BLACKWELL, Elizabeth (ca 1700-1758). A Curious Herbal, containing five hundred cuts of the most useful plants... from drawings taken from life. London: Samuel Hading, 1737[-?1739].
2 volumes, 2o (365 x 23 mm). 28 pages of letterpress descriptive text to plates 1-56, otherwise engraved throughout. Two title-pages, five dedicatory leaves, one leaf commendation from the Royal College of Physicians, one leaf "English index", 2 leaves "Catalogus Plantarum" (one in each volume), 111 leaves of explanatory text, and 500 hand-colored plates (occasional browning and spotting, some minor marginal worming to a few leaves in vol. II not affecting text or plates, vertical creases to titles and final leaf in vol.II). Contemporary diced russia gilt, (front joint of vol. I starting with slight tear at tail of spine, some scuffing to covers).
FIRST EDITION. Its bibliographical history is complicated: in "there is no uniformity with regard to the number of dedications contained in the various issues, or in the order in which the preliminary leaves are arranged" (Henrey), and the work's publishing history is not fully understood. The present copy appears to be an early issue: both titles are dated 1737, and the "vol.2" on vol.II title-page is printed and not altered in manuscript. However the presence of the letterpress descriptive leaves has, in the past, been taken to indicate that vol.I is a later issue second edition. An alternative in this case is that the letterpress leaves represent an early and quickly abandoned experiment.
Elizabeth Blackwell undertook her project in 1735 with the encouragement of various eminent members of the medical profession and with the intention of paying off the debts of her husband Alexander, whose London printing-house had been ruined by rival printers. She took a house opposite the Chelsea Physic Garden, at 4, Swan Walk in order to draw and engrave the plants and create an up-to-date illustrated text of medicinal plants previously lacking in the botanical fields. Her husband helped by supplying the common names of the plants in various languages. The work was a success, she achieved her objective, and freed her husband from debtor's prison. She then emigrated to Sweden with her husband where he found employment as an agricultural expert (Linnaeus visited him in 1746). Unfortunately he became involved in politics, was arrested and eventually beheaded on 29 July 1747 for his part in a conspiracy to alter the Swedish succession. Elizabeth, who died in 1758, is buried in the churchyard of Chelsea Old Church. Cleveland Collections 386; Dunthorne 42; Great Flower Books, p. 50; Henrey 452; Hunt 510; Lisney 175 and 180; Nissen BBI 168; Pritzel 811; Stafleu & Cowan TL2 545.