Thomas Martyn (fl.1760-1816)
[Figures of Plants. London: 1796]. 2 volumes in one, 2 (343 x 275mm). 2 calligraphic manuscript titles and 65 leaves calligraphic manuscript descriptions, 65 ETCHED AND/OR ENGRAVED PLATES, ALL FINELY HAND-COLOURED TO RESEMBLE ORIGINAL WATERCOLOURS (24 plates with additional pencilled inscriptions identifying their subjects). (15 plates shaved into image area at head or foot.) Early-19th century green calf gilt, covers with decorative border in gilt and blind of fillets and arabesque roll and cornerpieces, the spine in six compartments with raised bands, brown morocco lettering-piece in the second, the others with repeat overall pattern of massed small tools, g.e. (very light scuffing to extremities).
AN EXCEEDINGLY RARE 18TH-CENTURY LARGE FORMAT BOTANICAL WORK: UNRECORDED AT AUCTION, OR IN THE STANDARD BIBLIOGRAPHIES. It appears that there is only one copy of a similar work recorded: the British Library have a 4to volume (shelf mark: 44.i.18) with a calligraphic title 'Figures of Plants by Thomas Martyn Great Marlborough Street, London 1795', followed by 43 plates (each with pencilled inscriptions identifying their subjects) but without interleaved calligraphic descriptions. The work was originally in the collection of John Townley, and is in a contemporary binding. A comparison between the present work and the British Library volume show that they share 16 subjects.
The present work is on laid paper throughout with no consistant differences between the stock used for the plates and the descriptions, the paper is undated but occasionally watermarked 'J.Whatman'. The wording of the titles to the 'vol.I' and 'II' are similar (vol.I includes 'London' in author's address, and Martyn is spelt 'Martin' in vol.II). Each text leaf includes the subject's common name, its Latin binommial, followed by a brief description: perennial, annual, etc.; country of origin; height; time of flowering and occasionally a note on the plant's habit (climber, grows by a river, etc). The plates include a majority of 'exotics' with 7 subjects native to Africa, 3 from Asia, 1 from India, 25 from North America, 2 from Russia and 2 from South America. They appear to have a crayon-manner etched base (with occasional line-engraved details) but it is difficult to be certain of the technique used because the print base is so completely overpainted with water- and bodycolour. The fine binding was probably executed in the mid-1820s (the front free endpaper is dated watermarked '1824').
This work is one of a number of natural history works to issue (in very limited numbers) from Martyn's Academy for painting Natural History. He employed the talents of artistically-gifted apprentices who were too young to have developed any style of their own, and who would, with instruction from Martyn, produce a product which would show a 'uniformity and equality of style, conception, and execution'. Initially Martin opened the Academy in 1786 to deal with the completion of The Universal Conchologist (1784-1792) and by 1789 he was employing 10 apprentices at his Great Marlborough Street address. Subsequent publications include The English entomologist (1792); Aranei or a natural history of spiders (1793); the present work (published between 1795 [the BL copy] and 1796) and finally Psyche. Figures of non descript lepidopterous insects (1797).