7 - 8 April 2004
[SOWERBY, James (1757-1822). Flora luxurians; or The Florist's Delight. London: 1789-]-1790-1791.
3 parts (all published) in one volume, 2° (465 x 285mm). Issued without title-page, 16pp. explantory text. 18 fine hand-coloured engraved plates by and after Sowerby. (Neat repairs to blank margins of plates I and XVIII and the first and last text leaves, slight soiling plates IV and XVI, plate VIII spotted, plates XI and XII slightly spotted.) 20th-century red morocco-backed drab paper-covered boards, titled in gilt on spine, sections of upper wrappers to original parts I and II tipped onto front free endpaper (light scuffing to extremities).
A VERY RARE WORK, WITH EXCEPTIONAL PLATES BY 'ONE OF THE MOST IMPORTANT... ARTISTS IN THE HISTORY OF BOTANICAL ILLUSTRATION' (Oak Spring Flora, p.220). The work includes images of Carnations (5), Auriculas and Polyanthus (5), Tulips (4), Ranunculus (2) and Hyacinths (2). Only one complete copy of this work is listed as having sold at auction in the past twenty-five years. The title is slightly misleading: the 'Florist' of the title would now be known as a specialist nurseryman - a commercial horticulturalist who bred and raised new and popular varieties for sale - not a dealer in cut flowers. Sowerby outlined his plan for this short-lived work on the upper wrapper of part I: 'Many of our first Florists having expressed a Wish to see some of their best Fancy Flowers deliniated, the Artist has chosen some, particularly recommended by them... It is proposed to publish a Number, containing Six [plates], annually, from Subjects to be pointed out by the Subscribers, and determined upon by the Majority of them'. Each part has priced at 12 shillings. An idea of the intense interest generated by the various species shown here may be gained from the fourth of the plates of tulips: a fascinating and beautiful plate of an unnamed variety, published in 1791. The accompanying text notes that the 'root' (i.e. bulb) of the white and deep purple 'bybloemen' was priced at 100 Guineas. The reason why the tulip is unnamed is not really explained, but Sowerby does note that 'We will give the name in some future number' and continues mysteriously 'the present proprietor does not wish to have it made public at present'. Great Flower Books (1990) p.140 ('Very rare'); Henrey III, 711; Nissen BBI 1875; Stafleu & Cowan V,12.488.
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Please note that the estimate for this lot should read £10,000-15,000 and not £5,000-8,000 as stated in the catalogue.
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