WILLIAM CURTIS (1746-1799)
Flora Londinensis; or, Plates and Descriptions of such Plants as grow wild in the Environs of London. London: printed for and sold by the Author and B. White, [1775-]1777-1798. 2 volumes, 2 (473 x 285mm). Engraved oval title vignette to volume I, 435 hand-coloured engraved plates on 432 leaves, after Sydenham Edwards, James Sowerby and William Kilburn. (Small section of outer blank margin of the 44th plate in vol.I torn away, occasional light marginal spotting.) Contemporary diced russia gilt (neatly rebacked to style, neat repairs to outer corners).
A FINE COPY OF THE FIRST EDITION, WITH THE FIRST ISSUE TITLE. The Flora Londinensis is essentially the first colour-plate national flora of England, the first English flora to be at all comprehensive. Curtis, with the support of Lord Bute, published the first part in 1775. For "ten years he continued perseveringly at his congenial but unremunerative task, [and] by 1787, the results of his labour were two splendid folio volumes and a deficit that made the continuance of his venture impossible. He understood the cause of the trouble and saw the remedy: if his clients refused to buy folio pictures of the unassuming plants that grew by the wayside, he would win their patronage with octavo engravings of the bright flowers that filled their gardens. Thus, in 1787, the The Botanical Magazine was born." (Blunt. "The Art of Botanical Illustration", 1994, p.212). The immediate success of the magazine allowed Curtis to continue the publication of the Flora Londinensis, the former, as Curtis put it, providing the "pudding", the latter the greater satisfaction and the critical acclaim from his peers. The Flora.. also contains James Sowerby's first book illustrations. His son described how he started botanical illustration by approaching Curtis and then "Mr. Curtis engaged Mr. S. to join him in his botanizing excursions around London & to draw the plants collected while he described them so they often worked sociably together in the open Fields". The present copy appears to be a particularly early issue, with the first issue title, since it is bound without any of the preliminary material (i.e. subscriber's lists and indices), but does include both the "General observations on...the best Grasses", and the "Catalogue of certain plants, growing wild in the environs of Settle". Dunthorne 87; Great Flower Books (1990) p.88; Henrey III, 595; Hunt 650; Nissen BBI 439; Stafleu & Cowan 1286. (2)