THORNTON, Robert John (1768-1837). Picturesque Botanical Plates of the New Illustration of the Sexual System of Linnaeus. London: for the publisher, 1799.
Broadsheets (557 x 440mm). Contents: hand-coloured mezzotint frontispiece 'Linnaeus in his Lapland Dress' by H. Kingsbury after Hoffman [Dunthorne state B]; engraved calligraphic title, dedication, contents leaf, and part-title 'SELECT Plants', all by Vincent after Tomkins; 40 leaves, including one letterpress table 'Analysis of the Sexual System of Linnaeus'; 27 mezzotint and/or aquatint engraved plates printed in colours and coloured by hand by Ward, Earlom, Dunkarton et al. after Abraham Pether, Philip Reinagle, Sydenham Edwards, et al., some heightened with gum arabic, comprising: 'The Snowdrop' [Dunthorne state I]; 'The Persian Cyclamen' [I]; 'Hyacinths' [I]; 'A Group of Carnations' [I]; 'A Group of [Four] Auriculas' [I]; 'Tulips' [I]; 'The Queen'; 'The Aloe' [I]; 'The Nodding Renealmia' [I]; 'The Night Blowing Cereus' [A, I]; 'The Oblique-Leaved Begonia' [I]; 'Large Flowering Sensitive Plant' [I]; 'The Blue Passion Flower' [I]; 'The Winged Passion Flower' [I]; 'The Quadrangular Passion Flower' [I]; 'The White Lily' [III]; 'The Superb Lily' [B, I]; 'The Dragon Arum' [I]; 'The Maggot-Bearing Stapelia' [I]; 'Pitcher Plant'; 'The Pontic Rhododendron'; 'The American Cowslip' [I]; 'The Narrow Leaved Kalmia'; 'The China Limodoron'; 'The Indian Reed' [I]; 'The Sacred Egyptian Bean'; 'The Blue Egyptian Water Lily', retaining tissue guards. (Some light spotting and browning, occasional light offsetting from plates onto text, some guards torn.) Contemporary half diced russia gilt over marbled boards [free endpapers watermarked 1808], spine gilt in compartments, titled in one (some rubbing and scuffing causing small losses at extremities, upper joint split).
FINE, EARLY IMPRESSIONS OF THORNTON'S CELEBRATED FLOWER PLATES FROM HIS TEMPLE OF FLORA: 'THE MOST STRIKINGLY BEAUTIFUL SET OF FLOWER PLATES EVER TO BE PRINTED IN ENGLAND' (Alan Thomas, Great Books and Book Collectors, p.144). Thornton conceived his masterpiece New Illustration of the Sexual System of Carolus von Linnaeus (more commonly known as The Temple of Flora) in the mid 1790s, and advertised the work in 1797, issuing it in parts between 1799 and 1807. The composition of the work varies greatly, but in its standard form it comprises three sections, of which the last -- 'The Temple of Flora' -- contains the magnificent botanical plates for which the work is celebrated. However, Thornton issued his works over a period of year in various permutations, frequently incorporating extant engravings into new works, or issuing components as discrete works. The present volume appears to be a product of this somewhat erratic method of publication: it contains 27 of the flower plates found in part three of the completed work (but not the three preliminary allegorical plates which were published between 1 June 1805 and 1 May 1807) and most of the text leaves which accompany the flower plates. The latest date to appear on a plate is 1 June 1805 (there are no watermarks on either the plates or the text which predate it), and the plates are (with one exception) in the earliest of Dunthorne's states, and include two rare examples: 'A Group of [Four] Auriculas' (in place of the plate of two auriculas dated 1807; Dunthorne states that the plate of four 'is not normally found') and 'Pitcher Plant' (a plate which was damaged and was 'little used and does not occur very often', op. cit.). The absent plates are 'Roses' (dated 1 October 1805, although a text leaf for it is included), 'American Bog Plants' (1 July 1806) and the alternative plates 'The Queen Flower' (1 January 1812) and 'The American Aloe' (1 May 1807) are not used. Therefore, this appears to be a volume of the plates and text sheets sold by Thornton in mid- to late-1805 -- prior to the completion of New Illustration of the Sexual System in 1807, and including all the plates completed by mid-1805 -- and bound up in c. 1808 (the watermarked date which appears on the endpapers). For New Illustration of the Sexual System, cf.: Cleveland Collections 722; Dunthorne 301; Great Flower Books p.143; Nissen BBI 1955; Stafleu and Cowan 14283.