BLACKWELL, Elizabeth (d.1758). A Curious Herbal, containing five hundred cuts of the most useful plants... from drawings taken from life ... To which is added a short description of ye plants and their common use in physick. London: John Nourse, 1739 [Vol. I]; Samuel Harding, 1737 [Vol. II].
2 volumes, 2o (401 x 245 mm). Vol. I with 28 leaves letterpress text; two engraved titles, two dedicatory leaves, 2 engraved leaves "Catalogus Plantarum," 2 engraved index leaves, 125 engraved leaves of explanatory text and 500 hand-colored plates (plate 205 with some soiling in upper margin, plates 265-6 soiled at bottom, upper corner of fo. 112 torn away, some other occasional pale soiling, browning and rubbing). Contemporary calf (rebacked, worn). Provenance: American Museum of Natural History (stamps on titles, preliminaries and versos of plates); Margaret Thomas (signatures dated 1972 on front pastedowns).
Henrey's third issue. The work's bibliographical history is complicated and not fully documented. "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). The present copy is an early issue.
Elizabeth Blackwell undertook the work with the encouragement of various eminent members of the medical profession and with the intention of paying off her husband Alexander's debts. She took a house opposite the Chelsea Physic Garden, at 4, Swan Walk, at the suggestion of Isaac Reed, in order to draw and engrave the plants. Her husband helped by supplying the common names of the plants in various languages. The work was a success, and she achieved her object. She accompanied her husband to Sweden where he was employed as an agricultural expert (Linnaeus visited him in 1746), but he unfortunately 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. (2)