Elizabeth Blackwell (circa 1700-1758)
A Curious Herbal, Containing five hundred cuts of the most useful plants.. after drawings, taken from the life. London: Samuel Harding in St. Martin's Lane, 1737[-?1739]. 2 volumes, 2° (445 x 275mm). Engraved throughout, two titles, seven dedicatory leaves, one leaf commendation from the Royal College of Physicians, four index leaves, 125 leaves of explanatory text and 500 plates, 293 with fine 19th century hand-colouring. (Plates and text of vol.II browned or spotted through to about plate 350, title and all leaves to plate 258 with old damp damage to inner margins but repaired on verso.) Contemporary half calf (scuffed, extremities worn). Provenance: Mary Priest (early 19th century pencilled ownership inscription).
FIRST EDITION, early issue with both titles dated 1737. This copy has over half of the plates carefully hand-coloured by a 19th-century hand (?Mary Priest). The colourist seems to have worked from life, colouring plants that they were able to obtain specimens of; for example Plate 105 is only partially hand-coloured, the colourist, working in the spring, has completed the twig with blossom and leaf buds. but forgot or was unable to return to the plate in the summer/autumn to complete the other cutting with the fully formed leaves and fruit.
One of the first English botanical books to be issued in parts (125 parts in all: 2s per part coloured, 1s uncoloured). Elizabeth Blackwell took lodgings opposite the Chelsea Physic Garden at the suggestion of Isaac Reed, in order to draw and engrave the plants. She undertook the work at the suggestion of Sir Hans Sloane to raise money in order to free her husband, Alexander, from debtor's prison. The work was a success and she achieved her object. Her husband eventually moved to Sweden where he was unfortunately beheaded in July 1747, for his part in a conspiracy to alter the Swedish succession. Cleveland Collections 386; Dunthorne 42: Great Flower Books p.50; Hunt 510; Nissen BBI 168; Pritzel 811; Stfleu & Cowan 545. (2)