leaf manuscript General Index and English [Names] Index inserted following preface in vol. I. Without the printed general indexes and two articles called for by Henrey. Four volumes. FIRST EDITION.

Volumes I-III in very fine early 20th century green morocco, gilt, covers with frame of double gilt rules enclosing drawer-handle-tool roll, starburst cornerpieces, central panel bordered by row of gilt dots and cresting floral roll, raised bands, spine panels with large fleuron centerpiece, gilt lettering, gilt-rolled turn-ins, marbled endpapers, top edges gilt; volume IV in recent (slightly darker) green morocco, with perfectly matching(!) gilt tooling. WITH A TOTAL OF 648 PLATES (432 from Curtis, 216 from Hooker, as called for by Henrey) with 656 FINELY EXECUTED, ALWAYS PLEASING HAND-COLORED BOTANICAL ENGRAVINGS. Dunthorne 87; Johnston 532; Henrey 595 and 596; Hunt 650; Nissen BBI 439, 440; Pritzel 2004, 2005; Sitwell, "Great Flower Books," pp. 88-89; Stafleu and Cowan 1286. Title of first volume carefully backed and a little soiled, preliminary leaves unevenly trimmed at bottom, preface leaf with crease flattened and minor tear repaired, text leaves with overall very light browning (plates, with a few exceptions, brighter), a dozen leaves with moisture stain at fore edge, other trivial imperfections, but still an excellent set, fresh and clean throughout, and the luxurious bindings with no signs of wear.

Although various parts and editions of the "Flora Londinensis" appear regularly in the marketplace, the present item is a rare combination of this celebrated botanical work, comprised of the first editions of both William Curtis' original issues, published in 72 numbers appearing between 1775 and 1798, and Sir William Jackson Hooker's continuation of the work, published between 1817 and 1828. It is unique in its arrangement, as a former owner with expertise in botany combined the plates from Curtis and Hooker, arranging the plates by type of plant, rather than binding them as issued in the original fascicles. In creating this personalized copy, he discarded the printed index issued with each fascicle, hand-numbered the plates according to his system of arrangement, and wrote out his own general index, using both Latin and English names, in an elegant hand. William Curtis (1746-99) is one of the great names in natural history, and his "Flora Londinensis" (along with his famous "Botanical Magazine") is a landmark in English botany. A pharmacist, botanist, and entomologist, Curtis set up a botanic garden of British plants at Bermondsey in 1771 and two years later was appointed demonstrator of plants at the Chelsea Physic Garden, a post he held until 1777. Although the stated purpose of the "Flora Londinensis" is to depict the plants growing within a 10-mile radius of London, the work is much more comprehensive in scope than its title suggests, for it embraces most of the flowers growing in England. As a result, it should be properly regarded as the first color-plate national flora. It is an impressive work with handsome engraved illustrations and wonderfully rich coloring. In Henrey's words, "Curtis adopted the novel plan of having specimens drawn to a uniform scale and to life size, and most of the plates display a high degree of accuracy. In the opinion of [Sir J. E.] Salisbury, the majority of the figures 'represent the most successful portrayals of British wild flowers that have ever been achieved.'" (II, 67) Described by the Hunt catalogue as the "splendid, complicated, basic, English flora," the work contains some of James Sowerby's first botanical illustrations as well as the work of William Kilburn, Sydenham Edwards, Francis Sansom, and perhaps others (none of the plates are signed). Unfortunately, the "Flora Londinensis" was not a financial success and consequently was cut short for lack of subscriptions: according to Henrey's account, no more than 300 of any single number are believed to have been printed. Although the work's comprehensive nature means that quite a number of images record plants that are not visually arresting, they all are beautifully colored. The bindings here are a special bonus: the design is elegantly handsome, the execution is impeccable, and the exactitude of the replication done for the fourth binding is remarkable.

Price: $50,000.00